26 Apr 2019

Former minister Meka Whaitiri continues to deny assault

5:22 pm on 26 April 2019

Former cabinet minister Meka Whaitiri continues to deny she assaulted a former press secretary, talking about the incident that led to her demotion for the first time.

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Meka Whaitiri was stripped of her ministerial responsibilities following the incident in August last year. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

She has told Turanga FM she had growled at her staff member for not doing her job, but never physically grabbed her by the arm, as she has been accused.

The redacted final report into the incident found it "probable" that Meka Whaitiri grabbed and left bruising on her press secretary.

Ms Whaitiri was stripped of her ministerial responsibilities in September last year after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern lost confidence in her over the incident.

She said at an event in Gisborne where the prime minister was making an appearance last year, the staff member failed to inform her that Jacinda Ardern was holding a stand-up.

"I saw the Prime Minister having her stand-up, surrounded by all the ministers that had accompanied her, except me," she said.

"As the local MP, as a minister of the Crown, I immediately turned to try and find my staff member whose role was to make sure I didn't miss those opportunities.

"I took her outside to show her the lost opportunity and to express to her, as I did, that this was her job and I was disappointed."

The conversation with her staff member ended on good terms, she said.

"I never raised my voice because I was in a public place. I didn't grab her as I'm alleged to have done because we're in a public place and I don't grab staff.

"As we were going to my vehicle I said to my staff member, 'do you like milkshakes?'. She said, 'I love milkshakes', and I said, 'well, I'm going to take you to the best milkshake store in Gisborne'.

Ms Whaitiri said she was left blind-sided when she received a call from the Prime Minister's office two days later.

"The conversation from the Prime Minister's office went like this: 'we have received a complaint that you man-handled one of your staff members two days ago in Gisborne.'

"I immediately said I absolutely refute those allegations."

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