National says Labour 'falling apart', people escaping 'sinking ship' amid reports Meka Whaitiri defecting to Māori Party

  • 03/05/2023

National MPs say Labour is "falling apart" after it was revealed Labour Minister Meka Whaitiri may jump waka to the Māori Party.

On Tuesday evening Te Ao Māori News reported she is set to make a formal announcement that she will resign from Labour and stand as a candidate for the Māori Party in the upcoming election.

A spokesperson for the acting Prime Minister, Carmel Sepuloni, said: "We're aware of the media speculation. We have nothing further to add at this point."

Whaitiri's defection comes while Labour leader Chris Hipkins is overseas attending King Charles' coronation, and the timing hasn't been lost on National.

National leader Christopher Luxon said the Labour Government is "falling apart" and it's getting "very messy".

"It's a total mess," he told Newshub.

"The person I feel sorry for is Chris Hipkins. He's arriving in London and turning on his phone and getting out of airplane mode and discovering he's lost a minister.

"We've gone from Gaurav Sharma and those dramas into Stuart Nash and other ministers not reading Cabinet manuals and now we're with Meka Whaitiri in this situation."

Mark Mitchell said it's evidence "they're not happy campers" inside Labour.

"The pressure is coming on. I think the polls are starting to move away from them a bit now and this is what happens as the cracks start to appear. And this is big crack without a doubt."

Judith Collins told Newshub it was "people actually escaping that sinking ship".

"Clearly Meka has seen the writing on the wall and there must be something really awful going on in that caucus," Collins said.

"Hipkins leaves the country. Deputy PM indicates a capital gains tax coming after the election if Labour win and insults ute owners on the way through, Wood launches a new tax, and a Minister announces they're defecting to the Maori Party. And it's just been 24 hours!" Chris Bishop tweeted.

His compadre Simeon Brown was quick to join in, tweeting: "Hipkins Govt is falling apart while he travels to the UK!"

Whaitiri had been made the Hawke's Bay cyclone recovery ministerial lead just last month, and news of her possible defection appears to have blindsided the Prime Minister's Office.

Her colleagues had no idea on Tuesday night either, with Labour MP and former minister Phil Twyford telling Newshub he didn't think she had raised any concerns about Labour's direction.

Newshub understands Whaitiri is set to make an announcement on her future at a marae in Hastings on Wednesday at 10am - the Māori Party is not officially confirming anything.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told media from London that he hasn't had a conversation with Whaitiri since the last caucus meeting, which was three weeks ago as Parliament is currently in recess.

"As I've indicated, I haven't had a conversation with Meka Whaitiri yet and I obviously want to do her the courtesy of hearing what she has to say, if anything, before I make a comment on it, I think that's only fair, so I'll reserve any further comment until I've had that conversation," Hipkins told media.

When asked by Newshub if he had lost control of his ministers, the Prime Minister strongly denied he had.

Hipkins said no one from his office or Deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni has spoken to Whaitiri.

"On a regular basis, elections roll around, people make decisions about their own future, typically they would speak to their party leaders before making those announcements. I haven't heard from her yet," Hipkins said.