Prime Minister Chris Hipkins hasn't spoken to Meka Whaitiri, denies losing control of ministers as she looks to jump ship

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has denied losing control of his ministers after it was revealed Labour MP Meka Whaitiri may jump waka to the Māori Party.

On Tuesday evening, Te Ao Māori News reported Whaitiri 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."

Hipkins, who is in London for King Charles' coronation this weekend, told media he hadn't had a conversation with Whaitiri since Labour's 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," Hipkins said. "I think that's only fair, so I'll reserve any further comment until I've had that conversation."

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

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is denying losing control of ministers as Meka Whaitiri may jump ship to the Māori Party.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is denying losing control of ministers as Meka Whaitiri may jump ship to the Māori Party. Photo credit: Newshub

Hipkins said no one from his or Sepuloni's office 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. 

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 the party'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.

National was quick to attack Labour once news of Whaitiri's defection came to light, with MP Simeon Brown tweeting: "Hipkins Govt is falling apart while he travels to the UK!"

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 aeroplane 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."

Whangaparāoa MP Mark Mitchell, of National, 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 a big crack without a doubt."

Former National leader 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.