Ex-staffer speaks out on Maggie Barry bullying claims

by Craig McCulloch / 05 December, 2018

Maggie Barry. Photo / RNZ

The former staff member who has released recordings of National MP Maggie Barry rejects any suggestion he taped her secretly and says she asked him to do so.

But Ms Barry flatly rejects that and is backed up by another person who used to work in the same office and who says she feels "betrayed and violated" by the recordings.

The North Shore MP has been under scrutiny after revelations Parliamentary Service had received bullying complaints from two of her former staff.

One of the ex-employees has told media Ms Barry belittled and swore at staff and told them to do political work on the taxpayer's time. The former staffer has provided media, including RNZ, with recordings of some private conversations in a bid to back his claims.

Ms Barry has denied all the allegations and says she's "uncomfortable" at having been recorded without her knowledge.

But the former staff member, who did not want to be named, said Ms Barry had been aware he was taping the meetings.

"Any allegation that I was doing some secret recording is absolutely false," he told RNZ.

"She told staff to record her - and I wasn't the first staff member to record her, other staff members recorded her. She told us that was a good idea because then she could go off to another meeting and we could go back and check the tape."

He'd also been told by Parliamentary Service to "document interactions" with Ms Barry after he lodged a complaint, he said.

'Simply false'

But Ms Barry, who used to host the television programme Maggie's Garden Show, said she never gave the staff member permission to record her.

"I did not know I was being recorded during the conversations which have been released and did not give anyone permission to record me for their own purposes or to record my conversations with other staff members who were also not aware they were being recorded," she said in a statement.

"It is simply false to say otherwise."

A different former staff member - who also asked to remain anonymous - agreed that employees were not asked to record meetings.

"I feel absolutely betrayed and violated that private and sensitive conversations in the electorate office were recorded without my knowledge or permission," the former staffer said in a statement.

"On occasion I would record [Ms Barry] if she was dictating a letter that I'd have to type up or if she was doing a media interview but this was always done overtly and I didn't record meetings.

"I had absolutely no idea that was going on."

She said it was "really distressing" to discover she'd been recorded without her knowledge and she had contacted both Parliamentary Service and the Privacy Commissioner for help.

"I have no idea what other recordings he has and what they might say or how they might be taken out of context."

'It was Jekyll and Hyde stuff'

On Tuesday, Ms Barry told media a workplace investigation into two complaints had cleared her. National leader Simon Bridges also defended his MP, saying Parliamentary Service had found there was no bullying or harassment.

National leader Simon Bridges is standing behind Ms Barry. Photo / Phil Smith

But the aggrieved ex-staffer believes Ms Barry "absolutely had not been cleared" by Parliamentary Service.

He said the workplace investigation made no findings about bullying in his case and had simply concluded there had been a breakdown in the relationship.

The staffer was uncertain of the outcome of a second complaint by a co-worker.

He said he had approached the media because he believed Ms Barry should not be allowed to remain in a position where she could bully staff.

"She would swear at me and blame me for mistakes she had made ... she would call staff stupid, tell them that she couldn't believe they'd been given a degree, she'd talk about their sexuality behind their back," he said.

"It was Jekyll and Hyde stuff. It was terrifying at times. It rocketed from absurd one moment to terrifying the next. She would be absolutely lovely and then a small thing would trigger her and she'd be absolutely furious, just red-hot fury."

He also said "about 50 percent" of the work he did was party work despite that being against the law. For example, he wrote columns which campaigned for then-Northcote candidate Dan Bidois and created brochures for a National Party conference.

"The very first piece of work that I did on my very first day was to create her email newsletter which campaigned for Dan Bidois ... and which also asked people to join the National Party.

"We collected membership funds, people would pay their membership dues at the electorate office ... she would solicit membership from the office.

"All of those things are unlawful."

RNZ has seen text messages which appear to show Ms Barry requesting the staffer carry out political work during office hours.

'I wasn't bullied'

The former staffer who supports Ms Barry said she had never been bullied by the MP in the six years she had worked with her.

"Maggie has high standards. She'll tell you if something needs doing again and she'll thank you for a job well done," she said in a statement.

The staff member said it was reasonable for politicians to demand honesty, appropriate behaviour and a good work ethic from the people they employ.

"I wasn't bullied - verbally, psychologically or physically."

On Tuesday, Ms Barry told media she was not a bully and invited those speaking to the media to file formal complaints.

"I create a positive environment for all staff," she said.

"I have high expectations of myself and of my staff, but I believe that you always treat people with respect. That's what I've endeavoured to do in all of my workplaces over a long period of time."

Ms Barry said she never asked parliamentary staff to do National Party work. She said some people chose to do party work in their own time, but she never asked them to do so.

She had asked Parliamentary Service to look into the matter of secret recordings, she said.

"It is a little odd and unfair having to answer allegations anonymously and also to be taped without my knowledge."

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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