Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's rationale for excluding experienced Labour MP Louisa Wall from Cabinet

Labour's Louisa Wall has been an MP for 13 years but has never held a ministerial portfolio, and her boss Jacinda Ardern says it's because there's no room for her in Cabinet. 

Wall hit the headlines twice last week, first suggesting her own Government should be doing more to stop China's alleged human rights abuses, and then accepting a National Party speaking slot on mental health after Labour didn't give her one. 

And it's not the first time Wall's relationship with Labour has raised eyebrows. Ahead of the election last year, she gave up trying to defend her Manurewa electorate seat, after a legal battle over who was allowed to stand for the party's nomination. 

Wall held the seat since 2011, but ended up running on the Labour Party list. Her withdrawal came after threatening legal action against her party for allowing a late nomination by Arena Williams to contest the seat, which she won.  

Despite more than a decade of experience in Parliament, and leading the charge on significant marriage equality legislation, Wall has never joined the ranks of Cabinet, raising questions about whether she's too controversial. 

"That's not my decision and you have to ask the person who makes those decisions," Wall told Newshub Nation. "What I am grateful for is the privilege that I have, and the opportunities that I do have, I make the most of."

Wall's boss puts it down to not having enough space in Cabinet to give a ministerial opportunity to all those in her caucus who are deserving.

"I'd say there are many more people in our caucus who have the skills and ability generally to be ministers who are not, because we only have 20 of them."

Last week Ardern distanced herself from Wall's accusation that China was harvesting organs from political prisoners. Ardern said Wall wasn't speaking on behalf of the Government, but rather in her capacity as chair of the New Zealand branch of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).  

Labour MP Louisa Wall.
Labour MP Louisa Wall. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"We speak as ministers and as representatives of the Government. It doesn't curtail any member who's part of the IPU from speaking with that hat on."

Adding fuel to the fire, Wall's exclusion by Labour from speaking during a mental health debate last Friday gave rise to speculation she was being punished for breaking ranks. 

The debate centred on the Zero Suicide Aotearoa report commissioned by the cross-party Mental Health and Addiction Wellbeing Group, of which Wall was a founding member. 

But Wall wasn't given a speaking slot. National Party deputy leader Shane Reti stepped in and gave her one of theirs, which Wall thanked him for during her speech. 

Ardern insists Wall's exclusion from Labour's list of speakers wasn't a punishment. She said by the time she became aware of the issue, everyone who wanted to speak was speaking. 

"Given this was really a debate that was off the back of cross-party work, I have no issue that there were cross-party slots being shared at all. In fact, I've said many times before, that this is one issue that I hope we can depoliticise, of the many issues we debate in this place."

Labour Whip Kieran McAnulty said speaking slots were given to ministers with relevant portfolios. But it hasn't gone unnoticed that Kiri Allan - whose Conservation and Emergency Management portfolios aren't related to the topic - was given a speaking opportunity. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"When it comes to who was speaking, you had ministers that were involved from a youth affairs perspective, from a health perspective; for minister Allan, she had just returned to Parliament and this was an opportunity for her to speak on an issue that she felt passionately about as an individual MP but also as a member of our Cabinet and having recently returned," Ardern said. 

"We also had, for instance, an exception to the minister, Kieran McAnulty, speaking with a particular view of rural communities, and of course, Louisa Wall did have an opportunity as well."

Wall has taken it on the chin. 

"We have our internal processes and through a determination, they said ministers should lead this debate, and in some ways it's really important that our ministers lead the debate, because they're in a position to do something about it," she told Newshub Nation. 

"I think the context has changed...I'm no longer the chair of the Health Committee."  

As for Wall being moved on from her Manurewa seat at the election, Ardern said it was a decision for the local Labour team - not her. 

"Ultimately, these are decisions that are actually made by local membership, not by me as party leader. At a local level, our members determine who will locally represent them."