Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is being accused of protecting the role of her staff and Finance Minister Grant Robertson in Labour's mishandling of complaints about a former Labour staffer.

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett has criticised the reviews that Ardern announced today, which aim to give a voice to the complainants and bring culture change to the Labour Party.

The ex-staffer, who quit his Parliamentary Service job in the Labour leader's office last week and maintains his innocence, faced seven formal complaints and was cleared by a Labour Party investigation in July year.

Maria Dew QC is now reviewing the substance of the complaints after complainants said the process was unfair and a sexual assault complaint was ignored.


Speaking at her post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, Ardern said that an independent review, alongside the Dew review, would establish a summary of facts and look at what complaints were received.

A woman has said that she directly told the party about a sexual assault complaint, but the party's investigating panel, including panel chairman Simon Mitchell, has said that is untrue.

Ardern said the independent review would focus on documents rather than interviews to protect complainants from having to engage in both processes, but anyone who wanted to participate or challenge the summary of facts would be able to.

But Bennett, who has named Ardern's most trusted advisers and Grant Robertson as people who were told about the complaints, accused Ardern of protecting those people.

"It's not looking at the Beehive at all. It's not looking at [Ardern's] senior staff. It's not looking at the complaints that went to them. It's not looking at how involved Grant Robertson and others have been.

"We're told continuously that the alleged perpetrator is very close to [Robertson], has been involved in party activities with him before, so I wonder how much he has known and why he just doesn't come clean."

Asked which review would ask her staff and ministers what they knew, Ardern said she expected "all those required" to participate in the independent review.

She would not say whether her staff or any ministers had told her about a sexual assault claim and she was focused on moving forward.

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett says the hard questions of the right people will not be asked in the reviews announced by Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell
National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett says the hard questions of the right people will not be asked in the reviews announced by Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Bennett said Ardern's response spoke volumes.

"The fact she wouldn't answer says a lot."

Bennett also criticised Mitchell, whose statement today denying being told about a sexual assault claim followed a weekend of teleconferences between Ardern and Labour's ruling council about the next steps.

"The Prime Minister has supposedly taken charge this weekend, and within hours one of her own council members has defied the very process she has put in place," Bennett said.

She called Mitchell's statement "victim-blaming".

"I think it's dreadful they [the complainants] have to go through this publicly, yet again."


Ardern also criticised Mitchell, saying that a public statement "serves no one", least of all the complainants.

She said regardless of who was telling the truth, the seriousness of the allegations meant that they should have been dealt with in a timely way, and they weren't.

Ardern also said that Labour would bring in a victims' advocate to look at the reviews' findings and work with the party to put systems in place such as prevention, training and victim-centred processes for managing complaints.

Ardern has asked Labour MP Poto Williams, who has worked in the sexual and family violence sector, to work with experts to support culture change in the party.

"This will be a catalyst for change," Ardern said.

"I know greater insight into what happened here will help us build a different culture. This should have happened with the Berryman report (into the Young Labour summer camp), but it didn't."


Ardern said if this type of botched process could happen to Labour, it could happen anywhere.

"We have a duty of care and we failed in it, but if this can happen in my party, a party that had already tried to address these matters 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.

"If we can learn from this and we can change ourselves, then there is a told for us to play for helping change occur in other places."

Bennett said these were "hollow" words.

"I just think 12 months ago we heard changes were going to be made after the Young Labour summer camp. They obviously weren't. Words are hollow. What everyone is looking for is action."