'I didn't touch her': Meka Whaitiri opens up about bullying accusations

Embattled Labour MP Meka Whaitiri has opened up about being removed as a minister in a candid interview with Turanga FM. 

Whaitiri, MP for Ikaroa Rāwhiti, was removed as a minister by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in September over allegations of a physical incident with a staff member in her office. 

She denied the allegations at the time and reiterated her stance in an interview with Matai Rangi Smith, telling him: "From the time that the allegations were made, up until today, I've always refuted them."

Whaitiri said: "There was no altercation, there was no assault. I did not touch my staff member - I growled her for not doing her job - but I didn't touch her."

The Prime Minister accepted Whaitiri's offer in August last year to stand aside from her ministerial portfolios after the allegations went public - including her Customs portfolio which fell to Minister Kris Faafoi. 

Whaitiri, who was first elected to Parliament in 2013, told Turanga FM she would like to be a minister again, and that "fire's still burning inside me despite what happened last year".

Whaitiri disputed aspects of the allegations made against her last year. It was understood there were no witnesses to the incident in Gisborne, but Whaitiri was accused of getting physical and causing bruising. 

Meka Whaitiri speaking to Tūranga Talks.
Meka Whaitiri speaking to Tūranga Talks. Photo credit: YouTube / Tūranga Talks

Reflecting on that day, Whaitiri said: "We had the Prime Minister in Te Rāwhiti, we had five Crown Ministers, so I knew as a local MP it was going to be an exciting but a very busy day."

She explained how the staff member was new and had never worked in Parliament before, and that she was "constantly looking for my staff member to ensure that she knew where to be". 

Later that day, Whaitiri said she saw the Prime Minister having her media stand-up "surrounded by all the ministers that accompany her, except me.” She said she was disappointed that her staff member hadn't informed her about it. 

"Clearly, I was disappointed that in my neck of the woods I had lost the opportunity to stand with the Prime Minister and my colleagues."

The Labour MP said she took her staff member outside to "show her the lost opportunity and to express to her as I did that this was her job ad I was disappointed". 

But she insisted she never raised her voice because she was in a public space, and "didn't grab her as I'm alleged to have done because we're in a public place and I don't grab staff". 

Whaitiri said she took her staff member for a milkshake after the incident, thinking everything was fine. That was until two days later she received a damning phone call from the Prime Minister's Office. 

"It completely blindsided me," she told Turanga FM. "The conversation from the Prime Minister's Office went like this: 'We have received a complaint that you manhandled one of your staff members two days ago in Gisborne'."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour MP Meka Whaitiri in Hastings.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour MP Meka Whaitiri in Hastings. Photo credit: YouTube / Tūranga Talks

Whaitiri said there have been "mistruths" about the incident and she said the Prime Minister has been "an absolute supporter" of hers even since the accusations came to light. 

The Prime Minister was joined by Whaitiri earlier this month in Hastings at the Waitapu Marae where Ardern said the former minister had been doing excellent work. 

"Meka is an incredibly strong advocate for this region," Ardern said, not ruling out whether Whaitiri could become a minister again. 

Whaitiri said she's sought anger management and has attended mindfulness courses.