Jacinda Ardern insists she was 'absolutely not' kept ignorant of youth camp assault allegations by Labour Party to protect her

Jacinda Ardern has this afternoon vigorously denied she was shielded by her own party from allegations of sexual assault arising from February's Coromandel Labour Party Youth camp.

In a press conference outside her Mt Albert Auckland Electorate Office, the Prime Minister said the delay of a week between Labour Minister Megan Woods finding out of the news of the alleged assaults and Ms Ardern's own notification was not calculated.

"We've moved as quickly as we could from the time that I was aware but I absolutely accept mistakes have been made, we're owning that," the Prime Minister said.

Party bosses today announced a full inquiry. Source: 1 NEWS

It is understood Minister Woods found out about the allegations through Twitter on March 4, but Ms Ardern was not notified until Monday this week when the allegations surfaced in the media. 

Today, Ms Ardern would not comment on whether she was angry with her party for not telling her sooner.

"Look, as I've said from the beginning, the most important thing for me are these young people," Ms Ardern said.

"This is not about me and political management, it's about supporting the young people involved."

The Prime Minister also denied it was a political decision not to tell her of the assaults.

"I accept also that there has been strong advice also to the party," Ms Ardern said.

"Ultimately, the circle of people who knew, in order to make sure we were protecting these young people, was kept small and to the party leadership, and the most senior party in the Labour Party is the party president and the general secretary," she said.

"It was handled badly, I do not believe there was ever intent to allow harm to be done.

"I absolutely believe the intent was never to allow harm to be done but it was because as I said we made mistakes."

Fielding further questions on the issue, the Prime Minister said she was "absolutely not" kept out of the loop by her party to be protected from potentially damaging knowledge of the assaults.

"Leadership it taking ownership of the failing that have occurred, we are taking ownership of the fact that we let these young people down, now we have a job to do to make sure it never happens again."

Jacinda Ardern has denied news of the sexual assault allegation were intentionally kept from her by Labour. Source: 1 NEWS

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman's message to her Government on NZ's Iraq troops: 'That money could so much better be spent on humanitarian aid'

The government's junior partner is criticising the government's decision to stay on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Golriz Ghahraman
Golriz Ghahraman Source: 1 NEWS

The Green Party said the money would be better spent on humanitarian relief and the soldiers should be brought home now.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pushed the deployment out until June next year, but hasn't ruled out pulling the plug on the training mission then.

That's despite the former Labour Party leader Andrew Little's opposition to the deployments, calling the soldiers' training mission in Iraq "redundant".

The mandate to stay was due to run out in November but Ms Ardern is now saying there are good reasons not to leave.

She would reassess New Zealand's deployment to Iraq early next year, she said.

"We have trained a significant number of security forces, my estimates that I've been given are up to 37,000. But now it's a question of whether or not in the future it might move to instead of training cadets to actually training trainers, and of course that would require a much smaller deployment.

"It might be a reconstruction role, it may be a humanitarian role. But it is a dynamic environment. Our view is that although it's unlikely it will stay exactly as it is now, but Cabinet is allowing itself the space to reconsider that next year."

The non-combat joint mission with Australia to Iraq began in 2015, as part of the 'defeat ISIS coalition'.

Islamic State remains a threat, Ms Ardern said, including to New Zealanders, particularly overseas - and that will factor in to any decision they make.

"The destabilisation that they cause affects all of us, and there is potential for New Zealanders wherever they are in the globe to be caught in the cross fire of some of the activity by Islamic State. But we all have a responsibility to contribute to countering terrorism," she said.

At the same time, they'll also look at Afghanistan.

New Zealand has contributed to the situation in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, since 2001, training and helping build the ability of the Afghan Army to counter the Taliban and other extremist groups.

But the Greens said we should withdraw now, and they didn't like the government's call to extend the deployments.

MP Golriz Ghahraman said we'd do much better to make a point of pulling our troops out, and spending the millions of dollars equivalent on humanitarian relief in the Middle East.

"That money could so much better be spent on humanitarian aid, on ensuring that our diplomacy is focused on ending these proxy wars in the Middle East. And you know, I have some personal experience of what that feels like.

"Victims on the ground actually would rather infrastructure be built properly or rebuilt after it's been damaged, would rather have access to medicine, would rather have their schools and hospitals rebuilt."

However National Party leader Simon Bridges is pleased Labour's come around, and is facing up to the responsibilities of government. He said it's necessary for New Zealand to make a military contribution on the world stage.

"The government when in opposition wasn't as supportive, they called it 'mission creep' when we did similar.

"But look, I think it's pleasing that they've come around to our view. It's a sensible set of decisions that they've made on the extensions of our forces offshore."

When it comes to the case for a withdrawal, Mr Bridges said that's a decision that must be made with very careful consideration. He said withdrawing troops is always an option, but an extension to the deployments now was the right thing to do.

- Reporting by RNZ's  Gia Garrick



Auckland Council's plan to classify unchipped cats as pests results in death threats

An Auckland Council staffer at the helm of its new pest management strategy has received death threats.

A kitten, aged six to eight weeks, looks upward.
A kitten, aged six to eight weeks, looks upward. Source: istock.com

Animal rights activists met with the council yesterday afternoon to air their concerns about the city's plan to classify any cat without a microchip as a pest.

The strategy - due to be finalised by March next year - means any cat without a microchip found in council-branded biodiverse areas will be euthanised.

Councillors Penny Hulse and Cathy Casey met interest groups, including the SPCA and Paw Justice, this afternoon following death threats.

Ms Hulse said threats were made against Auckland Council's principal biosecurity advisor via social media and official council channels.

"[The advocacy groups] have actually been really good; they're been helpful and supportive. This is in no way linking them to any of that negative behaviour. We did, however, touch on the fact that some of our fringe members of groups or individuals are making these kinds of threats to staff and we all agree that that is completely unacceptable."

Ms Hulse said the threats have been reported to the police, and the staffer was receiving support.

She said the strong sentiment behind the issue was what led the council to meet with advocacy groups.

"We weren't under any legal obligation to go through a formal submission process but it just seemed to me that when you're dealing with something that is as personal and as passionately held as people's pets, that it was a really important thing to do."

Feral cats are already classified as pests under the council's existing regional pest management strategy, but the new one will mean any un-microchipped cat found at at specific sites of ecological significance will be considered a pest.

These cats will be the targets of cat-trappings and may be euthanised, like rats and possums.

Anne Batley-Burton, president of the New Zealand Cat Foundation, said pets are at risk in the new strategy.

"If that's the case you would end up with people's pets getting killed, you would end up with the poor strays being wiped out and that would be a terrible situation. These are all sentient beings and their lives should not be taken lightly."

Andrea Midgen, Auckland SPCA's chief executive, said the plan is just too broad.

"They've mapped and said these areas are ecologically sensitive but they haven't actually got down to whether they're ecologically sensitive to flora or fauna or both. So lets target the ones that are really critical, maybe like the regional parks, rather than the bush reserve that's at the back of a residential area."

The public needed time to transition, she said.

"In New Zealand we've had a situation where cats roam pretty freely...so we need to transition people to be able to manage that and put strategies in place to bring that about. Doing something next month or next year is going to be too much of a big ask, we need to give people time to get used to it."

Ms Batley-Burton said she knew nothing about those sending death threats.

This afternoon's meeting ended with councillors asking advocacy groups to use their influence to stop the culprits, she said.

"I find that rather strange actually because I can't imagine anyone doing that but that's what she said... if that's the truth, obviously these people need to be stopped."

Ms Hulse said the council's proposed plan would be finalised by March next year, after councillors have had time to consider the feedback they're received.

Following that the council would contact local communities affected by the pest management strategy, to ensure all cat owners have reasonable time to microchip their feline companions, she said.

- Reporting by RNZ's Anneke Smith 



Readers' photo gallery: Early spring snow continues to wreak havoc in South Island

Snow warnings are in place, a section of State Highway 94 has been closed and households across central Otago remain without power as wild weather continues to batter the South Island this morning.

Fox Peak Ski Area near Fairlie was looking at a season without much snow, until last night. Source: 1 NEWS

Arrowtown saw an early spring snowfall overnight, 17 September 2018. Source: Sophia Purdon

Around 500 households also remain without power across central Otago, including all of Glenorchy, Lower Shotover, Speargrass Flat, Arthurs Point, Alexandra, Tarras, Dalefield and Frankton.

Aurora is working to have power restored to the affected homes as soon as possible but it will take time to due to damaged power lines.

Usually snow is a good thing for a ski field, but it couldn’t clear the roads fast enough to open this morning. Source: 1 NEWS

Arrowtown. Source: Jesse Van Grinsven

Meanwhile, SH94 from Te Anau to Milford Sound has been closed this morning due to a high avalanche risk.

Queenstown. Source: Thomas Martin

An early spring dump of snow fell on Te Anau overnight, 17 September 2018. Source: Alana Pullar

Arrowtown saw an early spring snowfall overnight, 17 September 2018. Source: Sophia Purdon

Arrowtown. Source: Jess Van Grinsven

A heavy snow warning is in place on the Lindis Pass (SH8 Tarras to Omarama).

A snow warning remains in place for Crown Range Road, where up to an extra 3 centimetres of snow was expected overnight.

The Ministry of Education said they are unaware of any early childhood centres or school closures today.

Arrowtown saw an early spring snowfall overnight, 17 September 2018. Source: Sophia Purdon

Source: James Penwell

Bridesdale Queenstown. Source: Kate Tonks

Te Anau. Source: Phillip Robertson

Snow on the Crown Range. Source: NZTA

View readers' photos from this week's big white out:

In many places power was cut, schools were closed and flights cancelled. Source: 1 NEWS

Ridesharing service Ola to begin operating in New Zealand early next month

An alternative to ridesharing app Uber is expected to launch in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in the coming weeks.

Ola, which was founded in India in 2011, is looking for drivers from Tuesday, where they hope to begin taking on customers in two to three weeks, Stuff reports.

Ola CEO Bhavish Aggarwal says he is "excited to build a local team and business in New Zealand and provide a healthy contribution to the nation's local transport infrastructure".

Currently operating in India, Australia and the UK, the company claims to have more than 125 million users taking around 1 billion rides per year.

The app has safety features in place, including an emergency button which sends ride details to friends, family and emergency services, as well as real-time tracking of the car's location.

The company launched in Australia in February, where it employs more than 50,000 drivers in seven major cities. It began operating in the UK last month.

Ola will join Uber, New Zealand-based company Zoomy and female-only service DriveHer in the ridesharing market.

Research presented at a sleep conference includes results from an Australian survey
Research presented at a sleep conference includes results from an Australian survey Source: Photos.com