Boom! There goes another minister…
PM Jacinda Ardern wasted little time in firing Meka Whaitiri as Minister of Customs after receiving a report into an “incident” in Gisborne on August 27 involving Whaitiri and one of her staff.
Ardern said she no longer had confidence Meka Whaitiri as a minister.
“That is why I have taken the action I have. I’ve made the decision solely on this incident. I’m confident in the decision I have made.”
No mucking about this time, as there was over the Curran affair. Yet there are still elements of mystery over precisely what happened in that Gisborne “incident”.
Ardern concedes the facts are still in dispute but the report she received from Ministerial Services – which was charged with investigating what happened between the minister and a press secretary – says an “incident” occurred. Whaitiri continues to contest details of the incident, but “there are elements which are agreed,”.
The PM says protecting the privacy of the staff member involved is paramount.
The departure of Whaitiri won’t trigger an executive reshuffle to bring in a new minister. Kris Faafoi, who is proving one of the safest pair of hands in the Labour-led coalition, will keep the Customs portfolio which he took over when Whaitiri was stood down on August 30.
Besides holding the Customs portfolio, Whaitiri had Associate Agriculture, Associate Crown Maori Relations, Associate Forestry and Associate Local Government ministerial responsibilities. These responsibilities will revert to the lead ministers.
There had been speculation that the dismissal of Whaitiri would provoke ructions with the Maori caucus, of which she was co-chair. But Ardern insists the caucus supports her decision.
Whaitiri is the MP for the Māori electorate of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, which stretches down the east coast of the North Island.
Earlier there had been reports of high staff turnover within her ministerial office and and some sources said she had been “difficult to work with”.
Her career before she entered Parliament indicated she was a high achiever. After stints in shearing gangs on the East Coast and later at the freezing works in Whakatu, Hawke’s Bay, she went on to complete a Masters in Education from Victoria University.
She was hired in the Department of Labour by Parekura Horomia, who would later become a Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti and Māori Affairs Minister. She rose to be deputy secretary in the department and from 2007 to 2009 was a senior adviser to the Minister of Māori Affairs.
When Horomia died in 2013 she was selected to stand for Labour in the by-election in his Ikaroa-Rāwhiti seat, which she won with a 1659 vote majority.
Whaitiri was a Treaty negotiator for her Rongowhakaata iwi and spent four years, from 2009 to 2013, as chief executive of Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated, the organisation which represents the third largest iwi.
After being officially sworn in as minister last year she said she thought of Horomia whose legacy she had worked hard to honour. “I hope he thinks the girl he met at the freezing works all those years ago is doing okay at following his instructions to ‘hold the line’”.
That may prove more difficult now than she thought just a year ago.