Former Labour Minister Meka Whaitiri will break her week-long silence when she returns to Parliament on Tuesday.
She’s expected to make a statement and take questions from the media ahead of Question Time, where highly-orchestrated points of order will be called to mark Whaitiri’s crossing of the floor.
While Whaitiri will be treated as an independent in the House by the Speaker when it comes to questions and speech allocations, she will sit with Te Pāti Māori.
Speaker Adrian Rurawhe has been informed of the party’s intentions to use a point of order to mark Whaitiri’s crossing of the floor and welcome her to sit in Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi’s front bench seat.
Whaitiri is then expected to call a point of order seeking leave to make a personal statement so she can outline her reasons for defecting to Te Pāti Māori.
The personal statement can be blocked by any MP in the House who denies the request but given the interest in what Whaitiri has to say it’s unlikely it would be stopped.
Labour’s Māori caucus co-chair Willie Jackson told Newsroom he certainly wouldn’t block it but said he couldn’t speak on behalf of all his colleagues.
Jackson said the Māori caucus that gathers on Tuesday mornings after Labour’s full caucus meeting had extended an invitation to Whaitiri.
“There’s been an approach, we’ve sent an invite message saying we’d be happy to meet with her,” Jackson said.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins isn’t sure whether much would be gained from meeting with Whaitiri at this point but told Newsroom she had his number and was “welcome to call me anytime”.
Hipkins sent her several messages when he arrived in London on Wednesday, but they have all gone unanswered.
“The time has kind of passed as she’s made and announced her decision, so I’m not sure there’s a lot to be gained from a conversation between us.”
Hipkins didn’t want to speculate on why she might have left Labour and didn’t agree or disagree with Jackson’s view that Whaitiri had left in part due to being overlooked for a position inside Cabinet.
Jackson told Newsroom there was “no doubt about it” that her lack of promotion was part of her decision to leave Labour.
He acknowledges his error in not checking in with her and supporting her when she missed out in Hipkins’ reshuffles earlier this year.
“We’ll see how the next week goes but hopefully we get through it without too much bad blood.” – Willie Jackson
Hipkins has now had to do a fourth reshuffle in three months because of Whaitiri’s defection, leading to a promotion for her former Māori caucus colleague Jo Luxton.
Formerly an agriculture and education under-secretary, Luxton is now Minister for Customs and Associate Minister for Agriculture and Education.
Kieran McAnulty picks up Whaitiri’s cyclone recovery responsibilities in Hawkes Bay, Rachel Brooking is the new food safety minister, and Peeni Henare is minister for veterans.
One other movement is Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta giving up her cyclone recovery responsibilities for the Waikato region, which have been handed to the Minister for Auckland, Michael Wood.
Hipkins said Mahuta’s busy travel schedule meant she was missing important meetings and had asked that someone else take over.
He dismissed any suggestion it was to do with Mahuta’s plans to contest the election, or not.
Whaitiri’s shock departure has meant Jackson had to check in with his colleagues to be sure nobody else was thinking about calling time.
He says as of Monday “everyone is still looking good” in terms of staying with Labour, and his focus is now finding a new candidate for Whaitiri’s Ikaroa-Rāwhiti seat.
It’s not expected any sitting Labour MPs will put their hand up for the selection.
Jackson acknowledges some of Labour’s supporters and volunteers may go with Whaitiri to Te Pāti Māori because she’s a “formidable candidate”.
“In saying that, I’ll be surprised if Labour loses the seat.”
For now, he just hopes Whaitiri’s return to Parliament is a peaceful one.
“We’ll see how the next week goes but hopefully we get through it without too much bad blood.”