A tale of two leaders

When the news of Sam Uffindell’s schoolboy attack broke Christopher Luxon said there had to be a place for redemption, providing there was contrition and he told the MP to front the media, which he did.

When fresh accusations about Uffindell as a student broke, his leader stood him down pending an independent inquiry.

There was some criticism about that and Uffindell won’t be the only one who is worried about how something they did years ago might turn up. But it is fair to seek answers to questions about what happened and it gives a couple of weeks breathing space while that process goes on.

Contrast that with Jacinda Ardern when Speaker Trevor Mallard accused a parliamentary staff member of rape – accusations that subsequently cost the taxpayer more than $330,000 to settle.

She let him keep his job as speaker, a role which holds considerable power, and has subsequently rewarded him with a diplomatic post.

Then last week Hamilton West Labour MP Dr Gaurav Sharma wrote a column in the NZ Herald raising issues of bullying.

Ardern’s answer to that was to insinuate he had issues managing his staff.

. . .”Starting out as a new MP can be challenging and one of the toughest parts is navigating the new environment but also the role you must play as an MP managing others.” . . .

Where’s the kindness in that?

He responded with a Facebook post and a timeline of events:

Over the last 24hours many of you would have read the op-ed I wrote in NZ Herald. I want to start by thanking a large number of you who have contacted me from across the country with support. I have also had a few people who have tried to harass me without knowing the fully story. Due to being busy with constituent work and more recent matters I haven’t had much time to follow the comments on social media, but from what I have seen there are many genuine questions out there.

In order to give context to the issues I raised yesterday, I am sharing the following timeline of events:

⁃Before I took my oath I was assigned a Relationship Manager by Parliamentary Services to look after me and my staffing levels. This person had a direct conflict of interest in their role due to being a Labour member who had tried to stop me getting selected as a candidate. I raised this on Day 0 with a senior Parliamentary Manager who assured me that this would never be an issue. ⁃In February 2021 I had an underperforming staff member but instead of listening to my concerns, this was actively turned into a major project by the Labour Party Whips to bring me into disrepute and to rein me in. I sat in meetings after meetings being told I was doing a terrible job and that 9/10 times the MP is a bully so we refuse to listen to anything you have to say. I wrote numerous emails to Parliamentary Services and Whips Office asking for support, providing significant evidence of underperformance by a staff member but I was told in clear words “if you are staying up and working until 3am, you should work until 5am to make up for your staff’s incompetence.” Issues I raised involved staff being drunk at work, not showing up to work, being sent on leave without any notice or approval, and a significant wastage of taxpayer’s money. But all I was told was that I need to shut up and do a mentoring course on managing people. I had hundreds of pages to prove that my staff wasn’t doing the work they were hired to do and it affected my ability to provide services to my constituents but I was never listened to. The main bully was Kieran McAnulty who kept gaslighting me, shouting at me, degrading me in front of caucus members and other attendees at events and telling me that I was a terrible MP. His staff members at the Whips Office were the same. One of the most clearest examples was on the night of the America’s Cup final race where he asked me to come to his room for a meeting on a very short notice, but when I got there I was advised that he had to be in an important meeting so couldn’t make it. I spent close to 2 hours sitting with Kieran McAnulty’s staff in his office being told how terrible a manager I was, with no right of reply. But what was most sickening was that when I came out I saw photos of him drinking and celebrating the America’s Cup final while I sat in his office like a school kid at the headmaster’s office.

⁃In August 2021 I found that a Member of Parliament of the Labour Party and a Parliamentary staff member (also a Labour Member) were misusing taxpayer’s money. As someone who took an oath to uphold and protect the interests of this country I raised my concerns with the Relationship Manager at Parliamentary Services. Instead of protecting my identity and looking into this matter, Parliamentary Services forwarded my concerns to the Labour Party Whips and alerted them of what I had said.

The issues of bullying and mismanagement of staff have been the major focus.

This accusation of the Labour Party and a parliamentary staff member misusing taxpayers’ money ought to be getting at least as much attention.

⁃Following this incidence, I was put through further bullying. I was told by then Junior Whip Duncan Webb that what I did was wrong and I should be ashamed of myself. I was told that it was lucky that this Parliamentary Services Relationship Manager (who I had raised issues re conflict of interest on day 0) who is also a Labour Party member informed the Whips Office, because it could have fallen into the wrong hands which could have caused trouble. I was then told by Duncan Webb that an accusation like this could mean that the government could get into trouble, lose the election etc and such issues needed to be contained rather than discussed freely. I was then told by Duncan Webb in clear terms that “the only way this country can succeed is if Labour is in government. Government means Labour. So the Party comes first and foremost before the country.” The matter was never looked into and everything was hushed.

⁃Due to my outspoken stance on squandering of taxpayers money and other policy issues I was further bullied. I was called to last minute meetings with no notice and no support person (but once when I managed to take a caucus colleague with me).

⁃My staffing issues created through the mismanagement of the Whips Office and Parliamentary Services continued. My messages to the Parliamentary Services Relationship Manager were often not returned and I was repeatedly deflected to instead sort it out with the Whips. The same Whips who would bully me and had no legal right to begin with in a triangular relationship between Parliamentary Services (employer), my staff (employee) and myself (day-to-day-manager). I went to the Manager’s Manager but nothing came out of it. I went to the CEO of Parliamentary Services, I wrote emails and made calls – I was promised support to help with the staffing issue but all I got was silence. Many weeks after meeting the CEO I was told that I should go back and talk to the Whips.

Slowly I fell into a cycle of stress, depression and lack of hope as I found myself stuck. I remember one of my former patients sending me very kind message on World Mental Health Day about how I had helped her as a doctor a while ago. I thought to myself about how despite listening to and assisting many of my constituents with bullying and harassment issues, I had to put a bold face up as I struggled everyday with the thought of contemplating suicide. The Labour Party Whips Office and the Parliamentary Services removed all my mānā and didn’t give me any fair process to express my concerns. Slowly I started withdrawing from all the social events in Wellington. Every time I saw my bully Kieran McAnulty speak or smile, it made me sad and angry at the system and the process.

⁃I came to a point in 2021 where I advised Duncan Webb that I had had enough, and because I hadn’t received the support and justice I had been seeking I would go to the media to present the whole issue and tell them how I was being mistreated and there was no investigation into serious claims I had made about the incompetence of a staff member. This is the first time they listened. I was told that they would fly up to Hamilton and talk to me face to face to resolve my issues, which I declined because I had been in meetings after meetings with them for months with no resolution. Their solution included paying a severance pay from taxpayer’s purse to a person who had been repeatedly underperforming. I refused on principle, doing this would mean a double wastage of public money. I kept being pushed to concede but I refused. Eventually they cut a deal with the staff member to encourage them to resign from my office (I did not pay this person out because I stood by my claims which were never and still haven’t been investigated).

⁃After this, the bullying continued in many ways, simplest of which was a freeze on hiring staff. I challenged this and asked them to openly and fairly investigate my claims. But it was refused. For months on end I continued to be short staffed in providing support and services to my constituents who deserved better. I was told that I wasn’t an employee of the Labour Party, or its caucus or Parliamentary Services. My employers were the constituents – but my resourcing was halted by the Labour Party Whips – who were not legally even part of the triangular relationship. A fourth wheel which I continued to challenge shouldn’t be able to make decisions for my constituents especially when they were themselves the bully. When I tried to contact the Parliamentary Services they stopped taking my calls or replying to emails, instead again asking me to talk to the Whips.

⁃I went the only place I felt I could to seek help in December 2021. The Prime Ministers’ Office. The advice was always clear – do not give anything in writing and do not expect anything in writing. Everything can be OIA’ed. So I met the Chief of Staff of PMO for over an hour of meeting which was supposed to be only a 30mins appointment. I took with me hundreds of pages of evidence – emails, timelines, issues etc to explain my case. I very clearly said that Kieran McAnulty was a bully. That I was being bullied. That other caucus members were being bullied by Kieran McAnulty. Few weeks after the meeting when I had not heard from PMO, I contacted the PMO with a written complaint on 18th of December 2021. An investigation was never done. My bully still walks the halls of power with his head held up high, while a “messenger from Caucus” advised me yesterday after my op-ed in Herald that I should take the basement exit and try to avoid Parliament. The kick in the guts however is that despite raising concerns about Kieran McAnulty, not only by me but as I understand by other members of the caucus too (which I had clearly said to the PMO) he was promoted to being a Minister of the Crown. This is our justice.

⁃The issues with Parliamentary Services are even more complex & detailed and have continued. My current staff member has also raised significant concerns about the support from Parliamentary Services and has essentially been ghosted and stone walled. They have had no support in terms of expectation settings & annual review and have been underpaid for a significant amount of time. They went on to raise similar concerns as me re the Relationship Manager (the Labour member with conflict of interest) but it was only after 17months that this person was removed but never investigated for a serious breach of confidentiality (in my case raising concerns re taxpayers money) and in other cases re appropriate support and training.

⁃I know that some people think that I had for some reason tried to time this with what was happening with the issues at the National Party but that is far from the truth. I was told in an email in May by Parliamentary Services that there had never been an investigation against me despite me asking for an official review on multiple incidences. In April this year I contacted a range of lawyers in Wellington and eventually engaged someone to help me draft a legal challenge to the issues I had been facing. I was open about this to the Parliamentary Services and the Labour Whips from the moment I hired the lawyer but they thought I was bluffing. Due to a recent overseas trip and the staff shortage it has taken me a bit longer than I had anticipated to put together all the notes for my grievances and concerns (I am at 40+pages but still writing). Last week I had written to a new Manager at Parliamentary Services asking for a report on some serious complaints I had made (over a year ago). This Manager had promised me 4months ago that things would be looked into but I had not heard back. In reply to my most recent query the Parliamentary Services Manager advised me that they would instead first like to meet me with the Labour Whips and then they would give a written reply. Don’t forget that Parliamentary Services is part of the triangular employment relationship, but Labour Whips aren’t. Hence my comments yesterday about seldom replying and often from behind the Whips’ table.

⁃To me this meeting on Thursday was another attempt to silence me, to bully me and to put me in my place. But unlike other times this time they had given me a slightly longer notice for the meeting. Having been in numerous meetings where I had no support person and was being talked at by 3-4 people often, I decided to take my lawyer Phil Mitchell with me to the meeting to support me. The meeting was called by the Labour Party Whips in their room with the presence of Parliamentary Services on the day of their choosing. They weren’t expecting me to bring a support person let alone a lawyer. Suddenly the conversation in the room was about moving forward. The staffing issues that PM and Whips office claim they had been working with me in good faith to resolve had been going on for 1.5 years but now somehow with the lawyer in the room and threat of a legal case hanging about their head, I was advised that all was forgotten! That I just had to move forward, drop my complaints about Parliamentary Service and significant issues of drunk staff, staff with serious complaints from constituents etc because they didn’t want to investigate these claims. I was told that I was relitigating old matters. At the Thursday meeting I continued to say that Kieran McAnulty is a bully and if they would investigate him. I was just given blank stares and told to move on. I was also told by Duncan Webb that making such claims against a sitting senior Labour MP can affect my career projection.

⁃But they agreed to resolve the staffing issues. Within 30mins of a meeting with my lawyer I had been emailed by two Managers at Parliamentary Services that everything would be resolved and we were moving forward. The ads and roles for staffing were sent to me and I was free to hire asap, something that couldn’t be done in 1.5 years was done in a short meeting with a lawyer. ⁃The reason the op-ed came out yesterday was because the meeting was called by the Labour Whips yesterday at a time and place of their choosing and in that meeting they continued to laugh on my face saying in front of my lawyer “how will you even sue us, you have no legal rights” while repeatedly refusing to investigate anything I have said or investigate me for any issue.

⁃In summary, I stand by my claims that I have been subjected to ongoing bullying by the Parliamentary Service and the Labour Whips and none of my concerns have been investigated. Neither has there been an investigation into any claims against me as per the last written contact from the Deputy CEO of Parliamentary Service. I didn’t just wake up on the wrong side of the bed one day and made these serious claims. For 1.5years I have been trying to seek independent investigation, justice and support from Parliamentary Service, Labour Whips and the PMO. I also want to clearly state that despite what Duncan Webb says it has always been my belief that the country should always come ahead of any party. If I ever have to choose between party and country my allegiance will always be with the country first.

Misusing taxpayers’ money and bullying are very, very serious claims, not in the past as accusations against Uffindell are, but in this term of government and continuing.

There are also accusations from a staff member against another Labour MP, Anna Lorck.

Christopher Luxon has showed strong leadership in seeking an independent inquiry into the claims about his MP’s past and standing him down pending the results of that.

Jacinda Ardern is showing none of the kindness on which she lectures the rest of us, and she’s showing poor leadership.

Serious accusations deserve a serious response that includes an investigation into how much, if any, substance there is to them.

And that doesn’t mean the usual word salad and answering another question than the one she was asked, which is Ardern’s usual way to handle interviews which test her.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: