Peter Dunne slams PM Chris Hipkins' 'weak' handling of Kiri Allan's RNZ comments

A political commentator has slammed Prime Minister Chris Hipkins for his handling of MPs and staff who break cabinet manual rules. 

Cabinet Minister Kiri Allan was the latest to do that when she criticised RNZ's culture and treatment of Māori staff during a farewell event for her fiancée, Māni Dunlop. She later apologised for these comments. 

The Allan incident comes after Hipkins sacked former minister Stuart Nash for breaching the cabinet manual on several occasions. 

A number of senior public servants have also breached the manual this year, including Rob Campbell, Steve Maharey, Ruth Dyson.

Political Commentator and former United Future leader Peter Dunne told AM on Thursday the way Hipkins handled the Allan situation made him look "weak".

"I think they're [the breaches] bizarre frankly ... but I do think the current Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, has been quite inconsistent in his approach," Dunne told AM Early host Michael O'Keeffe. 

With Allan being an experienced MP and the Minister of Justice, Dunne believes she should've known the rules and understood she couldn't say what she said at RNZ. 

"I'm surprised she has got off fairly lightly with the Prime Minister, it makes him look a bit weak and inconsistent on these matters," Dunne said. 

Dunne believes with the Prime Minister taking a weak approach to Allan's case, it raises questions about if the Government cares about the cabinet manual.

"I think he should've done much more than simply just offer a mild rebuke. I think this brings into focus a bigger question about what sort of credibility or adherence this current cabinet is giving to the provisions of the cabinet manual about conflicts of interest," Dunne said. 

With Allan's case not being the first breach of the cabinet manual, Dunne thinks Hipkins should've sat down with each MP and made sure they understood the rules. 

"From the outside, it looks as though they're paying lip service to it. I think this would have been the occasion for the Prime Minister to step in and say I'm going to have a one-on-one with the cabinet secretary and each individual minister to go through their understanding of the rules to make sure I don't keep getting these reports every few weeks of another minister going out of line because it's just debilitating, it's detracting from his major task in the lead up to the election," he said. 

Political Commentator and former United Future leader Peter Dunne.
Political Commentator and former United Future leader Peter Dunne. Photo credit: AM

Dunne said when you become an MP, the cabinet provides a meeting on the "dos and don'ts" of the manual, which raises questions about why these breaches keep happening.  

"The cabinet office and it's in the rules, also has an annual one-on-one with each minister. You get a checklist to fill out about any potential conflicts coming up, and they work through those with you on an annual basis, so you so you're not caught on the hop," he said 

"So if that process had been followed, neither aspect of the Nash or Allen cases should have arisen ... and it just makes me wonder how seriously that process is being applied today."

Dunne thinks this shows that Ministers don't care about the cabinet manual. 

"It just looks from the outside as though ministers are taking a pretty, 'oh yeah, that's the cabinet manual I don't need to worry too much about that, I just do what I need to do' type approach, which I think is what's causing the problem."

Watch the full interview with Peter Dunne in the video above.