- Labour MP Meka Whaitiri announced her resignation from Labour to join Te Pāti Māori.
- The move looks like it should trigger the waka jumping law booting Whaitiri from Parliament. Why does the Labour Party Speaker say it didn’t?
- The Speaker won’t let anyone “check his work”. Is he yet another sole source of truth?
Why did Whaitiri quit Labour?
On 3 April 2023, Labour MP for Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, Meka Whaitiri surprised her party by announcing she had officially notified the Speaker of the House Adrian Rurawhe that she was quitting her party to join Te Pāti Māori.
Whaitiri did not speak to the Prime Minister about her resignation from the party and there was no indication she quit over differences either political or philosophical. This has lead to widely reported speculation that she left for reasons related to personal ambition.
Whaitiri held her seat since 2013. Her portfolios included Customs, Cyclone Recovery minister for Hawke’s Bay, Food Safety and Veterans’ affairs.
Allegations over an altercation with a staff member saw Whaitiri stripped of Ministerial responsibilities under former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in 2018. However, in 2020, Whaitiri was made a minister outside cabinet.
Many are surprised Whaitiri’s move hasn’t triggered the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act 2018 (aka the “waka jumping law”), which she helped pass.
MP Andrew Little previously said the Act was meant to set out a process by which, if members leave their party and join another they can be removed from Parliament.
To trigger the legislation, a signed letter stating the intention to resign from their party is delivered to the Speaker. The MP’s seat is then vacated immediately. The justification for this law is that your constituents voted for you under one banner and you shouldn’t be able to switch on them.
It certainly seems like Whaitiri has triggered the law, but Speaker Rurawhe says he will recognise the MP as an independent. The Speaker, a Labour MP appointee, says the letter did not technically meet the requirements necessary to trigger the waka jumping law and is claiming privacy in withholding the letter from the public.
The Speaker implied that Whaitiri didn’t make it explicit in her notice that she was joining Te Pāti Māori upon her resignation. Even though she stated publicly she had done so.
“She has withdrawn her proxy from the Labour Party, and she wishes to sit somewhere else. That’s it.”
Neither Te Pāti Māori nor Whaitiri have released the letter to the public.
Hipkins, responding to questions, denies that he’s lost control of his Cabinet amid the messy defection.
In a series of tweets, NZ First leader Winston Peters called Whaitiri’s resignation within six months of a general election (thereby avoiding a by-election) “deceptive” and “disgraceful”.
Political analyst Bryce Edwards said Whaitiri had not acted honourably and it reflected badly on the “mana” of Te Pāti Māori, who may appear increasingly “opportunistic and unprincipled” to voters.
He also speculated the Labour Party did not want to upset Te Pāti Māori by invoking the waka jumping legislation because they may need their support to form a coalition come election time.
In response to Whatiri’s comments that she was emancipated after being “shackled” by Labour, RNZ’s Tim Watkins wrote that a minister earning at least $250,000 a year claiming to be a slave will seem perverse to those who voted for her suffering more directly through a cost of living crisis and more.