Andrea Vance is one of NZs best political Journalists and she has written a staunch defence of Paula Bennett while attacking anyone criticising Paula’s politicking of the Labour sex assault allegations.
There is much to commend in Vance’s defence of Bennett but there are also two glaring problems which threaten to sink her entire argument beneath an ocean of troubles.
Firstly, Vance is 100% right about not criticising the complainants for approaching Bennett. If you feel that you have not been treated fairly by a process and wish to complain to any Politician, that is your total right. The attempts by some to paint this as dirty politics demeans the term and those who are complaining.
That some complainants were outraged by the process and the tone deaf response form Labour and approached Bennett is a reflection on the Labour Party process, not them.
The Labour Party should have immediately welcomed and thanked those complaining for having the courage to step forward with their truth. The Labour Party then should have offered immediate free counselling for everyone involved, stepped down the staff member on full pay for the duration of the inquiry and been transparent with the complainants over the evidence provided and the findings of that process so that those complainants at least felt they had been listened to and heard, whatever the outcome.
If the decision was to clear the staff member, the reasons for that needed to be specific. That Labour mishandled the sensitivities of this and were too clumsy in the process seeded the resentment that leads people to go to Paula Bennett and complain.
Vance is also right in attacking some of the political responses to this. Shane Jones jaw dropping comment that he was more worried about the Spark world cup coverage was as jarring as it was ugly.
However, where Vance trips and falls is in her glossing over of Bennett as the defender of victim rights.
While there is no dirty politics here and while the complainants can’t be criticised for their choice of messenger, the messenger herself can certainly be attacked.
Paula is the champion of victims is she?
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has refused to apologise to a single mother whose income details she released in 2009 – and will not rule out taking the same action again in the future.
The Director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings Robert Hesketh yesterday said a privacy breach complaint by single mother Natasha Fuller against Ms Bennett in 2009 had been resolved and no proceedings would be taken.
The same Paula who wrongfully maligned state tenants for a meth hysteria that Paula herself helped generate is the champion of victims is she?
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said the high rate of methamphetamine was “particularly distressing”.
“Any situation where methamphetamine use has been found in social housing is unacceptable, but the number of young children in this case makes it particularly distressing,” she said.
The same Paula who only stood up for the ‘victims’ of Jami-Lee Ross when it was politically expedient to do so is the champion of victims is she?
National deputy leader Paula Bennett said the leadership team raised issues with Ross – but it wasn’t about harassment.
“At no point was the matter of sexual harassment ever put to Jami-Lee Ross,” Bennett told the Herald.
“What was put to him was inappropriate behaviour that is unacceptable from a married Member of Parliament.”
Those examples are not as Vance describes them, ‘crass whataboutery’, if there are issues with how Labour handled an allegation of serious sexual assault, Paula Bennett is the last person to be making political capital out of that.
The second glaring problem that sinks Vance’s defence of Bennett however is the most concerning.
In the face of a legal system that requires objective evidence and fails to prosecute sexual abusers effectively, the post #MeToo culture war and social media landscape demands that allegation is the new evidential threshold and due process a cis-male privilege.
Vance’s entire position is underpinned by the presumption that the Labour Party staffer is guilty based on only the allegations made against him. Damien Grant covers this issue off in his latest column that Stuff has hidden online in the hope that it doesn’t generate a #MeToo backlash from the Wellington Twitteratti.
Moving to a presumption of guilt based on only allegation is a neo-Salem Witch Trial moment that will solve little in terms of the power imbalance between the accused and the accuser.
In the age of subjective rage where any micro aggression can escalate to a hate crime in the space of 2 tweets, a neo-Salem Witch Trial era will have all the nuance of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
To watch a journalist with the mana of Vance gleefully take that step is eye opening because it creates a political environment ripe for backlash.
Last years vicious Kavanaugh confirmation hearings created this very backlash and robbed Democrats of wins that they should have picked up to defeat Trump with.
Mothers and Fathers watching the baying mob of the woke who believed allegation is evidence went from worrying about their daughters being sexually assaulted to worrying about their sons being accused of sexual assault.
I think the same dynamics will play out here with the benefactor being NZ First.
Meanwhile the accusers, the accused and the Party trusted with providing a process of justice have all been let down while the Prime Minister has been smeared with claims she covered up a serious sexual assault.
Nobody limps away from this unharmed.