Winston Peters says Parliament bullying, sexual harassment report shows only one side of story

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters believes Debbie Francis should have spoken to those accused of sexual harassment as part of her report into bullying at Parliament.

Last week, the review of bullying and harassment at Parliament was released, highlighting a toxic workplace, with 14 complaints of sexual assault.

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard, who called for the report, told The AM Show he was surprised by revelations of a "serial sex offender" in Parliament and told RNZ the sexual assault could constitute rape.

Later that day, Mallard announced a member of the parliamentary service staff had been stood down following an "historic allegation of assault" of a "sexual nature".

But that individual has since told NZME he denies inappropriate behaviour and felt bullied out of a job. He said "at no time was I spoken to by the review's head, Debbie Francis".

The man told NZME previous complaints about him had been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.

On Tuesday, Peters was asked on Magic Talk by Peter Williams if Francis should have "spoken to people who may be accused by people inside Parliament of sexual harassment or bullying".

"In a word, yes, and that is why New Zealand First put our own report in on her report to make it very clear that we were not going to wear any of those allegations because we have the lowest attrition rate of any party in Parliament by miles."

In New Zealand First's response to the report, published within it, the party said "those modelling the desired workplace practise should also be acknowledged, to balance incentive with repercussions".

Peters said on Tuesday that his party understood that staffers had families, mortgages and other commitments and that "we need to look after them".

The Deputy Prime Minister was then asked if he believed that the report was "essentially not fair because it only presented one side of the story".

"In an essence, yes," Peters said.

He said allegations needed to be considered from the perspective of the accused.

"If there are going to be those sort of allegations, then they need to be checked out from the point of view of the person was the subject of the allegation. Otherwise we are all caught in this allegation, and that's not fair, and it's not our system of justice."

Last week, before the staffer was stood down, Peters said it wasn't fair that everyone was under the microscope.

"You just can't go out and have an allegation where everybody's now under scrutiny when none of them should have been."

The review, launched in November 2018, came back with 85 recommendations and revealed 50 people reported unwanted touching and 54 people reported unwanted sexual advances.

The report did not identify the accused offenders, which Mallard said was integral to the review, but he did later acknowledge that he knew who the offender was, who's been stood down.

"The person is stood down because that is the process that is taken while an employment investigation proceeds. It was not my role to refer it to the police - that was the role of the woman involved."