LATEST: Darren Hughes has stood down as Labour's education spokesman and chief whip as controversy swirls around a police complaint made against him by an 18-year-old male.
The development was just announced by Labour leader Phil Goff, who said he had asked Hughes to stand down from the key roles after details of the allegations, which concern an alleged early morning incident in Wellington, were made public.
Goff said Hughes had agreed to the move.
The headline in this morning's Herald says it all:
The Herald reports that Goff goes on to say:
Labour leader Phil Goff has said he will hold MP Darren Hughes to the same standard he has previously demanded of others if police find any substance in a sexual complaint laid against him.
Mr Hughes has gone to ground after he yesterday confirmed he was the subject of a police investigation, believed to have followed a late-night incident with an 18-year-old male.
Mr Hughes said he had "done nothing wrong" and was co-operating with police, but would not comment further during the investigation.
Yesterday, Mr Goff said Mr Hughes was on leave until police finished their investigation. If police found there was substance to the complaint "then I will need to act accordingly".
He accepted Mr Hughes' word that he had done nothing wrong and he regarded Mr Hughes well "as a friend and a colleague".
However, he would "absolutely" hold his MPs to the same standard he demanded of Prime Minister John Key after allegations surfaced against former minister Richard Worth.
Unfortunately, that last sentence creates a bit of a dilemma for Phil Goff. You see, he was no bit-player in the resignation of Richard Worth early in 2009. We blogged about this opinion-piece by Bill Ralston at the time, but it's worth (pardon the awful pun!) revisiting this morning - check this out (our emphasis added):
He may have resigned but Richard Worth is not the only victim in this debacle. When you play in the muck you will get dirt on you. It's a lesson Phil Goff forgot last week and it must take the gloss off the Mt Albert by-election result.
When John Key rightly demanded Worth's resignation as a minister after the police began investigating sex charges against him in relation to his involvement with an unnamed Korean woman, Goff couldn't resist putting the boot in.
It is obvious that Goff's office first leaked the rumour to the Press Gallery that Labour had already warned Key of allegations of sexual harassment by Worth of another woman, who we now know is Neelam Choudary.
Leaving the Korean woman's allegations to one side, it is also now apparent that the Choudary affair was largely a Labour set-up.
All Key was first presented with was allegations Worth had made inappropriate advances via texts, phone calls and a coffee meeting to an unnamed woman, but there was no hard evidence to back it up.
Not surprisingly, Worth denied all and, in the absence of proof, Key's inquiries came to nothing.
When the proverbial hit the fan over the Korean woman, Labour dropped the whisper of the Choudary allegations and Key was forced completely on to the back foot and publicly embarrassed. Labour strategists would have been chortling.
Finally, however, thanks to the efforts of some bloggers and journalists in the gallery, more ugly facts emerged. Goff had sought to keep her name secret. For good reason. It soon became apparent Choudary was not just an ordinary low-level member of the Labour Party, she had tried to become a Labour MP last year.
By offering herself to the bear pit of Parliament she plainly demonstrated she was no shrinking violet incapable of fending off the blandishments of an aged Government minister.
From the beginning, when she first received approaches from Worth, she had kept Goff in the loop. The Labour leader even endorsed the idea she should meet Worth.
We also found out that Choudary had been active on the ground in David Shearer's by-election campaign in Mt Albert. Hence the inevitable conclusion Worth and the Government were clearly being set up by the Labour Party.
Now remember this salient point; one of Phil Goff's biggest complaints after the Richard Worth affair broke was that he had advised the Prime Minister of allegations against the former Minister, but that Key hadn't acted on them. The allegations subsequently hit the public domain, and you'd have to be pretty naive to believe that the media picked them up from anywhere too far distant from Phil Goff's office.
This now creates two dilemmas for the Labour leader. Firstly, he accused "the Beehive" of leaking the allegations against Darren Hughes to the media. Secondly, he has been forced to admit that he knew of the Hughes story for two weeks before it became public.
Darren Hughes duly went off on leave yesterday. Goff told the Herald:
"Because it's been made public it's very hard for him to continue to carry on with his normal duties. I didn't think the complaint was relevant to his ability to carry out his job. Because he is under that scrutiny now, it's very hard for him to do so, that's why I've given him leave."
We don't buy that for one moment. A serious allegation has been made against Labour's eighth-ranked MP. Hughes would not be human if he was not worried about that allegation, and it cannot help but impact on his effectiveness in his role. The Senior Whip is, after all, the "glue" who holds a caucus together. More than any other role apart from the leader's, it is a job which requires absolute focus. Certainly, the matter going public changes the dynamic, but it is impossible to escape the perception that Phil Goff shut this issue down for as long as he could in the hope that it would all blow over.
That, in our ever-humble opinion makes Phil Goff's determination to maintain standards a bit of a double standard. He criticised John Key for tarrying over Richard Worth; now he has done just the same thing himself, and misled the media to boot by denying the allegations a few days ago.
FOOTNOTE: Please note; this post is about Phil Goff's response, not about the allegations regarding Darren Hughes. Any comments regarding Hughes' alleged conduct or other personal matters will be deleted.