Government minister Megan Woods knew about sexual harassment claims at a Young Labour summer camp after one of the teen victims approached her.

Woods said she had received a Facebook message about the incident at last month's camp from a young person on March 4.

"She immediately called the party's general secretary [Andrew Kirton] and alerted him and asked him to contact the person.

She then let the young person know that a party official would be in touch.

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"Two hours later she heard from the General Secretary that he had been in touch with the young person and the situation was being handled appropriately."

A spokesman said she was aware of the nature of the behavior involved because the person who contacted her had informed her it related to sexual misconduct.

Woods had not spoken to other Cabinet ministers about it because she believed it was being dealt with by Kirton.

Woods is Minister for Energy and Resources and Christchurch Regeneration. She sits on the front bench.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has criticised her party officials for their handling of the incident. 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.

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

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ROTORUA DAILY POST
13 Mar, 2018 10:52am
2 minutes to read

Kirton confirmed earlier today that an unidentified minister had known of issues at last month's camp - but said the minister's knowledge was very limited.

Kirton also said he has apologised to Ardern for the handling of the case, which the Prime Minister criticised this morning.

However, he has defended his decision not to alert Ardern earlier, saying that would have been for reasons of political management and he was trying to keep it as tight as possible for the sake of those involved.

Kirton said this morning that Young Labour representatives had emailed the four young people affected by the alleged sexual misconduct to ask if they required further support or wished to take it further.

Two had responded, which Kirton said he had not been aware of. Two weeks later one of those involved had contacted a Labour minister via Facebook messenger because they were unhappy there had been no reply to their email.

"That [minister] rung me within minutes of getting it on Facebook Messenger and then I rang the young person themselves within two hours of that. That's the finish of that person's involvement."

He would not say who the minister was. He could not recall how much he had told that minister about the incident. "I informed them that I knew what it was about and thanked them and said I would be dealing with it."

"They had no idea, obviously, what it was about and did the right think in passing it on to me. It was clearly to their mind a party issue because it involved something at a party event."

"They didn't have any context at all about what happened at the summer camp or anything like that, but they saw they had been communicated with by this young person and called me straight away."

Ardern 'very disturbed' about allegations

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."

Ardern had spoken at the camp opening and said she did not see any sign of misbehaviour while she was there.

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.

Newsroom's editor Tim Murphy told Radio NZ the affected teenagers didn't get much support until the day before the story was due to break.

Support was only made available on Saturday, a three-week delay, and a senior cabinet MP was also told about the assault by one of the victims who was dissatisfied with the way it was handled.

"It seems to have fallen into a big hole from the event to now," he said.

Ardern said support for the young people took too long.

"The next day I know they tried to make sure they got matters in hand. But they should have made sure there was follow-up support. It took too long for that to happen."

Based on professional advice given to the party, neither police nor the parents were told.

"If it were me I would want to know, but when we went to professionals and sought advice, the advice was that we needed to make sure we were following the will of those involved.

"When you have such young people, it is a fair question [going to the police and parents], but at the same time the party wanted to make sure we were listening to the people involved."

She said alcohol was present, but it was not provided nor encouraged.

"There is no doubt they were in an environment where there was alcohol. Although it was not provided or encouraged, it was obviously there.

"That is not OK. Obviously the environment was not a safe one, and that is something we have to fix.

"I understand they had some measures in place, but they have failed. We need to make sure it never happens again."

She said it was "unfair" to pin it on the four supervisors.

"There were four designated people to take care of things, but I don't want to put blame on them.

"We need to make sure we take responsibility, whatever role we have. Alcohol was involved and there were young people, but somebody's behaviour was totally unacceptable and also there needs to be accountability there, but I am not going to say any one individual was at fault."

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 '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 under way, and started as soon as the complaints were received."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the Young Labour summer camp at Waitawheta near Waihi but was not present when the four teens were allegedly sexually assaulted. Photo / Facebook
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the Young Labour summer camp at Waitawheta near Waihi but was not present when the four teens were allegedly sexually assaulted. Photo / Facebook

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."