Labour staffer resigns as NZ fallout grows

The NZ opposition is ramping up the heat on Jacinda Ardern over her party's sex scandal.
The NZ opposition is ramping up the heat on Jacinda Ardern over her party's sex scandal.

The staffer at the centre of New Zealand Labour's sexual assault scandal has resigned, as the opposition National party ups the heat on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her role in the sorry saga.

On Thursday, the man, accused of digitally raping a teenage Labour volunteer and harassing other party members, followed Labour president Nigel Haworth in leaving his post.

"I adamantly refute the serious allegations made against me," the staff member to Ms Ardern said in a statement issued by his lawyer.

"(I) have made the very difficult decision to resign because of the stress of the situation, and my wish not to be a distraction to the work of the Government."

The man's lawyer reiterated his client's innocence, and noted that the "continued litigation by media" was taking a severe toll.

The prospect of that media storm going away appears remote given the anger that the alleged victims feel, and their involvement of the opposition National Party.

The allegations were given a public airing last month when the complainants took their grievances to opposition MP Paula Bennett after Labour's investigation exonerated the staffer.

While Mr Haworth and the investigative panel maintained the complaints did not include a serious sexual assault, an email trail produced in media reports suggested otherwise - and forced his resignation.

The question of whether Ms Ardern should have also been aware is now central to her political credibility.

The prime minister, who has campaigned at the United Nations on strengthening the Me Too movement against sexual violence, says she was not told of the nature of the allegations when she inquired about them, and escalated the issue when she discovered it was so.

Ms Bennett said Ms Ardern stood exposed as a hypocrite.

"This goes right to the heart of the kind of leadership she wanted to display," Ms Bennett said.

Last month, Ms Ardern appointed a Queens Counsel - named by the New Zealand Herald as Maria Dew QC - to look into the party's investigation process and the sex abuse allegations.

The besieged Labour Party has placed its trust in Ms Dew to find a resolution to the damaging affair.

In another development, Stuff reports that one of the Labour panel charged with investigating the allegations - senior vice president Tracey McLellan - stands to inherit Mr Haworth's post as president.

That move comes despite Ms Ardern attacking the party's investigation as "completely inappropriate".

Ms Ardern said the move was "very temporary" ahead of next month's Labour conference when a new president will be elected.

Australian Associated Press