21 Sep 2018

Senior Māori caucus members met with PM during investigation

4:02 pm on 21 September 2018

RNZ has learned senior members of the Labour Party Māori caucus met with the Prime Minister while an investigation into Meka Whaitiri was underway to express support for their colleague.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The 13-strong Māori caucus is co-chaired by Ms Whaitiri and Employment Minister Willie Jackson.

Ms Whaitiri has been stripped of her ministerial portfolios on the back of an investigation into an altercation with her press secretary at an event in Gisborne last month.

She remains the Ikāroa-Rawhiti MP and keeps her co-chair role.

Details of the altercation are still under wraps until the Department of Internal Affairs has been through the report and provides a version for public release, which is likely to be in the next couple of weeks.

RNZ put questions to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about whether she met with senior members of the Māori caucus during the investigation and what was discussed.

A spokesman for Ms Ardern said she wouldn't be going into any details about the investigation or her deliberations.

"She made the decision solely on the basis of a loss of confidence,'' he said.

The Māori caucus have rallied behind Ms Whaitiri throughout the investigation and it's understood some members of the caucus supported her when she met with Ms Ardern about being demoted from her ministerial positions.

Ms Ardern was asked on Thursday whether she had been lobbied by members of the Maori caucus to keep Ms Whaitiri on, to which she responded no.

The Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta said Ms Whaitiri has been under immense pressure throughout an investigation into a staffing matter.

"Look, my support for Meka is on the basis of what I've experienced with her. She works 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 the Māori caucus, who understand the immense pressure she's been under.''

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

"I'm not at liberty to disclose any private conversations that have occured in relation to this matter but what I can say is Meka will continue to work hard for her electorate,'' she said.

Fellow co-chair Willie Jackson declined to comment until he returns to Parliament next week, but Labour MP Paul Eagle said he was pleased she remained at the helm of the caucus.

"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 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."

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-Rawhiti against Ms Whaitiri, said although there were standards of behaviour for elected representatives, it was important Ms Whaitiri was given support.

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