We were minded at Point of Order to bring Oscar Wilde into considerations, on learning of the latest upheaval in the Ardern Cabinet: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
Then we set about trying to ascertain who had done what to whom in circumstances that warranted Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri standing aside from her portfolio while an investigation into “staffing matters” in her ministerial office is carried out.
The PM’s announcement of Whaitiri’s demotion came just six days after she removed Minister Clare Curran from Cabinet for failing to disclose a meeting she had in relation to the Government’s Chief Technology Officer role.
The PM won’t reveal more information for privacy reasons.
But Stuff said the investigation “follows allegations of shouting during which it is understood there was physical contact. Stuff has been told the nature of the allegation is that the staff member was pushed out the door. Police are not involved”.
Newshub understands the probe follows “allegations of a physical incident with another staff member in her office, which involved some shoving”.
Barry Soper told Mike Yardley “there are allegations, currently unproven, that Whaitiri had physically assaulted a staff member, and that is what is being investigated”.
Newsroom understands the incident which has triggered the investigation occurred while Whaitiri was at the Government’s summit with Ngāti Porou in Gisborne on Monday. “The allegation relates to a physical incident, although its seriousness is a matter of dispute”.
1 NEWS understands Ms Whaitiri “is facing an allegation of assaulting a staff member within her ministerial office”.
Many reports mentioned a high staff turnover in Whaitiri’s office.
There have been a growing number of questions asked about the number of her staff going through Whaitiri’s office.
Stuff has been told of bullying behaviour and incidents of staff leaving without notice.
It is instructive that the New Zealand Herald – presumably aware it had paid scant heed to her over the past several months and therefore its readers would be wondering who she was – published a brief biography of the politician under the heading Who is Meka Whaitiri: From rugged East Coast upbringing to Labour MP.
Bob Edlin, the author of this post, was familiar with her background and her rise to a ministerial post after interviewing her in her Beehive office for Dairy Exporter.
He was not shouted at or shoved on that occasion and came away with a favourable impression based fundamentally on how she replied to his questions. Those response and her demeanour inevitably influenced the tone of the resultant article.
He especially was delighted by Whaitiri’s laugh during the interview. He was even more delighted by the email he received from press secretary Chris Harrington after the article was published:
The Minister and I were very impressed with your latest story in the Dairy Exporter on Minister Whaitiri. A heartfelt thanks from Meka .
Some nine months later Whaitiri’s career has hit turbulence and – depending on the outcome of the inquiry into the staffing matter – Ardern will have to refurbish her ministry.
A Radio New Zealand reporter said the gender balance would be a challenge.
It certainly will be a challenge if ability and merit is subordinated by gender and other diversification considerations.
But don’t forget that a Labour PM is handicapped in filling ministerial posts. Unlike National, the Labour caucus decides who should be given executive jobs.
Here’s another thought: Whaitiri isn’t alone in having a high staff turnover.
In the Key Government there was a high staff turnover in the office of Education Minister Hekia Parata, for example.
Lest we be accused of gender imbalance in making these observations, let the record show that Jenny Shipley earned a reputation among her staffers for being a great boss to work for. In her days as a Minister and Prime Minister we heard of daily staff meetings conducted collegially at which everybody was encouraged to have their say.
And finally – has shouting become something our politicians must avoid?
That will put a dampener on goings-on in the debating chamber and in election-campaign confrontations.