30 Oct 2019

Senior Labour member puts hand up for presidency in wake of sexual assault complaints

10:05 am on 30 October 2019

A senior member of Labour's ruling council has put his name forward to be president, pledging to unite the party and learn from its mishandling of sexual assault complaints.

Labour Party President Nigel Haworth.

Former Labour Party president Nigel Haworth. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Announcing his candidacy on RNZ, Labour's Māori senior vice president Tane Phillips distanced himself from the storm which embroiled the party for weeks and ultimately forced Nigel Haworth's resignation.

Mr Haworth stepped down from the presidency in September after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Labour had made mistakes in its investigation into serious allegations against a former staffer.

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Phillips stressed he'd had nothing at all to do with that complaints process.

"I wasn't part of the investigation panel," Mr Phillips said. "I never talked to ... the respondent or the accusers."

Labour's council declined to take any disciplinary action against the accused staffer following an investigation by a three-person panel into seven formal complaints.

Labour Party President Nigel Haworth.

Nigel Haworth. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Both the panellists and Mr Haworth have maintained that the complaints they heard were different from the serious allegations later outlined to media.

Mr Phillips said he, like the other council members, acted on the information brought back by the panel at the time.

"Since then, there's been further information that has come to hand and that will be handled within the processes happening right now."

Two reviews have been launched into the bungled process: One into the substance of the complainants' allegations and another into Labour's handling of the complaints.

Following through on the reviews' recommendations would be high on his priority list, Mr Phillips said.

"My key focus [would be] to unite the party and act on whatever comes out of those reports and to support the parliamentary arm to win the next election."

He declined to comment on what mistakes the panel or former president had made, nor how he would have handled the process differently.

"I would be foolish to go into that," he said. "That's pre-empting the investigation."

Asked whether Labour had a culture problem, Mr Phillips again deferred: "Let the report come out."

He went on: "Have I seen bullying of a sexual nature or anything like that? No, I haven't. I would've said something."

As Māori senior vice president, Mr Phillips oversaw Labour's strong showing last election in the Māori electorates. He is also union secretary of the Pulp and Paper Union in Kawerau.

He said he was not the "normal ilk" of Labour presidents and would bring a different perspective to the top job .

"I'm a blue collar unionist who lives in Rotorua and works in Kawerau. I'm not from the leafy suburbs of Auckland or Wellington where the presidency would normally come from."

Mr Phillips said he'd been asked to run by the party's Māori council, Te Kaunihera Māori.

"There hasn't been a Māori at the helm in Labour since the early 70s. We've only ever had one."

Nominations for the presidency close on Thursday. Party members will elect a new president at their party conference in late November.

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