Meka Whaitiri has been removed as a minister with immediate effect after an investigation into allegations she physically assaulted a staff member, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

While the facts of the incident were in dispute, Ardern said she no longer had confidence in Whaitiri as a minister.

However, the Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP has told the Prime Minister she intends to remain in Parliament, and will stay on as a co-chair of Labour’s Māori caucus.

In late August, Whaitiri stood down as a minister over what Ardern described as “a staffing matter in her ministerial office” while a Ministerial Services investigation took place.

Newsroom reported at the time the incident which triggered the investigation was believed to have occurred while Whaitiri was at the Government’s summit with Ngāti Porou in Gisborne.

The allegation related to a physical incident, although its seriousness was a matter of dispute.

Ardern told media she had received a copy of the Ministerial Services report on Wednesday night.

“Based on the context and conclusions of the report, I no longer have confidence in Meka Whaitiri as a minister at this time, and that is why I have taken the action I have.”

Allegations contested by Whaitiri

Whaitiri “cooperated absolutely fully” during the investigation but contested some of the allegations that were made, although there were “elements” which both sides agreed upon.

Ardern would not go into the details of what was alleged to have taken place and what the report concluded, saying her primary concern was protecting the privacy of the employee.

However, she had asked the Department of Internal Affairs to produce a copy of the report which could be released to the public.

Ardern said she had confidence in Whaitiri continuing as an MP, despite her sacking as a minister.

“I have a view that the member works incredibly hard across Ikaroa-Rawhiti, that she will continue to be able to fulfil those roles.”

“I have a view that the member works incredibly hard across Ikaroa-Rawhiti, that she will continue to be able to fulfil those roles.”

While there have been reports of earlier problems with employee management and staffing turnover in Whaitiri’s office, Ardern would not comment on whether she had learned about any other instances of alleged misconduct but said she had made her decision “solely on this incident”.

She had spoken to Whaitiri about receiving support in managing her employment relationships – although would not say whether that would include anger management counselling.

Asked whether she had been lobbied by the Māori caucus for Whaitiri to remain a minister, Ardern said no, adding: “This is my decision and I stand by my decision.”

Door open for return

She left the door open for Whaitiri’s return, saying: “I like to of course leave openings for ministers to address the issues that have been raised that have led them to lose their portfolios, and I will do that for Meka as well, but at this time she does not have my confidence.”

Whaitiri is the second minister from Ardern’s Government to fall, following Clare Curran who resigned after failing to declare an official meeting for a second time, and Ardern said she was disappointed by the departures.

“No-one wants to lose ministers, of course no-one wants to lose ministers, but I have to make decisions based on the information in front of me.”

Kris Faafoi will now permanently take on Whaitiri’s Customs portfolio along with Curran’s broadcasting role, while lead ministers will take on the former’s associate roles.

However, Ardern said she had no plans for a reshuffle despite the departures.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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