Meka Whaitiri: Christopher Luxon says 'pretty clear Te Pāti Māori are going to side with Labour' anyway

Christopher Luxon says he won't change his stance on Te Pāti Māori after reports Labour Minister Meka Whaitiri is jumping ship to the Māori Party. 

It's understood Whaitiri will announce her candidacy for Te Pāti Māori in Hastings on Wednesday.

Whaitiri, the MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti, was stripped of ministerial portfolios in 2018 after bullying allegations but has recently returned to the fray as Minister for Customs, Food Safety and Veterans. 

It was only last month Whaitiri was given the full-time role as the minister coordinating the cyclone response for Hawke's Bay after Stuart Nash was sacked.

The reported defection has been described as "hugely damaging for Labour". It might, however,  be a massive boost for Te Pāti Māori, which could be the kingmaker party come October's election - based on recent polling.  

National leader Luxon, however, told AM host Ryan Bridge he was focused on growing National.

"I think it's pretty clear that Te Pāti Māori are going to side with Labour and the Greens," Luxon said when asked if he'd reconsider his stance on the party. "That's been their choice and their decision, and I think that's pretty obvious here.

"We've got a long way to go to the election, my job is to drive the National Party vote. If you want to change the Government, that's what you've got to do."

While the Māori Party has not directly ruled out working with National, it has said it would only work with parties "focused on a Treaty-centric Aoteaora". Te Pāti Māori has also said it wouldn't enter a coalition with parties against the Māori Health Authority - something both National and ACT have pledged to scrap.  

Whaitiri's reported resignation, meanwhile, was a sign of chaos in Labour, Luxon said.

Her rumoured exit was another in a string of personnel issues for the left, he told AM.

"We've gone from Gaurav Sharma to Kiri Allan and Meng Foon to Stuart Nash and now Meka Whaitiri," Luxon said. "The people that I feel really sorry for are actually the people in the Hawke's Bay because they need a Cyclone Recovery Minister, they've gone through two of them in a very short period of time and things aren't getting done." 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, speaking from London where he's just landed ahead of King Charles' coronation, denied he'd lost control of his Cabinet.

Hipkins hadn't spoken to Whaitiri since Labour's last caucus meeting and wouldn't comment further until he'd had a conversation with her, he said.

It's understood Whaitiri is not taking Labour's calls.