Jacinda Ardern's credibility called into question over handling of assault allegations

Jacinda Ardern's handling of the Labour assault allegation scandal is wrecking the credibility she built up during the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks, it has been claimed.

"After the Christchurch shootings, credibility - nine [out of 10]. Today, five - and falling," left-leaning political commentator Chris Trotter told The AM Show on Thursday.

Ardern this week said she had not been made aware allegations against a Labour Party staff member were sexual in nature.

"I was informed in the very beginning that the allegations made were not sexual in nature. That is obviously not directly counter to what is being reported," she said on Monday, after new details about one of the alleged abuse cases were reported by The Spinoff.

Labour president Nigel Haworth handed in his resignation on Thursday, saying "regardless of the outcome of the appeal process into complaints about a party member, fresh leadership will be required to take forward any recommendations from that process". He maintained never being told about the nature of the complaints.

Even if he didn't, Trotter says the Prime Minister should have.

"I think she must have known. I cannot imagine the circumstances in which the Prime Minister would not have known about this... [But] when these sorts of events begin to gather momentum, I think a Prime Minister is almost entitled to say to those around her or him, 'Deal with this. I don't want this. This must come nowhere near me. You deal with this.' But that hasn't happened."

He said protecting Ardern should be a priority for Labour.

"There are rules to this game. One of the big rules is, at all costs protect the leader - particularly if the leader is pretty much all that you've got. So what is the thing the president does if it would help? He falls on his sword. Well sorry, but I didn't see Howarth falling on his sword. I saw people pushing him very, very steadily into it."

Appearing with Trotter on The AM Show was Trish Sherson, PR expert and former ACT press secretary. She said it's likely Ardern tried to keep the scandal at arm's length.

"If ever there was a leadership moment for a woman Prime Minister, this was it. I'm trying to figure out in my mind what is worse - that the Prime Minister didn't know, or that she didn't want to know? I think it's probably falling into the second camp - that she didn't want to know. 

"That's not unusual in those kinds of offices, to try and keep a clean pair of hands around the leader, while other people sweep out the grubby stuff. But the management around this has been so bad."

Trish Sherson and Chris Trotter.
Trish Sherson and Chris Trotter. Photo credit: The AM Show

She said Howarth's resignation wouldn't satisfy the critics.

"There are big issues around trust and credibility at the moment."

Ardern has offered to meet with the complainants personally. 

"I will take steps to make that offer available to them if they wish to take it up."

In the wake of the attack in Christchurch in March, images of Ardern wearing a hijab in solidarity with the targeted Muslim community made her an international icon.

"I do not understand how it got to this point," said Trotter. "This is the question - how did it ever come to this?"