29 Nov 2019

Labour's annual conference gets underway in Whanganui

9:12 pm on 29 November 2019

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told members gathered for Labour's conference in Whanganui that the party needs to put people before politics.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the Erebus disaster.

Jacinda Ardern said she knows the party has work to do (file picture). Photo: Supplied / MCH

In her opening speech, Ms Ardern addressed the elephant in the room at this year's conference - the fallout from the sexual assault allegations that hit the party in September.

She told the crowd gathered at the Whanganui War Memorial Centre that Labour had been on "a journey this year" and had learnt some "incredible important lessons".

The party was torn asunder when high ranking party officials and MPs were accused of mishandling serious allegations of sexual assault.

A 19-year-old party member says she actively raised allegations of a sexual nature with senior party officials, including the party president at the time, Nigel Haworth.

Mr Haworth denied this was the case, but resigned in September, after Ms Ardern she had seen some of the communications between the complainants and the party.

The fallout from accusations of sexual assault cannot be ignored, as party faithful will tomorrow have to vote for a new party president and a workshop is being held on how to make the party safe and inclusive.

Ms Ardern said the party needed to work harder to ensure the organisation was one where all members felt safe to participate.

"To raise concerns and issues, to have different ideas and voices heard. I also know we should never be afraid to address problems when we face them.

"Now we may be a political organisation, but that should not be the lens through which we view issues that involve our Labour members. People first, politics second," she said.

Ms Ardern said the party has had an "incredible 24 months", and listed their achievements while maintaining a stable coalition government.

Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall - who is also a distant cousin of Ms Ardern - also spoke and told the crowd that the party has much to be proud of since coming into government.

"But all these disappear if a minister makes a poor decision, or an MP mis-speaks or if a scandal emerges.

"So a year out from the election, I'll give you three words. Discipline, discipline, discipline," he said.

Mr McDouall also praised the government for the attention that has been paid to the regions in the past two years, and described the Provincial Growth Fund as "transformational".

Members will gather again tomorrow, with Finance Minister Grant Robertson due to make an announcement in the afternoon.

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