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More on Labour’s problem – VI: Bennett’s speech in the General Debate – UPDATED: Transcripts now posted

12/09/2019

Paula Bennett gives a strong performance on Labour’s problem. Note the behaviour of Labour MPs

Transcript

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business.

The Prime Minister says she did not know there were sexual assault allegations against one of her staff members until Monday. I could go through the various media reports since 5 August and my own representation since being contacted by victims to show the inconsistencies in this, but they have already been well traversed in the last 24 hours.

Back in 2016, Jacinda Ardern wrote an op-ed about the scandal surrounding the Chiefs rugby team. She said that a resignation is not enough: “It’s the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away. But that solves nothing. After all, apologies followed by silence changes nothing, and change is what we need.”

The resignation today of Nigel Haworth cannot be, in the Prime Minister’s words, “the PR quick fix—usher the source of the controversy away.” Yes, Mr Haworth needed to go, and it should have happened weeks ago, but what is also known is that the Prime Minister’s own senior staff and a senior Minister have known the seriousness of the allegations but have not acted.

The complainants were members of the Labour Party. They genuinely believed that the party would listen to their complaints and deal with the alleged offender appropriately, but nothing happened. It clearly has taken an incredible sense of frustration, disappointment, and disillusion for these people to come to me, a National Party MP, to try and see their complaints addressed.

These are serious allegations. The Prime Minister cannot keep her head in the sand and pretend like it is happening somewhere far, far away. It is happening in her own office, in her own organisation. She is the leader of the Labour Party. The alleged perpetrator works in her leader’s office—he works for her.

Less than a year ago, the Prime Minister was in New York at the UN, trumpeting “Me Too should be We Too.” Well, who knew that that meant her own office was following the path well trod by all those companies who drew a curtain over sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour.

I have been told by the complainants that Jacinda Ardern’s former chief of staff Mike Munro knew about the allegations, her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, knew about the allegations, and the director of her leader’s office, Rob Salmond, knew about the allegations. I have been told by two victims who work in Parliament that they went to Rob Salmond around Christmas time and made a complaint about the alleged perpetrator.

The Prime Minister has constantly said her office did not receive complaints and, in fact, encouraged the victims to speak to their line managers. They did. They have told me they went to Rob Salmond and nothing was done, and we are expected to believe that none of these men in her own office told the Prime Minister about the allegations—all of this in the aftermath of the Labour summer camp scandal, when the Prime Minister made it very clear she expected to have been told. And are we really expected to believe that she didn’t know that her chief press secretary, Andrew Campbell, embarked on a witch-hunt to try and find out who in the Beehive was talking to the media about the allegations? The complainants certainly felt hunted and scared that he was trying to shut them up and stop them from talking to the media—classic bullying of victims, and hardly a victim-led response.

A victim has told me that the alleged perpetrator has deep alliances to Grant Robertson, that he was involved in his campaign for the Labour Party leadership, and that Grant Robertson has known the seriousness of these allegations. It is unbelievable that he hasn’t discussed this with his close friend and his leader.

This all smacks of a cover-up. This goes straight to the top: to the Prime Minister, to senior Cabinet Ministers, and—

SPEAKER: Order! The member’s time has expired.

Then after a response by Kelvin Davis of which more later

She was followed by Mark Mitchell with this

Transcript

Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I’m glad that the justice Minister is still in the House—but, no, he’s getting up and leaving. I don’t blame him.

SPEAKER: Order! The member knows that is out of order. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon MARK MITCHELL: I withdraw and apologise. I want to present an inconvenient truth in response to the comments that were made in the constant chipping of our deputy leader during her general debate speech—

Marja Lubeck: Shocking speech.

Hon MARK MITCHELL: —by the Minister of Justice. It’s shocking; I’ll come back to you in a minute. So I want to address—sorry, Mr Speaker. I want to address the fact that he said that the deputy leader of the National Party had exploited members, these young women in the Labour Party. Let me give him an inconvenient truth. The reality of it is why they sought her help, why they sought her support—and I’m proud of the way that she has dealt with them. I’m proud of the way that she has remained completely focused on their welfare and advancing their needs. The reason why she arrived there for support is because you didn’t look after her.

SPEAKER: Order!

Hon MARK MITCHELL: The Labour Party did not look after them. The Labour Party failed them in every measure. That’s why they arrived with the support of our deputy leader. Like I said, I’m proud of the way that she has supported them and that they’ve advanced this important matter.

I want to come to the Minister of Justice, and I want to go back to 26 June 2018, last year, when in this House I stood him on his feet and I asked him: does he think trivialising serious indecent assaults as merely a pinch on the bottom will encourage members of Parliament who know about other sexual assaults not to take them seriously or report them? We didn’t get one apology from that Minister; we didn’t get one apology from the Labour Party. The Greens—it was deafening, the silence coming from them. I’m talking about a case where a female corrections officer was indecently assaulted by a male prisoner. He didn’t pinch her on the bottom; he grabbed her. He grabbed her forcefully with a full hand between the legs—enough that in her victim impact statement the prison officer said that she felt angry, frustrated, and totally degraded, and felt vulnerable and uneasy at work.

The reason why I knew that this was going to—I could see that this was coming. I could see this was coming, do you know why? Because there’s a major cultural failure inside the Labour Party. The reason why I say that is because you’ve got the most senior member, you’ve got the Minister of Justice who was leader of the Labour Party, standing in this House and trivialising an indecent assault on a female corrections officer. That’s the message that’s sent by this party. That’s the message that was sent to the young men in this party: that an indecent assault can be tolerated, it can be trivialised—[Interruption] They’re all arguing and fighting it. What you should do is you should just stand up and apologise.

SPEAKER: Third warning, and final.

Hon MARK MITCHELL: Sorry, Mr Speaker. Someone from the Labour Party—the Prime Minister, especially, should be in this House standing and explaining to the country why under her watch, why under her leadership she has allowed a culture to fester and get to the point where we have a Labour camp with indecent assaults, where we have young women that have been indecently assaulted that, actually, haven’t been looked after. They haven’t been protected. They’ve ended up coming to us. They’ve ended up coming to the deputy leader of the National Party for support and to advance their issues. The reality of it is, when you have the most senior male member of a political party stand in this House and trivialise an indecent assault against a female in the workplace and say that there are more serious offences—the reality of it is this: the message that is sent to every young man in the Labour Party, or, actually, every young person in New Zealand, is that one of the most powerful figures in our criminal justice system is saying that an indecent assault on a female is OK; that it can be tolerated.

Kieran McAnulty: What a load of rubbish. What a shameful comment.

Hon MARK MITCHELL: Mr McAnulty says this is a shameful speech. Let me quote the Minister for him—let me quote the Minister—”The action which the charge related to was pinching a prison officer’s bottom. Now, that is a world of difference from other actions that result in a charge of indecent assault—that are genuinely more offensive,”.

I’d like one member of the Labour Party to stand up—the noisy member at the back there, stand up—and defend a comment like that, because it sent a very clear message, and, as a result, we’re dealing with the fallout of it today in this House.

Hon AUPITO WILLIAM SIO (Minister for Pacific Peoples): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just in light of the two speeches so far from that side of the House, I understand this is a robust debate and I understand that they’ve got a role to play, but I feel really uncomfortable, in light of the context of some serious allegations that are making their way through this House, of just how much the Opposition—the two speakers—are pushing that line and politicising the pain and hurt in the allegation.

SPEAKER: No, I have been listening very carefully to the debate. It’s not one which is, I think, comfortable for a lot of members. I have also been listening to the interjections from members on my right, who have brought a former Minister from the previous Government into the debate by name and a current member, who’s alleged offending occurred when he was a member of the National Party. I think when that occurs, it is not for me, I think, to do anything other than what I have been doing, and that is closely monitoring what has been said. If people want the rhetoric and the intensity dialled back, then my suggestion is that the interjections should also be wound back

 

 

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