Friday 16 March 2018

School For Scandal.

In Loco Parentis: The errors of judgement made by the event organisers, and then compounded by the party organisation’s leadership, have been well rehearsed over the past week. Too many participants under the age of 18; too much alcohol; too little supervision; too few people with the experience required to manage a serious crisis; too many party members desperate to avoid a scandal.

“WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!?” That’s the question which thousands of New Zealanders put to their families, friends, workmates and, of course, to themselves, when they learned what had happened at Labour’s 2018 summer school, held at the Waitawheta Camp near Waihi on 9-11 Februray.

The errors of judgement made by the event organisers, and then compounded by the party organisation’s leadership, have been well rehearsed over the past week.

Too many participants under the age of 18; too much alcohol; too little supervision; too few people with the experience required to manage a serious crisis; too many party members desperate to avoid a scandal.

And that was just for starters. Having been informed by four sixteen-year-olds that they had been sexually assaulted by an extremely drunk twenty-year-old male, the summer school organisers failed to either lay a complaint with the Police or inform the victims’ parents of what had happened to their children.

Even more astonishing was the revelation that the highly contentious decisions of the “first responders” were not immediately countermanded by the Labour Party’s General Secretary, Andrew Kirton. Not only was the senior administrative officer of the NZ Labour Party unwilling to involve the Police and the parents, but he was also unwilling to inform the leader of his party, the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern!

It was only when Labour’s senior officials realised that the story was about to break in the news media, that any serious thought was given to how the country might react to the summer school scandal. The extent to which these officials failed to anticipate the public’s response is, politically-speaking, one of the most concerning aspects of the whole, sorry saga.

Instead of putting themselves in the shoes of the ordinary Kiwi parent of a teenage daughter or son and trying to imagine how they might feel about a political party which kept themselves, the cops and the Prime Minister – for goodness sake! – in the dark about their kids being sexually assaulted, the party organisation opted instead to frame its public response in terms of the victims’ right to determine what, if anything, should be done about the summer school incident.

The party’s senior officials did not believe they had the right to inform anyone about the events of 10 February without the consent of the young people directly affected. In taking this position, they were following the lead of doctors, counsellors and teachers who refuse to involve the parents of the young people who come to them seeking advice on sexual intimacy, contraceptives or, more rarely, the termination of unplanned pregnancies. According to Andrew Kirton, the party organisation was following the “victim-led” protocols of individuals and agencies who deal with sexual trauma on a daily basis.

Nor should it be forgotten that it was only a few years ago that the Labour Party membership came within a few votes of carrying a remit calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16. Should New Zealand parents be surprised that a political party which seriously considered allowing 16-year-olds to vote, decided to allow the four 16-year-old victims of the summer school incident to set the parameters within which the rest of the world would be granted access to their own, extremely personal, experiences?

By adopting this impeccably “progressive” stance, Andrew Kirton and his comrades have forced Labour back into the same perilous political position it took up to defend the so-called “anti-smacking” legislation.

Morally-speaking, that was unquestionably the right thing to do. Politically-speaking, it was the height of folly. Far too many of its working-class voters interpreted Labour’s stance on smacking as an implied criticism of the way they’d raised their kids.

On this issue, Labour seems to be saying: “We’re not going to tell you that some drunken creep has groped your daughter/son during an out-of-control party at one of our summer schools, because we don’t believe you have the right to be informed.”

In the words of the irrepressible editor of The Daily Blog, Martyn Bradbury:

“That position is utterly untenable to every single voting parent in NZ. And that this is the best excuse Labour could come up with since the event is a terrible blunder and political miscalculation. As the enormity of [Labour’s] defence sinks-in to every voting parent in the country, the backlash will grow and grow and grow.”

Jacinda Ardern simply cannot allow that to happen.

This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 March 2018.


Nick J said...

Totally unacceptable response from all involved.

First when it is alleged that a crime has occurred it is to be reported. Any crime, full stop.

It's not up to somebody else to decide should it be? Or to act in their own "authority position" to decide what next. Why the hell do we have laws and an enforcement system if somebody else thinks they might know better?Or a parliament?

In this case the first port of call was (with or without the support of victims and parents) the police. As a victim you don't get to choose if a law has been broken or what happens (although you can choose to not cooperate). The crime is not just against victims, it breaks a societal agreement upon how we all coexist.

The Labour party president and related staff should have known this, they should go simply because they failed in their duty to fellow citizens.

Compounding this folly was their position in relation to government. They acted in a way that showed no respect for our legal and governmental process, and undermined the authority of their parliamentary colleagues. Worse they kept them in the dark. For that alone they should go. Adern would be within her rights to demand that they go, it would send a clear message to the public about ethics, standards and responsibility.

peteswriteplace said...

Sack, those Labour Party officials who were involved. Give the police the info they need and lets get on with housing, homelessness, unemployment, health and all the other priorities.

Kat said...

Oh yes Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut from all the chartering classes. If its not law firms its the Labour Party. To err is human, let them sort themselves out but my message is just don't repeat it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

This seems to happen much too often worldwide. And I'm not quite sure I understand the reasoning behind the responses either from this camp, or from US universities, or any other organisation. Basically it's a crime. Presumably indecent assault. So – with maybe due regard to the people who have been victimised – shouldn't it be reported to the police straightaway? I notice that one of the victims has complained, and we should maybe take into account their wishes about it, but it's still a crime. And again, I don't know the law exactly but it would seem to me that if it's a serious enough crime and you witness it, or someone complains about it, then you have an obligation to report it anyway But then we don't know what conversations took place between the organisers, the victims and/or their parents. THAT I really would like to know about. I can't remember which PR person once said that it's always better to tell the truth – because if you don't it looks as if you've covered it up and/or are incompetent.

Polly said...

Jacinda has failed miserably in this test of her moral values and leadership.
She needed to bring the organizers to account.
She will not do that.
This is pathetic and weak leadership.
Did she know what was going on at the camp?.
Her lack of discipline against her team says she did.

greywarbler said...

Nic J's position is unequivocal. Mine is that these were young people and the Labour Party hierarchy were in loco parentis which responsibility they seemed to take very lightly. It was quite 'loco' to take the unequivocal advice of professional advisors, instead of reflecting on the 'appropriate' position for the Party's organisers to take with regard to these young people. When will our politicians and leading figures of society stop contracting out of their duties and responsible behaviours that we expect them to adopt, accept and carry out themselves? Particularly Labour which is so quick to reach for the mantle of the Party that 'does the right thing'.

The parents who are trying to guide their young adults through the snags and risks of youth do not expect their self-proclaiming Party of principle
to put their children in an invidious position like this, and this applies
whether at the age of consent or not. They were supposed to be mature enough to handle peer pressure and be perfectly informed on all matters social and sexual. Hah! Behaviour that is lewd, considered later, may happen too quickly for a reasoned response despite embarrassment, when some have imbibed too much alcohol ending up with too little inhibition.

The first port of call should have been to talk to the young people involved, together, and point out to them that the young Labour Party organisers would have to contact the parents, inform them of the unfortunate behaviour and apologise for not running a controlled social evening, and of allowing high alcohol liquor to be available, without supervision. This would have placed the parents' ire directed at them and not the young people.

I am so pleased that my children got through their teenage years without resorting to drugs, perhaps trying briefly what marijuana was like, and possibly being careful with beer and wine, staying away from RTDs and noting my cautioning because we had alcoholics in both sides of the family. I would have been mortified and burning with anger at young Labour if they had hosted my children to this sort of 'do'. Having someone putting their hand down someone's pants was crass and an invasion of their person, but because of my concern about alcohol, it would have been the minor part of my concern. Those who carry on about the bad behaviour as if it was akin to rape, need to adjust their classifications of what is bad and what is serious. There needs to be pull-back from knee-jerk shock-horror about such actions to stop what seems a threatening moral outrage wave.

The parents should have been the ones to decide if they wanted the matter taken to the police, and done so in a meeting either face to face or through speaker phone, if they wanted to ensure that their images did not find their way to some publication there to remain for virtual infinity.

Why wasn't low alcohol beer the only or main drink available? It would be pleasant chilled, and acceptable once the group stopped being grumpy, as they probably would have been, considering it lolly water and beneath their contempt. The answer would have been tough, give it a try you will like it.

Geoff Fischer said...

In any society the majority of offences against the law and morality are resolved without the intervention of the state authorities, and that is as it should be for the sake of individuals, the community and the state. We generally operate on the principle that if at any point either victim or offender wish the case to go to state adjudication then that will happen, but on the other hand if both victim and offender want the complaint to be resolved in community then that it will be, and in my own experience the outcomes of community justice have invariably been positive. I don't know the circumstances or nature of the alleged offences at Labour's Summer Camp except to say that the whanau of the victims always need to be involved if the victims are young. That is key to the difference between community justice and community cover-up. So the Labour Party should have apprised the victims' parents or caregivers of what had taken place at the earliest opportunity.
Labour is caught in the dilemma of liberalism here. More conservative organisations would not allow alcohol at hui and would have clear and relatively tight expectations as to what is acceptable behaviour. Old style Labour would have known that intuitively. The Labour Party grew out of the conservative working class and in its early decades was strongly associated with the non-conformist churches. Those links have now been well and truly sundered, and Labour is the party of the liberal middle classes, spiritually agnostic if not atheist, more concerned with economic and social freedoms than with economic justice and moral probity. The party pursued economic liberalism to its ultimate political cost and as Chris has observed it may yet find that social liberalism also comes at a political price.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Nick J that some in the Labour heirachy should go, but Ardern is on record as saying she is standing by Kirton but to my knowledge has never stated why she is taking this position.

Shellez said...

As a parent I find the "victims rights" argument all too convenient and very, very wrong.

This is fine when a minor who accesses help from a counsellor, but not fine in the situation where an organisation has a duty of care towards a child. A school needs to inform parents of any incident that might happen at school or at a camp and Labour did too as they needed parental permission for those minor children to attend the camp. Depending on the situation, they may also had responsibility to report to the ministry of children as there is a compulsion in the law for any child at risk of or suffering abuse to have responsible adults act in their interests. As a parent I expect those I trust to have my children in the care of would act as a parent would and ensure the child is helped.

It's actually pretty clear in the news they didn't inform those teenagers of their options nor provided them help on top of that. They didn't report this externally and they didn't act to immediately sort it out leading a victim to contact a cabinet minister on FB weeks later. I don't believe the story Ardern had only been told, she clearly had the narrative already in place and again, just to convenient that she can use that wasn't told excuse to distance herself.

They failed and Kirton is at the core of that, any sensible leader would have cut him loose immediately and I believe Ardern has made a serious error of judgement here. It just looks like a classic cover up and hiding behind experts and promising a review is insufficient to deal with it. The hypocrisy and hubris here is astonishing, the person that did this was merely asked to leave. That's it, and they are saying they were nothing to do with Labour? Obviously they did.

Unknown said...

Following the wishes of the victims, as to who should be informed, is the absolute correct thing to do.

I was fiddled with by a pedo when a youngster and the last thing I would have wanted is my parents to know. My father was a born again religious zealot, the bastard would have had me on my knees reading the bible for the next couple of decades.
Informing the cops would have been equally as bad as parents would then also have become involved. To those who think not telling people let the pedo go free,think again, when I was a little older and bigger I took care of the matter myself

Anonymous said...

Labour risk eroding their own base with this policy of keeping parents in the dark about minors being sexually assaulted. Why is Ardern so weak that she can't fire Kirton and Harworth? What do they have over her?

Pinger said...

Tame compared to the antics of the Aussie Labor party drinking sessions with Bob Hawke etc

Victor said...

Auntie Helen would have taken at least one scalp over this.

As Machiavelli wrote: "It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both."

Nick J said...

I remain unequivocal in terms of how I see it. I hear John Walker loud and clear, yes there is very real potential pain and damage. I think we confuse how we treat the victims versus how we address the offender.

In this regard I take a deep unliberal conservative stance. If it were a robbery, rape, murder would we ask the victims if we should report to the authorities? Or would we consider what the victim wished done, what the community wanted?

My worry is that we as a society have allowed ourselves captured by liberal concepts of individual freedoms to the extent that we no longer understand that these come at a price. That price in this case is adherence to the collective Will of our entire polity as expressed by our legal and governmental systems. It is the price we pay in so many ways to allow ourselves to navigate a potentially hostile society with an expectation of protection from harm and freedom of action. If people think they can individually decide what process to follow outside of this regime what is to prevent offenders from free range to reoffend, or for individual vigilantism?

PS Jacinda failed in her response. Black mark, Victor spot on. Kristin should get Admiral Byng treatment.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Young Labour Party organisers would have to contact the parents"

No they wouldn't. As I understand it the victims were over 16. Which means if they don't want their parents contacted you are actually not allowed to do so. I noticed that all the RWNJ bloggers are going on about "common sense"*. That doesn't actually apply here, the law does. There might be good and sufficient reasons for their parents not to be told in fact we don't know that. Which is why Ardern should be asking what the conversation was between the Labour Party officials and the victims. If they had vetoed the parents being informed it would have been wrong to do so, and in fact the RWNJ bloggers would probably be itching about people's rights being overwritten. (Maybe not – they seem to think that children are possessions.)
This still leaves of course the problem that this assault actually happened and that young people were allowed to get pissed without supervision. That if any, is the reason that heads should roll.

*"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen." Albert Einstein

David Stone said...

I'm reluctant to venture here ,the issue is so drought with emotion and so complex. What attention is wanted? what is not? How do you know? etc. Life must go on in the end.
But having hedged that way I think I agree with Nick. The offence is not only of interest to the initial victim , it is to society, on behalf of the next potential victim. Which turned out to be the next girl the perp come upon, and the next, and the next. If it's buried there will be another crop, more seriously assaulted at the next event the perp attends , labour party function or whatever.
The offence is to society not just one girl. not just four.

greywarbler said...

I note that police can decide on diversion in some minor cases of bad behaviour which is what most of our crime is, not egregious. Seeing it wasn't rape or murder, which are egregious, then I think that the jury of four families could decide what was to be done.

You seem to be talking about slippery slope stuff here Nick J. Doing what is best in the circumstances is not inappropriate here. The parents should be informed and the four families consult, and if one was a rigid moralist that person would I hope, be an outlier. John Walker's case is definitely in that case. The balance of harm can be established here because it is a minor crime, but the young man must be taken to task, face to face as part of the process. He should be warned to limit his drinking and the behavioural excuses that the hypocritical young can use to excuse risky, perverse behaviour (males and females).