Labour leader Andrew Little has fronted up about the party's intern scheme that turned sour. He said he first learnt about the complaints this week, and admitted it was embarrassing but rejected claims that it was hypocritical on behalf of the party.
More than 80 overseas students have been doing unpaid "drudge work" for Labour as part of the Campaign for Change scheme, and allegedly living in a cramped Auckland marae without a working shower, according to political blog Politik.
The Campaign for Change scheme was being run by former Labour chief of staff Matt McCarten, and until recently he worked at Labour's Auckland office. He's no longer involved as Labour requested to take over the scheme last week.
Mr Little said it was normal for political parties to be involved in volunteer exchange programs, and said he'd be surprised if there problems with the visas. He wasn't aware what visas the interns were on but said "I'd be surprised if there's any problems" as the party has been involved in similar programmes in the past.
"In politics, going back many decades we have always had exchanges and volunteers going and working in other parts of the world in political campaigns", Mr Little said.
Little says it's embarrassing for the party
He admitted that the intern scheme, which got "wildly out of control", was a bad look for the party. "I have to say it is embarrassing for the party, of course it is", he conceded. "I am disappointed that they've been let down, but right now the priority is to fix that up, look after them, make sure they're okay and work out what do from there."
"Somebody had an idea earlier this year that we could get some people down here from other parts of the world. It looks to me like it's gotten wildly out of control and people have found they can't manage it".
He didn't think the problem was hypocritical given Labour's crackdown on immigration and migrant exploitation. "No, I don't think the two are connected. We've had volunteers come from overseas in the past".
When asked whether he thought voters might lose trust in the party over the intern problem he replied: "I think people would be entitled to feel that they didn't have confidence if we ignored it, refused to deal with it and didn't sort it out".
He said the immediate focus was helping the interns, before figuring out how things went wrong and who is responsible.