Phil Goff keeps repeating that he didn’t take any action against Hughes, as it would prejudice the Police investigation. This is frankly a bullshit argument (and also against what he has argued himself in the past). I’m amazed the media do not challenge him more on this point.
John Key sacked Richard Worth, while he was under investigation by the Police over a sexual offence complaint. This did not interfere with the Police investigation. And in fact Richard Worth was not charged by the Police.
Likewise it is entirely common for an employer to take disciplinary action against an employee in regard to alleged criminal offending, without waiting for charges to be laid.
Helen Clark took action against several of her MPs, who were under Police investigation. And again this did not interfere with the Police investigation (her staff buring forged paintings did, but that is another matter).
The panel on Q+A is flailing Goff for his inaction. It’s almost brutal.
For the sake of any future party leaders, here’s the general guide to how a party leader should handle allegations against an MP of this nature.
- When the MP first tells you, immediately bring in a witness to your conversation – probably your chief of staff
- Do not make any commitments to the MP. Tell them that you need to gather pertinent information before you make a decision.
- Tell the MP that you want them to tell the Chief of Staff everything that happened. Warn them that they must be 100% truthful, no matter how embarrassing, and that if they omit any pertinent details, then they will have lost your confidence and will be sacked.
- The CoS interviews the MP. The MP should firstly be asked to detail what happened from their perspective, and also what the complainant is alleging. If they have been interviewed by the Police (as Hughes was), then they will be fully aware of what the allegations are.
- The MP should also be asked what witnesses, if any, there are to some or all of the incident.
- If possible the CoS should talk to some of the witnessees if they are friendly to your party – ie other MPs, staff, activists.
- The CoS then reports back to the Leader with two scenarios – the “best case” scenario of everything the MP has told you is true, and the “worst case” scenario being that everything alleged is true.
- The CoS should also report on how many people probably know of the incident, which will give you an idea of how likely it is the incident will become public – or more realisticaly simply how long it will take.
- The Leader then looks at the best case scenario. Assume the MP’s version of events is 100% correct. Ask yourself whether even their version of events is survivable. In the Hughes case, it would be “Regardless of consent, can you politically endure an incident where a naked 18 year old, less than three months out of school, ran naked out of the house of your deputy leader at 5 am after going home with your chief whip after ten hours of drinking”
- If it is clear it is not survivable, then you discuss exit strategies wiht the MP.
- If the MPs version of events is survivable, then you look at the worst case scenario – are the allegations against your MP so bad, that they couldn’t do their job until the Police decide whether to charge or not. If the MP is accussed of murder, rape or other extremely serious crimes, then you have them step down until the Police make a decision.
- If the allegations against the MP are not the worst type of criminal offending, but more “minor” offences such as assault, then it may not be necessary to have them step down. However you would probably urge the MP to front-foot the issue, rather than keep it quiet until the media find out.
- Once the Leader has the report from their Chief of Staff, they should also brief appropriate people on what has happened and the leader’s proposed course of action. This would normally be the Deputy Leader, Chief Whip and Party President.
As far as I can tell Goff did none of this. They just sat on it for three weeks and hoped it would go away.
Note that nothing in the above involves the Leader having to make a judgement on who is correct – the MP or the complainant. It is all about just considering the best and worst case outcomes.