The future of Labour's president appears to be in doubt after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused to express confidence in him over his handling of sexual assault accusations against a party staffer.

And she also raised the possibility that Nigel Haworth, or the party, may have misled her.

Ardern repeatedly told reporters she was deeply concerned, incredibly frustrated and looking for answers on Monday as she faced questions about reports of an alleged sexual attack on a 19-year-old Labour volunteer by one of the party's staff.

The party this year investigated seven formal complaints about the male staffer - employed by the Parliamentary Service - but concluded no disciplinary action was warranted in July.


The complainants later went to media with concerns they weren't being taken seriously and the party last month said it was launching a review of its investigation.

The Spinoff website on Monday published a detailed account of an alleged sexual assault by the staffer against one of the complainants, graphically describing how he had pinned her to the ground and attacked her at his home in February 2018.

Ardern on Monday told media she had previously sought assurances and been told none of the allegations were of a sexual nature - a sentiment that had also been conveyed to media - and that she wanted an explanation about the conflicting reports.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she previously sought assurances and was told none of the allegations were of a sexual nature. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she previously sought assurances and was told none of the allegations were of a sexual nature. Photo / Mark Mitchell

"I want to make it very clear that I am deeply concerned and incredibly frustrated by the process that has been undertaken by the Labour Party, but also by the nature of the allegations," she said.

"I was informed, in the very beginning, that the allegations made were not sexual in nature. That is obviously directly counter to what is now being reported."

Ardern said Labour's NZ Council – the top body which ran the original investigation – was not the appropriate place to "ever" conduct an inquiry into sexual assault.

Asked if she had been misled by Haworth, who has been handling the allegations, or the party, Ardern said she expected the new review to get to the bottom of the matter.

"I have had differing accounts relayed to me. I do need a third party - someone who is a trusted, reliable individual - to give me a sense of clarity," she said.


She is awaiting the report, by Maria Dew QC, into how Labour handled the allegations.

Questioned if she still had confidence in Haworth, Ardern replied: "I think it's fair to say that the president has, of course, articulated to me that he only wants to ensure he has done the right thing throughout this process. But I need complete clarity."

"I have not received it through the competing reports to date."

The Herald has requested comment from Haworth.

In a statement to the Spinoff, he said no part of the original investigation had looked into sexual assaults.

"The person leading the original review made it clear to the complainants that the party would never be the appropriate body to handle allegations of that nature and that they would need to be investigated by the police," he said.


The complainant told the website she did not want to raise the issue with police because she had seen others struggle through the process, but had explicitly discussed the alleged attack during a hearing with the Labour panel hearing complaints in March this year.

She added that she decided to raise the matter with the party in the aftermath of the Young Labour summer camp in February 2018, when she was encouraged by Haworth's comments inviting anyone to raise allegations of historical misconduct.

A 21-year-old who attended the summer camp was accused of sexual misconduct, and eventually pleaded guilty to assault.

The Labour staffer at the centre of the current allegations has not been in the parliamentary precinct since the review was launched and would not return at least until it was complete, Ardern told reporters on Monday.

That came after calls from the National Party's Paula Bennett for him to be stood down during the duration of the review.

The lawyer for the staffer has declined to reply to a request to comment today.


In a statement, Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard said no complaint had been made to Parliamentary Service - the man's employer - by anyone involved in the case, either.

"I repeat my request for any individual who feels unsafe at work or when visiting to contact me or the general manager. Any further action requires a complaint," he said.


February, 2018: A Labour staffer - employed by Parliamentary Service - allegedly sexually assaults a 19-year-old Labour volunteer after a meeting at his house, according to the Spinoff.

March, 2018: Complaints emerge about Labour's handling of assault allegations at a Young Labour summer camp earlier in the year and the party launches a review.

April, 2018: Spurred by the review, the volunteer emails the lawyer leading a probe into the camp incident, Maria Berryman, alleging a "lower-level" 2017 incident involving the staffer but is told the review is looking in the camp issues first. The volunteer meets with Labour President Nigel Haworth and explains the sexual assault allegations, the Spinoff reports.

February, 2019: Labour's NZ Council orders an investigation into the complaints about the staffer from the volunteer and six other people.


March, 2019: The volunteer and the other complainants testify and, according to the Spinoff, the volunteer describes the alleged sexual assault.

July, 2019: The review emails the complainants telling them no disciplinary action will be taken.

July 12, 2019: Email from a third party sent to journalists raising concern for the complainants.

August 5: Reports emerge about allegations of "bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault", and resignations from the party. Media are told the matters looked into do not involve sexual assaults.

August 15: The party announces it will let the complainants appeal.

September 9: A graphic description of an alleged sexual assault by the volunteer is published by the Spinoff.