It’s not the first time National MP Harete Hipango, who attended a vaccine mandate protest over the weekend, has courted controversy. Political editor Jo Moir’s story – first published June 16 last year – looks at Hipango’s return to Parliament.
National MPs have spoken out about Harete Hipango. They told political editor Jo Moir she could be more hindrance than help to the embattled party.
A liability and not a team player.
That’s how some in the National Party caucus have described returning MP Harete Hipango, who is next in line after the resignation of Nick Smith.
Known for her strong opposition to abortion law reform and euthanasia legislation, Hipango was only in Parliament for three years, but in that time raised the eyebrows of her colleagues with some of her more controversial takes.
One National MP told Newsroom she “sailed her own waka’’ and seemed to think the party should be honoured she had agreed to join, rather than being grateful for the opportunity to be in Parliament.
Several National MPs said she wasn’t particularly well-liked in the caucus and didn’t have a lot of friends.
Hipango alluded to this in a recent interview for RNZ’s Matangireia, saying it was very lonely during her time as an MP and Māori woman in the National Party caucus.
She went on to say, “the Māori voice in the National Party is still yet to be truly valued’’ and there was a serious diversity problem.
While she didn’t have a whole heap of allies, one MP told Newsroom the closest person to her during last term was now-National Party leader Judith Collins.
They said the irony of that friendship was that Hipango helped in the rolling of former leader Simon Bridges and his deputy Paula Bennett – both of whom are Māori.
The working theory amongst the National caucus is that Collins’ supporters, including Hipango, put their votes behind Muller’s coup to help clear a leadership path for Collins in the future.
That meant the party lost two Māori leaders. And a subsequent devastating election result meant diversity within the party is now almost non-existent.
“The lack of diversity is a result of the Muller coup. He changed the list, rewarded his mates, and now we have a massive diversity issue.
“Paula resigned, Simon was demoted, people like Alfred, Harete, Agnes and Bakshi were pushed down the list to promote more ambitious white members of the caucus,’’ the MP said.
“Harete will quickly realise there’s only 33 of us and she’s in the trenches.” – National MP
Another National MP told Newsroom there were two conflicting things about Hipango’s return.
“While she is a conservative and some people think we have too many of those, she is also bringing some ethnic diversity to the caucus, which we desperately need,’’ they said.
Another said the caucus would be “watching to see if a period in the wilderness has given her cause to reflect, and whether that changes her approach’’.
“Harete will quickly realise there’s only 33 of us and she’s in the trenches,’’ the MP said.
Newsroom understands Hipango had not been treated well under the Bridges/Bennett regime.
That said, Hipango would have to change when it comes to “talking outside of the party view’’, an MP warned.
The lawyer of 30 years looks set to have an uphill climb ahead of her when she arrives at caucus next Tuesday morning.
It’s understood she will take on Nick Smith’s electoral reform portfolio, but the policy work that Smith had been doing for the party will be picked up by someone more senior in the caucus.
Collins implemented performance reviews for all MPs last year and their portfolios come up for renewal in September.
Any bigger reshuffle is expected to wait until then.
Nick Smith’s strange exit
When Nick Smith announced he was calling time on three decades in Parliament, he said it was about getting ahead of a media story that was about to break the following day.
When no story surfaced it prompted reports and speculation that Collins had gaslit her MP and the Father of the House.
Collins has never confirmed or denied whether she told Smith a story was set to run detailing an investigation into a verbal altercation he had with a staffer last year.
But Newsroom understands Smith had fought for months to keep the Parliamentary Service investigation under lock and key because it had gone beyond the verbal altercation incident and was now looking into his treatment of all his staffers over his entire political career.
It’s understood Smith believed the report would be devastating for both him and his career.
Collins warned her caucus last month there was a negative story set to come out about someone in the caucus, but it was never made clear who it was about.
MPs were told to come forward if it was them, but nobody ever did.
Newsroom understands the week before Smith quit, Collins approached him to say she’d heard media were working on a story to do with him.
At that point Smith came clean that it was about the Parliamentary Service investigation and that he too had heard his former staffers were being phoned by a journalist.
A couple of days later Smith announced he was quitting after exhausting all avenues to keep the report from being made public.
The report has still not seen the light of day, but Smith’s time in Parliament ended with a valedictory speech last week.
It made zero mention of the events leading up to his sudden resignation but has opened the doors once again for Hipango.