“This is an unambiguous and dark warning to victims of bullying in parliament: keep quiet and don’t come forward.”
ONE UNION has written to the Speaker of the House today requesting he take action against the chief executive of Parliamentary Services over his conduct relating to bullying by Mr Nick Smith MP.
The union alleges Mr Rafael Gonzalez-Montero and others cynically used the victim and the complainant as pawns in a campaign to get rid of Smith. After Smith was forced to resign, the victim and the witness were abandoned.
Chief executive Gonzalez-Montero forced a young victim, against his wishes, to participate in a year-long investigation against Smith.
The chief executive promised the victim he would personally protect his well-being, his employment and his career. A similar promise was made to the primary witness of the bullying.
Instead, during the investigation neither of the junior staffers had their employment contracts renewed. They lost their jobs, and their parliamentary careers are over. The victim still owes money for the lawyer he was appointed by the chief executive.
Gonzalez-Montero’s lawyer has threatened the victim and myself that if One Union goes public with their story, Parliamentary Services may sue the victim and myself personally for damages. Smith was a bully and was held accountable. But, Gonzalez-Montero’s actions, are those of an abuser. He should be held accountable too.
The Francis Report two years ago said parliament was toxic and abuse was rampant. It made 83 recommendations. Nothing has changed.
We request the Speaker agree to the following:
- Hold an inquiry into Gonzalez-Montero’s handling of this matter.
- Direct the CEO to answer the union questions on this case.
- Release the final investigation report.
- Provide an update on 2018 Francis report.
In August 2020 Parliamentary Services chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero launched a formal investigation into the bullying by Nick Smith against a junior staff member in July. After Smith was advised of the complaint, he countered with a complaint against the alleged victim.
The chief executive summoned the young staffer to his office and advised he was being investigated too, and he was required to co-operate with the inquiry. The young staffer said he didn’t want to be involved because he felt it would hurt his career. He was right, it destroyed it. The chief executive said the staffer didn’t have a choice.
Gonzalez-Montero, however, assured the victim that he had nothing to fear. He made a heartfelt personal promise that as chief executive he would protect the staffer’s wellbeing, his employment, and his career in parliament. A similar reassurance was given to the primary witness who was the actual complainant.
The chief executive said this was a chance for parliament to show it would hold powerful individuals accountable. It seems Gonzalez-Montero was motivated by the Francis Report two years earlier that had lambasted the toxic parliament culture and identified numerous cases of bullying and abuse. The report made 83 recommendations and said parliament had to take action.
Under the Bus
Gonzalez-Montero provided the victim a lawyer. The first invoices were paid. Then they stopped. After that the victim had to borrow from his family to pay the legal bills.
When the preliminary inquiry report was finally produced, it was shared with the participants. A brutal media smear campaign was immediately launched against the victim and the witness, causing enormous stress to both young people. It was clear certain media had been briefed against the workers. As the attacks intensified the victim requested a meeting with Gonzalez-Montero. The chief executive told the victim to meet at a Wellington café rather than his office.
At this meeting the staffer begged the chief executive to put out the facts in a media statement to counter the lies. Gonzalez-Montero point blank refused, saying he had a wider responsibility to maintain relationships with politicians. It is clear his responsibilities, in his mind, didn’t include telling the truth, keeping his promises, or protecting his staff.
When the victim asked what his legal complaint options were, he was advised that path would not be good for his future career.
When the inquiry report was finalised, its findings were the same as what was stated in the draft report. It confirmed that Smith was guilty of bullying and harassment. It also found the victim blameless. The victim and his lawyer were permitted to read the full report but have no copy.
When then National Party leader Judith Collins told Smith the report was about be leaked, he immediately resigned from parliament. Gonzalez-Montero refuses to confirm who has copies. Did Judith Collins? The chief executive refuses to release the final report.
The union believes the victim was used as a political pawn in an internal party power play. The chief executive, with his wilful silence, betrayed his employees.
Despite Gonzalez-Montero’s early assurances, the employment contracts for the victim and the witness were not renewed. Neither are now employed in parliament. Once the political hatchet job was done, the chief executive lost interest.
This is an unambiguous and dark warning to victims of bullying in parliament: keep quiet and don’t come forward.
The Sordid Aftermath
Because the victim was compelled by Gonzalez-Montero to cooperate with the year-long investigation he is now in debt. Everyone else had their legal fees picked up by the taxpayer.
Gonzalez-Montero currently is offering no compensation to the victim. Apparently, they don’t want to set a precedent. He and his lawyer say if they are required to attend a mediation, their position won’t change.
The senior law partner representing Gonzalez-Montero says he is very relaxed. Given they are paid close to $1000 an hour, that’s no surprise. The taxpayer funded trough is very deep for those who protect the powerful against the vulnerable.
Gonzalez-Montero has been at pains to say to the union how bad he feels for the victim.
When I reminded him of his earlier promise to protect the victim and his career, the chief executive initially claimed he couldn’t remember the meeting. When I said he had sent an email to the staffer to make an appointment with his secretary, and National’s chief of staff had confirmed she was present, he offered to put in a good word for any future suitable job vacancies the victim may apply. No promises of course. This is beyond muddle-headed idiocy. Who thinks like this?
Gonzalez-Montero is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lead over two thousand employees in parliament. He wouldn’t last a day in the private sector.
The Prime Minister
This deep injustice happened on Jacinda Ardern’s watch. The prime minister asks us to be kind to each other. We agree. There are times for soothing words and an empathetic smile. But in this matter, firm action is required.
Character integrity is measured by how we treat those with little power. This is a time for the prime minister and the Speaker to instruct Gonzalez-Montero to fix this mess he created. Or sack him.
Matt McCarten is Union Director of One Union.
Help us win justice for victims of exploitation and abuse in non-unionised workplaces. Go to www.oneunion.org.nz, or free phone 0800 368 000.