The Labour Party’s general secretary Andrew Kirton announced his resignation this afternoon – after the high of an election win last year and the low of allegations of sexual assault and drunkenness at a Labour Youth Camp in February.
He has been highly praised by the party president and others for his organisational and political skills and will be a loss for Labour.
But when Newsroom broke news of the allegations from the summer camp near Waihi, Kirton’s handling of the matter was under intense scrutiny. Labour took what it called a “victim-led” approach to the complaints and no outside investigation was sought.
Kirton was backed strongly by party president Nigel Haworth – despite not reporting the matter to the police or informing the Prime Minister once he learned of the allegations. One attendee at the event was accused of having assaulted up to five attendees at an evening party which was said to have involved a “mountain” of alcohol.
Labour commissioned Wellington lawyer Maria Berryman in March to investigate how it handled the affair, its general culture and any other incidents of sexual harassment or abuse within the party. She had three months to report back and her findings were not to be made public but go to key party leaders.
Berryman only recently spoke to some of the five victims of the assaults at the camp.
Police have been investigating and have indicated a charge may yet be laid against the person accused of the late-night assaults on young party supporters, one as young as 16.
Newsroom revealed Kirton’s plans at lunchtime today and he announced this afternoon he was heading to a new role as government relations executive at Air New Zealand.
Some eyebrows could be raised over the timing of the announcement, coming at a time when political and media eyes are on Ardern’s new baby at Auckland Hospital.
After the news of the youth camp allegations broke in March, it emerged the victims had not been provided counselling until media coverage was imminent and that a claimed offer for victims to complain to the police had not in fact been made by the party to the victims.
Kirton said the party had been trying to look after the welfare of the victims but conceded Labour had not followed through in its contact or offers of counselling and had left too much to inexperienced Labour Youth volunteers.
Ardern was not told of the allegations, despite having spoken at the camp during the weekend meeting.
When announcing the independent inquiry, Haworth told media he stood by Kirton who was a first-class general secretary, “among the best Labour had had”, and “absolutely has my confidence”.
He was credited last year with helping organise Labour to a spectacular election performance under new leader Ardern.