PM says 'difficult' to say if Labour could've supported Meka Whaitiri better as defected MP says she doesn't trust Chris Hipkins - then backtracks

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says he still isn't sure why Meka Whaitiri ditched Labour, so it's difficult to say whether she could've been better supported.

Hipkins recently returned from the UK after attending King Charles' coronation and he headed straight back to work to fix the mess the defection caused.

Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Whaitiri, who was a minister outside of Cabinet, jumped ship and headed to Te Pāti Māori while the Prime Minister was away - a shock departure that left Labour wondering why.

On Tuesday, Whaitiri spoke out for the first time since her announcement - telling TVNZ's Breakfast she had a gut feeling and wanted to join a party where she felt heard. 

Asked whether she trusted Hipkins, Whaitiri said, "No, I trust my family".

But Whaitiri walked back those comments later in the interview.

"No, I didn't say I didn't trust the Prime Minister - that's what you said," she told Breakfast. "What I said is, I went to my trusted sources. My whānau has given 23 long, loyal years of service to the Labour Party… We have done the right thing by ourselves, putting our whakapapa first and I'm not going to apologise about that."

Meka Whaitiri.
Meka Whaitiri. Photo credit: Getty Images

Hipkins was again quizzed about Whaitiri's defection from Labour during an interview with AM on Tuesday.

"She hasn't raised any concerns, at any stage, with me or with other leaders within the party and we do create a lot of space for Members of Parliament and for minister to be heard," he said.

The Prime Minister said Whaitiri, despite being a minister outside of Cabinet, was a member of multiple Cabinet committees.

"Every MP within the Labour team gets the opportunity to raise any issues that they want to and she didn't do that at any point."

Ultimately, the defection was Whaitiri's decision, Hipkins said.

"She's made her decision, she's announced it, she's done and so now we've got to really focus on the more pressing issues that are in front of us which are around the Budget next week, around the cost of living and, of course - directly revelation to the people of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti - supporting them through the cyclone recovery."

Asked by AM co-host Laura Tupou if Whatiri could've been supported better by Labour, Hipkins said it was "difficult" to say.

"Without her having raised any particular issues… it's difficult to make that comment. I respect she's made her decision, she's moving on and we're moving on as well."

After making the decision last week, Whaitiri said her move to Te Pāti Māori was her "calling".

"It's who I am as a Māori," she said, adding the move had set her free.

In switching sides, Whaitiri had effectively turfed out Te Pāti Māori's already selected Ikaroa-Rāwhiti candidate, her cousin Heather Te Au-Skipworth.