An American student taking part in a "fellowship" programme for the Labour Party campaign has defended it, saying most of the 85 interns on it are happy.

The student spoke on the condition of anonymity because most in the programme had signed non-disclosure agreements before starting on the programme.

She believed the complaints and leaks to the media were driven by one or two interns who had a beef with the programme. She claimed one was dropped from a leadership position on the programme after allegedly taking bottles of wine from Labour MP Jenny Salesa's house after Salesa hosted a meal for them.

"We sat down, we ate and he walked away with two bottles of wine. The organisers called him out for it. Since then it's been a simmering pot."


She said it was disappointing to read comments in the media about "sweatshop" conditions and "slave labour".

"Three meals a day, every single day, were provided. The care they have provided is comprehensive. The one thing that has cause a bit of chatter is the cubicle situation, which I understand is not ideal. But the sweatshop conditions, where we were rallied into a line and forced to work, that's not true at all."

She defended Awataha marae, saying most were moved into proper living quarters on the marae which are "more than ideal".

"The food is great and they are very accommodating."

She said many others shared her view but could not speak because of the non-disclosure agreements.

The dining area for Labour party interns from the United States. Photo / Supplied
The dining area for Labour party interns from the United States. Photo / Supplied

"Most of the drama that has been stirred up is maybe by five of the 85 fellows, or 10 at the most. The majority of people have had positive experiences.

She had signed up for the Fellowship because it was an opportunity to travel to New Zealand, learn about its politics and get hands-on campaign experience - and she said it had lived up to its billing - including meetings and work with senior MPs and campaign organisers.

She said it was an experiment hosting the programme on the marae: "It was a test run, the only one of its kind where you live communally, you work together - it's never really been done before." The interns were now being split up and billeted in different areas but there was only a limited number of spots available.


She did not believe the interns were in breach of immigration rules - all had been told to get Working Holiday Visas.

She said unpaid internships were common and McCarten had been generous in looking after them. "Numerous times he told us 'the most important thing is that you walk away happy'."

Labour General Secretary Andrew Kirton has taken over the programme and Labour leader Andrew Little said it was "embarrassing" for the party.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse also said it was possible the programme fell foul of visa conditions or labour laws - in other sectors, working in return for board and food was considered "work" and the usual employment conditions had to be met.