Greens in another crisis as MP Darleen Tana faces exploitation allegation

Jo Moir

Jo Moir

RNZ, Wellington, March 16, 2024

 

Green MP Darleen Tana with her husband Christian Hoff-Nielsen (Facebook Photo)

An independent investigation into Green MP Darleen Tana is expected to unearth what she knew and when about allegations of migrant exploitation against her and her husband.

Editor’s Note: Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) on March 15, 2024 that MP Darleen Tana has been suspended in the face of allegations of migrant exploitation against E Cycles New Zealand, a company owned by Christian Hoff-Nielsen, her husband. It is understood that Barrister Rachel Burt is investigating the allegations and that Ms Tana raised the issue with her Party on February 1, 2024, saying that the complaints included an allegation against her and that she has ceased to be a shareholder of the company since 2019. Stuff reports two workers have lodged Employment Relations Authority.

Ms Davidson told Morning Report that Ms Tana was removed as Spokesperson of Small Business when the Party was first made aware of the allegations on 1 February.

At the same time, the Green Party leadership and senior staff will be confronting the big question of whether they should have made Tana’s circumstances public when they first learned of them, to avoid the political storm now embroiling the Party.

The Trust issue

Ms Tana was suspended by the Greens on March 14 after the Co-Leaders became concerned about how much prior knowledge she had of the employment complaints against her husband’s business that she had not shared with the leadership.

There is an expectation on MPs to raise problems and risks with the Party, and when that does not happen, creates trust issues that can be difficult to overcome.

Ms Tana’s future in the Party now rests with Ms Burt, who could conclude whether she had met the expectations required to stay on as an MP before the ERA has even got close to determining whether the business is at fault.

Ms Burt could also find that Ms Tana had passed on all information promptly and then it would be for the ERA to determine any other consequences for Tana and her husband.

There are two complaints against the company and Ms Tana could be called as a witness if the ERA pursues a full hearing.

How the crisis began

The political timeline began on 1 February, a Parliament sitting day, when Ms Tana spoke to Co-Leaders Ms Davidson and James Shaw about a complaint made against her husband’s business. A decision was made by the Party on the same day to quietly stand her down from her small business portfolio, but not to notify the rest of the Caucus or the public about the allegation.

On 9 February, the Co-Leaders were told about a second complaint, which came to them from an external source.

The MP was called to a meeting and asked if she was aware of the complainant having worked for the business but it was not clear if she knew about the allegation. The Party decided not to pursue further action other than to take the Small Business portfolio off Ms Tana permanently in a reshuffle.

That reshuffle was to belatedly address the portfolio vacancies left by former MP Golriz Ghahraman, who resigned on January 16 after allegations of shoplifting surfaced.

The rest of the Green Party Caucus knew that Ms Tana was no longer the spokesperson for Small Business, but was not told why, and the media was not notified of the reshuffle.

Instead, MPs simply changed their email signatures.

 

Image from Green Party Facebook Page

Tana’s political career

On February 14, Ms Tana made her maiden speech in Parliament during which she mentioned her Danish husband and his bicycle business.

“In 2014, we packed up our lives into six suitcases, left Brussels, and came to Waiheke Island. There, we set up Chris’ business, manufacturing, selling, and renting electric bikes. I swapped out my pencil skirts and high heels for a bike mechanic apron and steel cap boots,” she told the House.

Ms Tana said that the Northland branch of the Green Party ‘found her’ at Waitangi in 2020 and asked her to stand as a candidate in that year’s general election.

“I did not have a clue about politics at that time, but I knew how to ride a bike,” she said.

Fast forward to the present and the Green Party leadership had more information come to light, via a Stuff media request, which led to another meeting with Ms Tana on March 14.

At that meeting, the Co-Leaders and senior staff became increasingly concerned about the holes in what she claimed to know, and when, and a suggestion that there may have been prior knowledge of the allegations that were not passed on to them.

A decision was made to suspend her and launch an independent investigation. Thereafter, the rest of the Caucus was notified of the allegations and how the Party was handling it.

Earlier ERA complaints

Ms Burt is expected to interview all those involved and review relevant documents. It is also likely that she would have questions about earlier ERA complaints, given that these claims are not the only employment dispute in which Tana’s husband has been involved.

In December 2023, the ERA ordered Mr Hoff-Nielsen to pay former employee Charles ‘Chuck’ Simpson $6153 in owed wages. The ERA found that Mr Simpson had worked for Mr Hoff-Nielsen during failed negotiations to take over his Blenheim bicycle business.

Tana is a named respondent in this decision.

In an interview with Morning Report on March 14, Ms Davidson defended her Party’s decision to stand down Ms Tana immediately.

“It was yesterday that it came to our attention that Ms Tana may have had some prior knowledge of the allegations, that is why we have appointed an independent investigation,” she said and pushed back on criticism that the Greens did not notify the public when Ms Tana was removed from the Small Business portfolio.

Ms Davidson said that a fair process needed to be followed and that meant keeping the mediation matters private.

The power imbalance

There is a power imbalance that comes into play if leaders announce that an MP is under investigation and the concerned MP is not in a position to defend themselves because of the investigation.

That seems to be the argument as to why the Greens handled things the way they did, but it ignores the political lens through which the situation needed to be viewed.

In most cases, the potential political fallout should trump everything else, and when it does not, it ends with the Party and its leadership looking out of step with the public’s expectations and taking a reputational hit.

The Green Party has been dealing with a series of crises, from Ghahraman’s demise to the tragic death of Efeso Collins, the resignation of long-time leader James Shaw and the new appointment of Chlöe Swarbrick as Co-Leader just five days ago.

Parliament resumes its session next week and while Tana will not be in the building, Ms Swarbrick and Ms Davidson will be present. But they will not be able to escape the flurry of questions around their decision-making.

It would be the first big test for Ms Swarbrick and Mr Shaw will be happy to stay clear.

Jo Moir is Political Editor at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and pictures have been published (with minor modifications) under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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