The Watchdog

Keeping citizens in the loop

New Zealand MPs need a ‘Code of Conduct’ – not just improved internal party procedures for handling Police complaints.

28 March 2011

Goff admits party procedures need improving

Phil Goff 


Phil Goff has admitted the Labour Party’s handling of the Darren Hughes sexual allegations incident could have been better.

Mr Goff announced on Friday that Mr Hughes would resign from Parliament while police continued their investigation into a late-night incident involving an 18-year-old male student.

A day earlier, Mr Goff stripped the third-term MP of his responsibilities as education spokesman and party whip after the allegations were made public on Wednesday.

Mr Goff learned of the allegations two weeks ago, and has stood by his decision not to inform Labour president Andrew Little or act earlier.

However Mr Goff told Radio New Zealand he accepted that Mr Little was unhappy he had not been told earlier.

“I can understand that, yeah, there are ways in which we can improve our procedures and I’ll make sure that happens,” Mr Goff said.

“It is a matter for the caucus, but does it have implications for the party, of course it does.”

Senior Labour MPs are due to meet in Dunedin tomorrow, but Mr Goff rejected suggestions that his leadership would be in question there, saying that was media speculation.

“The media has speculated on a number of occasions about my leadership, I’ve been twice elected in accordance with the constitution of the Labour Party, each time unanimously,” he said.

“Things have been said that are patently untrue and been rejected and denied by the people that those accusations have been made against.”

Mr Goff said he had not spoken to Mr Hughes over the weekend.

“It’s been a very tough time on a human front, I think everybody will understand that.

“The remarkable thing I’ve found, MPs on all sides of the house have come up to me and expressed their regret, both about what’s happened and about their concern that Darren faces trial through the media when that should be left to the police.”

Prime Minister John Key said the incident highlighted the scrutiny MPs were under and that the public would make up its own mind about how Mr Goff had handled the incident.

“Ultimately (the public) has a look at a leader, works out how they react in certain circumstances, makes their own assessment of it and that is what the public will do here,” Mr Key told TVNZ.

Mr Hughes said on Friday that he had done nothing wrong and was confident of the “right outcome” following the police investigation. However, his position had become untenable and he had to resign as an MP.

Former MP Judith Tizard is next on the party list.

Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick is acting whip while David Shearer has taken on the role of education spokesman.

The alleged incident that led to Mr Hughes’ resignation happened at Labour deputy leader Annette King’s Wellington home, where he boards, after he had been drinking at two bars with a group of students, including the complainant.

The student left the home and is reported to have either flagged down a police car or walked into its path.


Comments and questions 


Who actually made the complaint to the Police about Darren Hughes public?

The complainant?

In my view – it is the complainant who should call the shots in this situation.

Imagine if Phil  Goff had raised with caucus that a complaint had been made to the Police, or gone to the press, before the complainant had done so (if in fact they were the one who did make the complaint public).

What about the rights of the complainant to privacy, and the duties of the Police to investigate the complaint?

This complaint is being investigated by the Police. Darren Hughes has not been charged with any offence – let alone convicted.

I agree that Labour Party ‘internal procedures’ for handling such matters could be improved.

However, in my opinion, Phil Goff’s attempt to put ‘justice before politics’ in these circumstances was understandable.

But – it is not just ‘internal Labour Party procedures’ that need improving.

Isn’t it time for ALL parties to agree that NZ MPs need an enforceable ‘Code of Conduct’ to give clear guidelines for the behaviour and actions of our elected representatives of the ‘highest court in the land’?

With sanctions for breaches thereof?

Remembering that NZ MPs make laws that ensure a whole range of other ‘public servants’ have ‘Codes of Conduct’ – but they don’t have one themselves?

What sort of example is THAT?

Perhaps Labour could take the lead, and help turn a ‘bad thing into a good thing’ by initiating meaningful caucus discussions on a ‘Code of Conduct’ for NZ MPs?

But, in my view, ALL parties should now start addressing this problem, and considering the sensible solution – a ‘Code of Conduct’ for NZ MPs.

It is LONG overdue.

Penny Bright
Public Watchdog

Penny Bright | Monday, March 28, 2011 – 10:41am

March 27, 2011 - Posted by | Fighting corruption in NZ, Human rights

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