Ardern admits errors in camp fallout

Author
Juliette Sivertsen,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 13 March 2018, 8:03AM
Jacinda Ardern spoke at the Young Labour summer camp near Waihi. (Photo \ Facebook)

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she is "very disturbed" about allegations of sexual misconduct at a Young Labour camp, as the party begins a review of its policies.

Ardern told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking this morning: "The environment was not a safe one and that's something we have to fix."

"It shouldn't have happened, we should absolutely have made sure those people were looked after and that hasn't happened."

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Labour apologises, confirms inappropriate behaviour at camp

Ardern discussed with Hosking the fallout over the claims at last month's camp. She spoke at the camp opening and said she did not see any sign of misbehaviour while she was there.

She said last night: "I've sought assurances that everything is being done to support the complainants. I've also asked the party to take every step possible to ensure that our events are safe for everyone who attends in the future."

Labour has apologised to the teenagers exposed to "highly inappropriate behaviour" by a man at the annual Young Labour Summer School camp and begun an external review of its policies around alcohol at events.

Allegations emerged yesterday that four young Labour Party supporters were sexually assaulted at the camp last month.

Two males and two females, all 16, were allegedly assaulted or harassed by a 20-year-old man during a party at the Waihi camp, Newsroom has reported.

The man was reportedly intoxicated and put his hand down the pants of at least three of the four young people.

Allegations 'of a groping nature'

Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton confirmed the assault was "of a groping nature".

Kirton said he was made aware of the incident about three or four days after the camp which was held on February 10 and 11 and the party had been making sure the victims had the support they needed.

He said the party was "extremely disappointed" those at the camp were "exposed to highly inappropriate behaviour."

Kirton said Young Labour representatives were told the next morning of complaints about the behaviour of the man during an evening event in which several young people had consumed alcohol.

"The camp organisers contacted me in the days following the event and explained what they understood had happened, and the action they'd taken in response to it.

"Those included having clear processes in place such as a dedicated welfare phone line and designated support people.

"We have also offered further, professional support to those involved.

"I have subsequently banned the perpetrator from any future Labour Party events.

"We are extremely disappointed that an incident like this happened at a Labour event and we are working to make sure those involved receive any support they need. We are deeply sorry for the distress that's been caused. It shouldn't have happened."

The party had started an external review of its policies and procedures, including those involving alcohol. That would include the various sector groups, including Young Labour.

"We want to ensure a situation like this is never repeated."

Kirton told Newstalk ZB he did not believe any of the victims had made a police complaint but said they were all aware they would have the party's full support if they wished to do so.

He said he was aware there was a "fair bit" of alcohol at the social event.

"For some people that were there it was too much," he said.

According to the Young Labour website, Summer School is an annual event attended by young activists, people from across the party and other leaders in the wider community for a collaborative weekend of policy discussion, campaign preparation and team building. This year's camp was in the Karangahake Gorge.

Ardern seeks assurances

Ardern said in a statement she was "very disturbed" about the allegations.

"I expect young people, and indeed anyone, attending our camps can do so knowing the environment is safe.

"I've sought assurances that everything is being done to support the complainants. I've also asked the party to take every step possible to ensure that our events are safe for everyone who attends in the future.

"I understand this work is already underway, and started as soon as the complaints were received."

Ardern said she had attended the Summer Camp opening, where she spoke, and there was no such behaviour apparent when she was there.

A large variety of alcohol was reportedly available on Saturday night and many people, including a 15-year-old boy, were drinking.

Kirton said the party was investigating the claims. "We are definitely not ok with that [15-year-old's drinking]," he told Newstalk ZB.

It was understood the camp's supervisor, Tess Macintyre, had gone to bed and was not present at the party, Newsroom reported.

National MP Judith Collins has tweeted that Labour should have referred the allegations of assault to the Police rather than trying to deal with it internally.

"Surely @nzlabour cannot treat sexual assault matters as some form of disciplinary matter for Labour. These are serious criminal allegations."

In a further tweet responding to Ardern saying she would investigate the allegations, Collins said "The PM should know that any attempt by her or other Ministers to 'investigate' might well be seen as interfering in the operational independence of Police."

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