22 Sep 2018

Labour MPs stand behind Ardern's action on Whaitiri

9:44 am on 22 September 2018

Meka Whaitiri will be expected back at Parliament next week despite the prime minister stripping her of her ministerial portfolios yesterday.

PM Jacinda Ardern announces that Labour MP Meka Whaitiri will be stripped of her ministerial roles.

PM Jacinda Ardern announces that Labour MP Meka Whaitiri will be stripped of her ministerial roles. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Jacinda Ardern said she had lost confidence in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP on the back of an investigation into an altercation with her press secretary at an event in Gisborne in August.

Ms Ardern has seen the final report - on which she's based her decision to strip Ms Whaitiri of her portfolios - but the public will have to wait until the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has been through it before they get to see it.

She will not say what happened, only that Ms Whaitiri still disputes the allegation against her.

But Ms Ardern has promised some of that detail will be released in due course.

"I've asked DIA to prepare a version of the report that can be released in order to address some of those outstanding questions."

Ms Whaitiri's associate portfolios in agriculture, Crown-Māori relations, forestry and local government will all fall to lead ministers.

Mana MP Kris Faafoi, who recently became the Minister of Broadcasting when Clare Curran resigned from Cabinet, will pick up the full customs portfolio.

It avoids a full Cabinet reshuffle.

Ms Ardern said she would work with Ms Whaitiri to address her staffing matters, but made it clear no other formal grievances had been laid.

"I'm going to work with the member, at this point we are talking more about managing employees.

"Support through training and so on, human resource management."

Ms Whaitiri remains an electorate MP and will keep her role as co-chair of Labour's Māori caucus.

Fellow co-chair Willie Jackson could not be reached for comment, but one of its members, Labour MP Paul Eagle, said he was pleased remained at the helm.

"She's certainly served her weight in gold over the last 11 months, and I'd hope to see her stay."

Senior Cabinet Minister Andrew Little backed the Ms Ardern's call on the matter.

"I haven't seen the report but what I do know of Jacinda Ardern is that she is scrupulously fair, she has waited until she's obviously had information and has made her judgement and I stand with her on that."

Labour MPs Ginny Anderson and Greg O'Connor agreed.

Hastings district councillor and prominent Flaxmere community leader Henare O'Keefe told Morning Report Ms Whaitiri's behaviour was "no reason to castrate and hang her out to dry".

"Too often in politics they tend to go for the jugular, I'm about forgiveness and compassion... we all make mistakes and I would suggest that Meka would be full of remorse," he said.

Mr O'Keefe, who once stood for the Labour nomination for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti against Ms Whaitiri, said although there were standards of behaviour for elected representatives, it was important Ms Whaitiri was given support.

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Ms Whaitiri has been under immense pressure throughout the investigation.

She wouldn't say whether the Māori caucus had made a case to the Prime Minister for Ms Whaitiri to stay on.

"Look, my support for Meka is on the basis of what I have experienced with her, she's worked hard for her electorate. Obviously this is a tough time for her but she will get the support certainly from me and I know other members of Māori caucus who understand the immense pressure she's been under."

Green MP Gareth Hughes felt for his Parliamentary colleague.

"There's always the personal reaction, and I feel sorry for her as an individual. Obviously though the decision was one for [the] prime minister."

Meanwhile, National Party leader Simon Bridges said the demotion raises more questions than it does answers.

"We're no clearer on what has happened this week after a prime ministerial announcement, in attempt to put it behind the Prime Minister, than we were several weeks ago."

In Napier, in the heart of the Ikaroa-Rawhiti electorate, many voters said they remained supportive of Ms Whaitiri. Others backed Ms Ardern.

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