Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri is facing an allegation of assault. Various media outlets suggest she is accused of pushing a staff member, physically forcing that person out of an office.
If the allegation is proven, then Whaitiri must be sacked as a minister. Serious consideration must also be given to de-selecting her as the MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti. She first won the seat in 2013, replacing the late Parekura Horomia and has gone on to hold the seat in the 2014 and 2017 general elections.
There have been a flurry of gossipy comments on Meka Whaitiri’s personality; there are claims that she is verbally unpleasant and difficult to work with, and for. The turnover of workers in her Ministerial office is astonishing. All, or nearly all, of her original staff have resigned and been replaced in less than a year.
This situation follows swiftly on from the demotion of Minister Clare Curren and the report into the assaults at a Young Labour camp. The usual anti left hacks are piling in and the right are tut tutting.
So far, so bad.
There are some good things to note in this situation, however.
Firstly, when the allegation was made, Meka Whaitiri went immediately to the PM, explained the situation and offered to stand down. That offer was accepted and the matter was made public.
The significance of this sequence is that the Ardern led Government has higher standards than the Key led Government. Key dealt with a series of scandals behind closed doors, starting with hiding the details of inappropriate sexual behaviour made against Richard Worth in 2009.
Key flubbed that early test of his morality and transparency. Ardern has not made the same mistake, accepting Whaitiri’s stand down offer, and leaving the investigation into the alleged incident to the appropriate authorities.
Secondly, the PM has dealt properly with Clare Curren, whose tendency toward self sabotage is fairly evident. It must be gutting to have two Ministers stood down in quick succession, however, Ardern’s treatment of both has been appropriate and, importantly, open.
Compare that with National’s approach to issues around Phil Heatley, Aaron Gilmore, Nick Smith and Pansy Wong. In those cases, John Key initially minimised the offences, effectively allowed the guilty parties to determine their own fates and made it clear there was a swift way back to Ministerial status for Nick Smith.
Key’s response to the scandal around the odious ACT MP David Garrett is telling:
“I don’t think I needed to know”.
Ardern is clearly made of sterner stuff than Dunnokeyo.
Finally, one obvious takeaway from this week is that the PM must now be seriously contemplating an early cabinet re-shuffle. Most Ministers seem to be doing an excellent job, quietly getting on with their work.
However, re-assessing the team and making early changes, if needed, sets the Government on course for re-election.
The simple fact is that the role of Minister is difficult, stressful and demanding. Better to move on those that aren’t coping sooner rather than later.