National's attacks over sexual assault scandal 'unethical' - Willie Jackson

Labour MP Willie Jackson has lashed out at National's "unprincipled" and "unethical" attacks on his party over the ongoing sexual assault scandal.

The story has been kept in the headlines by National deputy leader Paula Bennett, who claimed in a post on Facebook a number of Labour staffers had approached her with concerns about how the party was handling the complaints. 

This week saw both the accused staffer and the Labour Party president resign, while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern maintained she had not been aware the complaints were of a sexual nature until a report on Monday laid out the complaints in detail - despite emails showing party officials knew six months ago.

Newshub reported on the allegations in early August, but Ardern said party officials told her at the time the reports were wrong. 

Jackson, appearing on The AM Show on Friday, said it wasn't her fault she didn't know.

"But what I do know is Paula Bennett was informed about this and hey, I suppose she's got to act - but you've got to ask some questions about her and the National Party... When we got all the information about the National Party, did we act as unprincipled and as unethically as the National Party?... We all knew what was happening in your party. We knew everything from A to Z... did the Labour Party act?"

Labour MPs were quiet during National's torrid run last year, when rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross dropped a series of explosive claims on then-new leader Simon Bridges, but was in turn accused of harassment, bullying and having an affair with a National Party staffer. He was later admitted to the mental health unit at Middlemore Hospital, before returning to Parliament as an independent.  

In October last year, an email sent from Ardern's office to the party's MPs told them to stay quiet on the matter and show compassion

"These are issues for the National Party caucus," MPs were instructed to say.

Jackson told host Duncan Garner that Bennett had to act, but going public was the wrong thing to do.

"I suppose she's got to act, but you know - if you get that sort of information about a woman in distress, what would Duncan Garner have done? What would Judith Collins have done? She would have probably rung Jacinda straight away. She wouldn't have gone to Twitter...

"It's a bit unethical that they keep coming at us when they had sex scandals all over them... did you hear a word from our side? You've got to give us some credit. They were in their own bed together, we heard all the names - not a word said from our side."

Goldsmith and Jackson.
Goldsmith and Jackson. Photo credit: The AM Show

National MP Paul Goldsmith, appearing alongside Jackson on The AM Show, hit back at Jackson's criticism.

"All you're doing is trying to attack us. How is that solving any problems?"

He rejected claims from senior Labour MPs they couldn't talk about the scandal because of legal reasons.

"It's a PR strategy not to answer, to delay, and that's not good enough."

If it's proved Ardern lied about what she knew and when, Goldsmith said it would be "very hard" for her to remain Prime Minister.

"You can't go around putting your whole political persona about being focused on these sorts of issues, being straightforward, being open and transparent."

Jackson said she had been open and transparent.

"She's as honest a Prime Minister as you can have. She's showed a lot more integrity than Paula Bennett has over the years... We've actually had quite a good week, believe it or not. We're very proud of the history announcement. We're very proud about what's happening in mental health."

He then went back on attack mode. 

"Do we care about issues, or are you going to just continually defame a Prime Minister who's got the country behind her?" he asked Goldsmith. 

A spokesperson for Bennett directed Newshub to her Twitter account, where she said: "I hear Willie Jackson trying to turn the attack on me. Perhaps Labour should ask themselves why the victims felt they had to come to me to get action. Because EVERYONE else had hidden and lied and treated them badly."