New details on controversial Labour-linked intern scheme

OIA documents reveal costs of Labour's intern scheme.

The controversial student intern scheme linked to the Labour Party is again in the headlines after recently released documents revealed a top former Labour official had not “been forthcoming” in disclosing how it was funded.

In June, Politik reported the scheme had run into issues and the 85 overseas students involved in the programme were unhappy with the accommodation and the “learning programme” being delivered.

It was later revealed the scheme was run by former top Labour official Matt McCarten and his former party was forced to step in and take over the scheme.

After concerns were raised about whether it was as non-partisan as it was suggested – it was billed as a scheme to boost voting enrolment but included campaigning for Labour candidates – the Electoral Commission undertook an investigation.

In August, it was ruled the funding did not need to be declared as an election expense but it did need to be included as a donation for the candidates who benefited from the interns.      

“It seems abundantly clear that this activity was organised over many months by Labour Party staff and officeholders to help Labour’s campaign,” documents released under the Offical Information Act have revealed. 

The documents show that in response to a letter from the Electoral Commission, Labour’s general secretary Andrew Kirton asked for a meeting to discuss what he described as an “unusual and complex situation,” accompanied by his Kensington Swan lawyer Hayden Wilson.

In the documents, Mr Kirton estimates Mr McCarten spent more than $100,000 on the intern scheme, which he believed had come from an undisclosed private funder.

“Andrew believes that Mr McCarten would not have funded any of the costs himself. Andre [sic] and Hayden indicated that Mr McCarten has not been forthcoming ...

“Andrew and Hayden’s view is that the costs incurred were by Matt. They have stepped in to honour the bills but in law they have no obligation because Matt was responsible [and] had unilaterally entered into these agreements and had no authority to incur costs on behalf of the party.”

McCarten says he covered the costs
Writing back to the Electoral Commission, after he was asked to provide information on the funding and the extent of Labour’s involvement, Mr McCarten said all costs were covered by him.

He said he spent $65,000 in total over 27 days and was all "in kind" donations from him paid out of his personal bank account. He says he had also received promises of financial contributions from some organisations keen on supporting the non-partisan enrolment campaign once it was up and running.

The commission ruled it did not believe there had been an election expense incurred for Labour as no printed materials were produced backing the party or candidates – but did rule donations to Labour candidates had been made by paying for costs to support the volunteers as they campaigned for the party’s representatives.

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission says Mr McCarten has been in touch with the Commission to say that work is progressing to clarify the share of donations that will need to be declared in candidate returns by 23 January and that he will write to the Commission to confirm those details.

Mr Kirton had not responded to NBR's request for comment at the time of publication.

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