Speaker Adrian Rurawhe refuses to release correspondence with Meka Whaitiri as waka-jumping debate continues

The Speaker is refusing to release any correspondence he's had with Meka Whaitiri as debate continues at Parliament over whether she accidentally waka-jumped herself out of her seat.

He says the privacy of MPs means he can't discuss what they tell him, but says Whaitiri could release the communications herself. 

Whaitiri on Wednesday said she had "officially notified the Speaker that I have resigned from the New Zealand Labour Party and have joined Te Pāti Māori effective immediately".

That raised questions over whether Whaitiri had inadvertently triggered the so-called waka-jumping legislation, which says that if an MP formally writes to the Speaker telling them they have resigned from the parliamentary party with which they entered Parliament, their seat is vacated.

But following Whaitiri's announcement, Speaker Adrian Rurawhe said Whaitiri was an independent member for parliamentary purposes.

He clarified that decision on Thursday, calling it "one of the most serious things I have ever had to rule on".

Rurawhe reiterated the Electoral Act sets out very specific conditions that must be complied with for a vacancy to be created. 

That includes that a written notice must be signed by the MP, be addressed to the Speaker, and say the MP has either resigned from the parliamentary membership of the political party for which the member of Parliament was elected or wishes to be recognised as an independent MP or member of another political party.

Speaker Adrian Rurawhe refuses to release correspondence with Meka Whaitiri as waka-jumping debate continues

He's not received a message complying with those conditions, Rurawhe told the House. 

"There is no leeway for the Speaker to declare a seat vacant if they are informed or they become aware of the information that a member has ceased to be a parliamentary member for which the member was elected in any way other than through such written notice."

The Labour Party has told the Speaker Whaitiri is no longer a member of its parliamentary party, Rurawhe said. However, going off what the Speaker said, a written notice of resignation complying with the conditions hasn't come from Whaitiri herself, and therefore the waka-jumping legislation doesn't apply. 

"Like you all I have seen media coverage stating that the Hon Meka Whaitiri intended to leave one party to join another," Rurawhe said. "But those statements themselves do not cause the Member's seat to become vacant."

He said Whaitiri has told him her vote will no longer be cast by Labour and she wishes to be seated by Te Pāti Māori.

The Speaker said Whaitiri, as an independent member for parliamentary purposes, will have the right to ask questions in the House and speak in debates in proportion to the fact she is one of 119 members in the House. Labour's allocation of time will also be adjusted.

The clarification led to questions from National over whether the Speaker would release all correspondence regarding the matter and whether Whaitiri could release the material.

Rurawhe replied by saying he received correspondence with Members daily.

"It is extremely important that Members can trust that all such correspondence can remain confidential. In this particular case, I can reiterate that I have not received any correspondence from either the Member or the Labour Party that complies [with the Electoral Act].

"I cannot release that information, but the Hon Meka Whaitiri is, if she wishes to do so."

National's Chris Bishop asked if the Speaker could explain how the communication didn't fit within the terms of the legislation.

"I think it might be helpful if you outlined how what happened didn't meet with the law," he said.

But Rurawhe wouldn't.

"It is not for me to, after telling this House that I will not be releasing that information, to then discuss the information. That is private communication between the Speaker and a Member."

Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere said on Wednesday he was working with the Speaker on the issue. 

Acting Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the Government doesn't feel the need to invoke part of the waka-jumping legislation that allows the leader of the political party the MP is departing from to write to the Speaker to have their seat vacated.

If Whaitiri did have to leave Parliament, politicians would have to vote to not have a by-election. That would require 75 percent support, meaning National could withhold support and force Labour into a contest just months out from the October 14 general election.

Whaitiri has given little reason for why she has defected, only saying that by leaving Labour she has felt "emancipated" and that she's returning to her whakapapa.