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Govt’s handling of Whaitiri incident questioned in urgent debate

Labour MP Meka Whaitiri - Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

National has called out the coalition government's handling of the Meka Whaitiri incident, in an urgent debate at Parliament this afternoon.

Ms Whaitiri was involved in an altercation with her press secretary at an event in Gisborne in August. That was investigated and last week Ms Whaitiri was stripped of her ministerial responsibilities.

Mrs Whaitiri arrived back in Parliament today, saying she accepted the prime minister's decision to take her ministerial portfolios away from her.

National MP Amy Adams asked for the debate this afternoon, and used Parliamentary privilege to question the government's morality in its handling of the matter, and its approach to violence and bullying in the workplace.

"We have Meka Whaitiri accused of assaulting a staff member, we understand leaving bruising on her. An assault, members of the government if you've forgotten, is a criminal offence," Ms Adams said.

"On what planet is it okay for a member who assaults a staff member to remain as a member of Parliament?" she asked the House.

The report on which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern based her decision to sack Ms Whaitiri as a minister is still under wraps, but she has directed the Department of Internal Affairs to release it.

She has admitted that could take weeks, but Ms Adams said that was just not good enough.

"So far we've had nothing. No proper statement of what happened. No proper statement from Ms Whaitiri. We've had no apology to the staff member concerned."

It was Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis' job to respond.

"The facts of the case are disputed and this is where this sort of little legal feature of natural justice needs to come into play. It's important that someone is given the benefit of the doubt and is innocent until proven guilty."

National's former Clutha Southland MP Todd Barclay was dragged into the debate - he was forced to resign under Bill English's leadership for secretly taping a former electorate staffer.

The resignation of National's Richard Worth during a police investigation into his conduct towards women was brought up, as was National's Pansy Wong's resignation over her husband's misuse of her ministerial travel perks for private business.

Mr Davis also asked why National MP Judith Collins was still at Parliament, which she quickly called on Speaker Trevor Mallard to make right.

"The member has yet again referred to a matter where I was completely exonerated by the Chisholm inquiry led by retired Justice Chisholm, and that is totally inappropriate for this particular debate," she said.

The government continues to back Ms Whaitiri as an MP, despite the allegations against her.

Labour's Māori caucus co-chair Willie Jackson told the House he came from a community where forgiveness came first - and they were backing their own.

"As a Māori caucus we stand behind the prime minister, we stand behind Meka Whaitiri, we stand behind the victim if the victim has been hurt," he said.

National's Simon O'Connor rounded out the debate, rebuffing the comments made by the coalition defending Ms Whaitiri.

He said this had nothing to do with whether Ms Whaitiri was a mother, Māori or a woman, and everything to do with a claim that someone was assaulted in their workplace.

"That is why we continue to have the problems in our society, even around this debate, because people make excuses.

"They make excuses for those who abuse, those who bully. So to the previous speaker, it will stop, when we as Kiwis stop making excuses."

Earlier today, Ms Whaitiri said she had work to do for her electorate and work to do on herself as a result of the allegation made against her by a former staffer.

The Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP said she was gutted about the incident, but would not reveal any further detail.

"I can't talk about the report until it's released, but like I said I accept the prime minister's decision. It's been a debilitating time, but I really want to work and reflect on what I need to do to improve myself."

Ms Whaitiri remains co-chair of Labour's Māori caucus, alongside Mr Jackson.

"I'm very humbled by the support of the Māori caucus, and those that have sent support," she said.


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