Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Green MP’s resignation leaves questions unanswered

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Green MP’s resignation leaves questions unanswered

Golraz Ghahraman’s resignation as a Green MP was the inevitable outcome after more than a week of speculation following several allegations of shoplifting. However, her resignation has left many unanswered questions about how the Green Party handled this first political scandal of 2024.

Yesterday following Ghahraman’s resignation, Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson, held a press conference to answer questions and it became apparent that the only thing that had changed since the scandal came to light was that the party’s leaders had had a chance to speak to Ghahraman in person. Something they arguably could have done when they first became aware of the allegations on 27 December. Ghahraman left the country for a pre-arranged holiday overseas on 28 December.

Late last week, when the co-leaders issued a statement about the allegations, they said hadn’t made a public statement about the allegations earlier at the store Scotties’ request. Yesterday they said it was because they wanted to speak to Ghahraman in person. Neither of these stacks up.

In announcing her resignation, Ghahraman said she had been struggling with her mental health and this had led her to act in ways that were completely out of character. As Shaw said “it’s obviously really sad that it’s gotten to this point”. However,  this doesn’t change the fact that the party should have been transparent with the public earlier.

At yesterday’s press conference, Shaw said “We have made the decisions that we have, when we have, based on the best information we had available at the time and it doesn’t change the outcome”. And that’s the point.

Ghahraman is a high profile publicly-elected Member of Parliament. The allegations are just that – allegations – until the police finish their investigation, but the allegations are serious, regardless of what may have led to them.

The number one rule of managing any situation that has the potential to damage a party’s reputation is to be open and transparent as soon as possible. Waiting, either in the hope that the scandal won’t ever come to light or letting someone else bring it to light, is never a good idea. As the days have passed, more information, including video footage of Ghahraman in Scotties, has come to light. New Zealand is a small country and it’s almost inevitable that allegations such as the ones Ghahraman is facing will become public.

By not being upfront straight away, the Green co-leaders have not done their party any favours. The party would have been better to issue a statement as soon as the allegations came to light and they stood Ghahraman down.

 

The timeline

Shaw outlined the timeline at yesterday’s press conference:

Date What happened What Shaw said
27 December, 2023 Party becomes aware of an allegation “Facts of the situation at that time were not clear. So, we contacted both Ms Ghahraman and Scotties just to try and understand it a little better. Facts remained unclear for some time”
28 December, 2023 Ghahraman’s leaves to go overseas

 

5 January, 2024 Second allegation comes to light

 

“Because we are not the police, we don’t have access to full information. It was unclear but obviously more than one incident.”

 

“We took a few days at that point to work out where to go from there. Recognising that we still live by the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty and that we are not the police and the police investigation had not concluded at that time. So, we felt that it would be best for her to stand aside from her portfolios whilst the investigation was ongoing.”

 

10 January, 2024 “Became public knowledge and here we are.”

 

 

While the leaders and the party will be hoping that Ghahraman’s decision to resign will put this scandal behind them, questions remain about how the party handled it.

Support for MPs

And, there are much wider questions about how MPs are supported while they experience the type of serious threats Ghahraman’s experienced throughout her six years in Parliament. Shaw said yesterday that since she had been in parliament she had been “subject to pretty much continuous threats of sexual violence, physical violence, death threats since the day she was elected to Parliament and so that has added a higher level of stress than is experienced by most Members of Parliament.

“And that has meant, for example there have been police investigations into those threats almost the entire time that she has been a Member of Parliament, and so obviously if you’re living with that level of threat in what is already quite a stressful situation then there are going to be consequences for that.”

Ghahraman’s resignation yesterday follows last year’s resignation of Labour Minister Kiri Allan who was also dealing with mental health challenges.

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Jacqui Van Der Kaay is a former journalist, holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington and has a specialist interest in political leadership, voter behaviour, immigration and how social media affects democracy.