PM Jacinda Ardern gives 'timeline' of events around Labour sexual assault claims

The Prime Minister has held a last-minute press conference at the Beehive to provide a "timeline" of events around sexual assault claims involving Labour staff. 

"I thought it would be helpful to reiterate some of the timeline that's been traversed in the media over the last 48 hours," Jacinda Ardern, also Labour leader, said. 

"I want to acknowledge that five weeks ago there was media coverage and speculation around allegations involving sexual assault and members of the Labour Party."

Newshub's political editor Tova O'Brien broke a story on August 5 that Labour had been forced to review an internal investigation into bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault by a party staffer.

The party embarked on the review following complaints from seven people about a party member who also worked at Parliament. 

Ardern said at that time, she sought assurances from the party as to whether or not any of complaints lodged were sexual-related.

"In seeking those assurances, I was advised that that had not been the case."

But she said she was "so concerned" that she "immediately" met with the New Zealand Council - the Labour Party's governing body - to bring a third party QC in. 

She said she also sought assurances that "we never again have a Labour Party investigating complaints of a serious nature and that they are dealt with externally". 

"Those were the two things that I sought and were delivered five weeks ago," Ardern added.  

"Monday was the first time I had ever seen a complainant state that they had taken a complaint of serious sexual assault to the Labour Party as part of that process."

She was referring to details of a serious alleged sexual assault on a 19-year-old in early 2018, published on Monday by The Spinoff. The alleged victim said the offender's level of influence left her constantly frightened. 

The Prime Minister's comments followed the resignation of Labour Party President Nigel Haworth on Wednesday, following "correspondence" that morning between the two. 

"This morning I was provided some of the correspondence from complainants written to the party several months ago," Ardern said in a statement Wednesday. 

"It confirms that the allegations made were extremely serious, that the process caused complainants additional distress, and that ultimately, in my view, the party was never equipped to appropriately deal with the issue."

At her post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, Ardern said she was "deeply disappointed" in the party's handling of allegations made against a senior staffer. 

Ardern maintains she did not know that sexual assault allegations had been raised with the Labour Party, because members of the panel who heard testimonies from alleged victims say they were not told that either. 

That's despite emails seen by Newshub that show Labour was sent details six months ago of sexual assault allegations against a party staffer. 

National leader Simon Bridges said on Wednesday it "beggars belief" that Ardern said she didn't know the details of the allegations. 

"I can't speak for those who were involved in that process - they have continued to maintain their position," Ardern said of the Labour members who were part of the investigation. 

"From my position, harm has been done here, we need to respond to that, accept it, offer that apology, and put in place a process that means this never happens again.

"I am very aware that there are vulnerable people in this situation."

Ardern said she wants to allow the QC process to "run its course". 

She said an offer has been made through third parties to meet with the alleged victims.