Jacinda Ardern speaks at her weekly Beehive press conference. Photo: Dom Thomas/RNZ
Jacinda Ardern speaks at her weekly Beehive press conference. Photo: Dom Thomas/RNZ

PoliticsSeptember 17, 2019

Jacinda Ardern: ‘We have a duty of care, and we failed in it’

Jacinda Ardern speaks at her weekly Beehive press conference. Photo: Dom Thomas/RNZ
Jacinda Ardern speaks at her weekly Beehive press conference. Photo: Dom Thomas/RNZ

The prime minister has admitted mistakes, and outlined measures to change the party culture.

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister and leader of the Labour Party, yesterday addressed at length the situation around allegations of sexual assault by a Labour volunteer and an investigation into a Labour staffer. “We have a duty of care, and we failed in it,” she said at her post-cabinet press conference, before laying out a series of actions that would be undertaken as a result.

Here is what she said, in full.

There are no excuses for the handling of the complaints by the Labour Party, and I will offer none. To do so risks minimising the seriousness of the allegations that have been made.

We have a duty of care, and we failed in it. But if this can happen in my party, a party which had already tried to confront these issues very publicly, a party that prides itself on inclusivity, on being champions of addressing gender-based violence and of creating safe places for young people to be involved, then this can happen anywhere.

Mistakes have been made. It is now my job to address that. Yes, for the Labour Party, but also to take the lessons that have been learned and ask what we can do to assist other workplaces, training institutions, organisations and others to do the same.

That work has already started. Over the weekend I held two conference calls with the Labour Party Council to establish a clear path forward that is focused on the needs of complainants, but also to help us examine our own actions as a party.

First off, let me be clear again: The Labour Party has not dealt with these complaints adequately or appropriately. While the party has continued to maintain that they weren’t in receipt of the complaints that have since been published in the media, that is secondary to the fact that the complaints made to the party were of significant concern, and needed to be heard in a timely way. That didn’t happen.

Now it is our job to right that wrong.

I’ll now run through the actions that have been taken.

Firstly, a QC is in place and terms of reference have been agreed alongside the complainants. The terms of reference will not be released, because complainants have asked that they not be, as well as the respondent.

That process will be a place where those who have come forward to the party can be heard. And that includes all of the issues that they have raised.

Maria Dew QC has indicated that she does not believe that her process is the place to take a look at what the Labour Party did with the complaints when they were received, nor the handling of them.

That is fair. She wants to be focused on hearing the substance, not whether Labour behaved appropriately. So she will rightly focus solely on the complainants and their complaints.

Therefore, the second action that has been taken. The Labour Party’s lawyers, Kensington Swan, had nearly completed a piece of work on whether the Labour Party behaved appropriately in the handling of the complaints.

They will now hand that report over to an independent third party reviewer, who will establish a statement of facts around the party process and what complaints were received. This will be based on documents rather than testimony or interviews, to avoid complainants having to engage in multiple processes. It will, however, go to all parties, and enable comment.

Thirdly, we will appoint an experienced victims’ advocate to look at these findings, to work with the party and establish systems and processes to ensure that this does not happen again. This will include proactive work on prevention, on training, on organisational competence, as well as new victim-centred processes for managing complaints.

Fourthly, I will meet with complainants; a point I have already made clear. I am working with two highly experienced survivor advocates who have significant expertise in these processes and are assisting me. They are in the process of making contact with complainants. It’s important, though, that this process happen in accordance with best practice, so I will be guided by experts.

Finally, I have asked [MP] Poto Williams, who has significant experience working in the sexual and family violence sector, to help lead a piece of work in conjunction with other experts in the field, with the party, as we head into our annual conference, to support culture change for all of us. She’s already told me of her intention to bring in experts in this space to help our local and regional leaders in the Labour Party with advice on how to create safe spaces, welcoming environments, and deal with any complaints they may receive. Her work will be informed by everything we may learn over the next four to eight weeks.

I know that none of this will change the past experiences of young people in this case. But I do hope we are finally offering them the opportunity to be heard, and that that is finally meeting their needs.

I also know that this will be a catalyst for change. Greater insight into what happened here will help us build a different culture. This should have happened with the Berryman report, but it didn’t.

I’m going to lead forward this work, not just for the party, but out of a belief that if we can learn from this, and we can change ourselves, then there is a role for us to play in helping change occur in other places too.

Keep going!