Goff emerges 'strengthened' by Hughes affair

ANDREA VANCE, MARTIN KAY AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 13:26 29/03/2011
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Labour leader Phil Goff has said the Darren Hughes affair has "strengthened" his leadership.

The senior MPs met for more than three hours this morning to discuss the Hughes fiasco, earthquake recovery and the sell-off of state owned assets.

The 11 MPs all presented a united front as they arrived at Dunedin's Otago University this morning. All expressed support for Goff's leadership.

And they have just emerged from the meeting flanking Goff as he declared they have his support.

Goff said they had a "constructive" discussion about his handling of the Hughes saga.

Labour was plunged into turmoil by Hughes' resignation last week after a sex complaint was laid with Wellington police and it emerged that Goff had known about it for two weeks before it was made public.

Goff will meet with Dunedin councillors after lunch at the CTU.

ALLEGATIONS IN LETTER

Some media received copies yesterday of a complaint sent to police making allegations about Hughes. It included contact details of three people and urged the police to contact them.

But one of the men named in the letter vehemently denied that anything untoward happened. "It's just untrue. It's just rubbish," he said. A second refused to comment.

The writer claimed to be concerned "at the potential ramifications for my employment of sharing this information with you" as the reason for anonymity.

Detective Inspector Mike Johnson of Wellington confirmed the letter had been received and police "will look into it in due course".

Late yesterday the 18-year-old complainant won a court order preventing publication of his name.

High Court Justice Robert Dobson issued the order, saying revealing his name would be a breach of privacy.

Dobson said from now on, the man's name would be shown on court documents only as "A".

"His identity is not a matter on which the public's interest in knowing can claim urgency."

Dobson said A's complaint to police was made in circumstances where his name and identifying details would not be reported in the media, and he was told he would have automatic name suppression if charges were laid.

Dobson noted if charges were not laid, the order would have to be reviewed.

UNDER PRESSURE

Questions about Goff's handling of the issue have sparked leadership rumbles and some MPs were confronted by the Goff camp at the weekend about who seeded the rumours.

Goff said nobody had raised any concerns about Hughes' behaviour before the complaint that led to his resignation.

A small group of Goff's front bench gathered last night at a south Dunedin pub ahead of today's meeting. Goff was seen leaving the pub with fourth-ranked MP David Parker, whose name was linked at the weekend to unfounded coup rumours. Parker is emerging as an ally of Goff's in publicly putting the rumours to bed.

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Goff's leadership looks safe for now because of the lack of a credible challenger.

He scoffed this morning at suggestions his leadership was under threat because of his handling of the issue.

"Darren Hughes will be at the top of that list of things to discuss [at the meeting], but I've watched with interest as the media have speculated about a change in leadership and I wonder about that because I know that every media outlet in the country has been ringing around all of my colleagues and they've got a unanimous answer.

"So, I wonder why you still speculate about what you know is wrong," he told TVNZ this morning.

Goff said yesterday that it would be hard for Hughes to return as an MP at the November 26 election if he was cleared by the police investigation. He said events leading to Hughes' resignation raised questions about his judgment and he would not be able to come back "in the short term".

Goff also revealed that he would have stripped Hughes of his roles as chief whip and education spokesman even if police decided not to lay charges in relation to the alleged incident. "I made it clear to Darren that I thought, given the circumstances, there had been a lapse of judgment and that would result in his losing his positions."

Hughes has said he did nothing wrong and is confident he will be cleared by the inquiry.

- Stuff

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