Labour admits two students in controversial intern scheme didn't have necessary visas

Over the past week Labour Party head office has been sorting out problems with the international volunteer programme.

Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton says two out of 85 students working on its controversial intern programme may not have held the necessary work visas but they both chose to leave last week.

Mr Kirton says it's his understanding that all the students involved were advised of the need to obtain working holiday visas and the remaining students do have valid documents.

Earlier today Labour leader Andrew Little admitted he had no idea the programme was being run by the man in charge of his Auckland office, despite the fact Matt McCarten was on his payroll.

He also revealed Labour Party council member, and the party’s Auckland and Northland representative, Paul Chalmers voluntary stood down from the governing council over the weekend.

Mr Little says he had no knowledge of the scheme until mid-May and heard nothing until the complaints came in last week that a Labour Party scheme to recruit 85 overseas students to campaign for the party during this year’s election had hit trouble.

Students involved had been rebelling over sub-standard accommodation and venting their frustrations about doing campaign drudge work when they were promised a “high-powered” learning experience including speakers such as former prime minister Helen Clark.  

Mr Little says the programme was being organised and run while Mr McCarten – Mr Little’s former chief of staff – was the director of Labour’s Auckland office.

But Mr Little had no knowledge of the scheme, despite being in Auckland “every week.”

“I was not aware of any detail about this plan for these interns beyond that early contact in May.”

Mr Little had some stern words for his former chief of staff, saying the project had “frankly, been a source of embarrassment for us.”

But the Labour leader says he hasn’t personally spoken to Mr McCarten since the story broke last week.

“He’s not at the top of my list right now of people I want to have friendly conversations with.”

Mr Little says he has not asked Mr McCarten how the programme was funded but says it is a possibility that the Labour Party will have to cover any shortfall.

“We are stepping in to take responsibility – that means any creditors or suppliers have to be looked after too.”

Asked if Mr McCarten could have incurred the Labour Party a debt, the Labour leader says he “could have done.”

The next step for the Labour Party will probably be a review or investigation into what happened, and to find out “who knew what and when,” Mr Little says.

“If the scheme got widely out of control, as it clearly did, and there were others involved, then the answers that the party has to get is how did it get to that point?”

He says it was never presented to the party’s governing council.

“If you’re going to do something of this scale, it needs to go to the party governing council to be signed off and approved.

“This is not something we would have embraced as we’re simply not used to doing something like this at this scale.”

In a statement last week, Mr McCarten said the scale of the programme is “now greater than I can manage, and I am aware of issues that this has caused.

“I regret that the programme has not lived up to this promise for all volunteers.”

He said he would have no further comment.

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