Parting shots of the political year

5:55 pm on 20 December 2019

By *Peter Wilson

Analysis - Sexual assault allegations within the Labour Party are found to be unsubstantiated, National says it will scrap the RMA if it wins the election, the future of public broadcasting is still up in the air and the government's $10 billion road safety plan.

Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern

Photo: RNZ

The independent investigation into allegations of sexual assault by a Labour Party staff member found they were unsubstantiated, and RNZ reported the conclusions by Maria Dew QC cast serious doubt on the accuracy of the complainant's story.

The allegations by the young woman, a party activist, presented Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with a potentially career-damaging crisis, and she vowed she would get to the bottom of it.

Ms Dew was appointed and carried out a thorough investigation. Her summary report can be read on RNZ's website.

The allegations surfaced on The Spinoff website and were so disturbing that media outlets published content warnings.

Ms Dew found there was insufficient evidence to back-up the most serious allegations, and critical elements of the complainant's version of events were inaccurate. She also reported the young woman and the man she accused had been in a consensual relationship for eight months before the alleged incident.

The investigation also covered complaints by three other young women and one man. Ms Dew's report said claims about "aggressive and overbearing conduct" were substantiated but did not meet the criminal standard of bullying.

When the young woman's allegations were first published, she claimed party president Nigel Haworth and others had largely ignored her when she approached them. There was intense media coverage and Mr Haworth resigned, although he insisted he had been unaware of the sexual assault allegations. The complainant said she had detailed the incident in an attachment to an email, but Ms Dew reported that "on the balance of probabilities" the document was not attached.

She said the complainant had since admitted giving "misleading information" to the investigation.

The man has not been named. He said through his lawyer that the report made clear the serious allegations did not happen.

A second inquiry, into the way the party handled the complaints, is still underway. It is also working on a set of protocols for handling similar situations in the future.

Ms Ardern released the report on Parliament's last sitting day amid a flurry of last-minute announcements by the government and the opposition.

National released documents proposing scrapping the Resource Management Act and dumping the KiwiBuild brand completely. Judith Collins, the party's housing, urban development and planning spokesperson, said the RMA had failed in its duty to protect the environment and allow infrastructure to grow.

KiwiBuild, she said, had been "the biggest public policy failure in a generation".

National's plan is to repeal the RMA if it wins next year's election and replace it with transitional legislation while a new "development friendly" law is put in place.

The RMA, introduced in 1991, has presented numerous problems for successive governments and has been amended 80 times. Consent processes have blocked infrastructure developments, and the previous government's attempts to change it failed because it couldn't muster a majority in Parliament.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi was probably relieved when Parliament adjourned on Wednesday.

The previous day he had to face the media and admit he wasn't going to meet his commitment to announce the future of public broadcasting before Christmas.

He said cabinet colleagues weren't entirely satisfied with his plans for RNZ and TVNZ, which wouldn't be signed off until early next year.

The cabinet had one proposal in front of it, which was to disestablish RNZ and TVNZ and create a new public media entity, RNZ has reported. Putting more money into NZ on Air is understood to be part of the mix.

The proposal was a recommendation from an advisory group set up by the government to come up with ways to protect public broadcasting in an environment fraught with uncertainty and financial stress as Google and Facebook siphon off vast amounts of advertising revenue.

Print media is struggling with the same problem, and evidence of that was the attempt by NZME and Stuff to merge - which the Commerce Commission wouldn't allow. There is now a bid by NZME to buy Stuff with a government "Kiwishare" that would protect editorial independence and employees.

National wasn't impressed with Mr Faafoi's broken promise. Broadcasting spokesperson Melissa Lee listed it as just another failure to deliver. "What I'm really upset about is the uncertainty for the people of RNZ and TVNZ as they go into the Christmas break," she said.

The government waited until after Parliament had adjourned to unveil a road safety plan costed at $10 billion over 10 years.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter, who is responsible for road safety, said the strategy was aimed at cutting road deaths and injuries by 40 per cent by 2030 at a cost of around $1 billion a year.

It involves major roadworks and new median barriers designed to make driving safer.

Speed limits on some roads could be lowered and there will be more speed cameras, but drivers will know where they are. Ms Genter has been impressed by Sweden's road safety strategy which is to clearly signpost speed cameras with warning notices. Fearful of being caught, drivers make sure they're within speed limits. "In an ideal world, we won't collect a single infringement fee," she said.

Ms Genter explained the detail of her strategy in an interview with RNZ's Nine to Noon on Friday morning.

Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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