Ex-Green MPs defend party as questions arise over Golriz Ghahraman saga

Craig McCulloch for RNZ

Former Green MPs have come to the defence of the party as the co-leaders face questions over their handling of Golriz Ghahraman's fall from grace.

On Tuesday, Ghahraman announced her immediate resignation from Parliament, ending her near-week-long silence since an initial allegation of shoplifting emerged, soon followed by two more.

The party's co-leaders, Marama Davidson and James Shaw, also fronted to media for questions for the first time, insisting they had handled the matter as well as they could have given the circumstances.

The leaders were first advised of an alleged incident on 27 December and sought more information from Ghahraman and the store involved, Scotties Boutique.

Ghahraman then left for a planned overseas holiday the next day and did not return until Saturday, 13 January, at which point a meeting was held. Her resignation was announced three days later.

Davidson said it was appropriate to wait to hear Ghahraman's side of the story face-to-face, and Shaw said they made the decisions with the best information they had at the time.

Former Green MP Catherine Delahunty has been a frequent critic of the party's direction since her departure in 2017 but said that, in this case, the co-leaders did not have a lot of options.

"Everything was confused, it wasn't clear whether anyone was charged with anything, it wasn't a simple situation," she said.

"I don't think 'the right to know' is quite so important as we think it is sometimes, whereas the right to be human, and to try give people a chance to sort stuff out, I think that should be given to all people, including MPs."

Similarly, Sue Bradford, who was a Green MP from 1999 to 2009, said the co-leaders should be commended for their handling of the matter given the unfortunate timing over the Christmas break.

"It does appear that they've tried to take the most empathetic and thoughtful approach they can."

Former Green MP Gareth Hughes, now a political commentator, said the saga had not been "a crisis management PR masterclass".

"In an ideal world, a statement would have been made a lot earlier, or even ideally, from a political management perspective, would have been dealt with internally before what ultimately became a bit of a media circus and feeding frenzy."

At the same time, Hughes acknowledged the "invidious position" facing the leadership team and its competing obligations.

The co-leaders also faced questions on Tuesday about whether the party did enough to protect Ghahraman's mental health at work given the "extreme stress" she cited - and the horrid abuse she was subject to as referenced by Shaw.

Asked whether more could have been done to help, Shaw said that was hard to answer. He said the caucus held regular meetings to try to improve MPs' access to support, whether from security, police, or mental health services.

"We're not mental health professionals ... we support each other as best we can, but it is a very challenging work environment."

Bradford said the abuse was more ferocious than when she was at Parliament, and she understood how people could succumb to stress in various ways.

"The effects of that stress, of the kind of threats and abuse and comments about your personal life, about your appearance, about your mental state, about anything.

"People just don't hold back and it can be really overwhelming."

Delahunty said the whole situation was very sad and she hoped Ghahraman would get the support she needed.

"I don't think you can protect people from the waves of hate that come through onto certain MPs ... no matter how much your colleagues can try and help you, it's relentless."

Hughes said all parties needed to look in the mirror and ask whether they were providing enough pastoral care for their MPs.

"As someone who's seen the messages that Golriz has received on social media, the very graphic sexual and violent threats that she received ... I'm glad that she's now prioritising her wellbeing because [Parliament] is the hardest place, I think, to be focusing on mental health."