Kiri Allan says no allegations ever put to her about staff, has 'no evidence' department heads raised concerns

Kiri Allan has returned to Parliament claiming she has never had allegations put to her about her management of staff.

The senior Labour minister, who has been away this week on mental health leave, also says she has "no evidence" any heads of the departments ever raised concerns about working relationships in her office.

"I refute that that's what happened at all. I have no evidence of that at all."

On Wednesday afternoon, Department of Conservation (DoC) Director-General Penny Nelson said she became aware of "concerns" about working relationships in the office more than a year ago.

Allan held the Conservation Minister role between November 2020 and June 2022. She's now the Justice and Regional Development Minister.

Nelson said one staffer seconded to Allan's office chose to leave early due to those working relationships. The DoC head then had discussions with colleagues, including with Internal Affairs which manages ministerial services, regarding "support in the office".

Fronting media on Thursday morning, Allan repeatedly denied she had ever been presented with any allegations against her and therefore found it a "challenging story to respond to".

"I have never had any formal allegations ever raised. We often, frequently, talk about a whole range of different issues. 

"Whether those are policy expectations that haven't been met or are being met, whether those are different characteristics within the office."

Allan disputed the suggestion staff felt uncomfortable in her office and had to raise concerns with their department boss.

"I don't necessarily think that's an accurate description of what occurred in our office," she said.

"I'm pretty proud of our crew and I'm really proud of our team. 

"We're the kind of office that we run hard while we've got the ball. I think it's been a pretty great place to work, to be honest."

Allan said she didn't believe she was a tough boss but "a fair bit of fun" and "pretty passionate". She has never shouted at staff, she said.

"I am definitely not a Wellington politician. That is something I am not. I am from the regions. 

"We do things a little bit differently. But I think I am fair, I think I have clear expectations and when those aren't met, I am clear about those as well."

She said there is a range of dynamics in ministerial offices and the turnover in her office was "very comparable" to other offices.

Allan was asked if it was usual for department heads to raise concerns about how their staff are being managed. 

"I refute that that's what happened at all. I have no evidence of that," she said.

When it was put to Allan Nelson had said she had heard of concerns about working relationships and spoken to ministerial services, Allan replied: "Well I am sorry, that's not what I have before me.

"That's not the details that have been raised with me. There have never been any formal allegations put to me. 

"These are serious allegations and I would have expected a serious process to be followed if that was indeed the case."

She said "not once" had any department bosses raised concerns with her.

Allan said her office has received support in terms of "processes".

"But to me, no," she said.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening said there have been "no formal complaints made by departmental or ministerial staff about Minister Allan".

"Some issues have been raised about how to improve working relations in the Minister’s office. Work was done to improve the situation and no further issues were raised."

Allan said the Prime Minister's Office hasn't been giving her office extra support. She said PMO worked with all offices all of the time. 

Allan revealed on social media on Wednesday that she had been away from Parliament this week after "struggling with mental health and wellness". 

But she was "feeling a lot better" and returning to work on Thursday.

Allan said her issues were "triggered" by personal and external circumstances, including issues like the cyclones hitting the East Coast region.

"Sometimes things accumulate and I hit a wall a few weeks ago. I kept going, showing up to events, smiling [and] giving speeches. 

"But about a week ago, I had to be pretty honest with myself that I needed to put my mental well-being at the forefront of my focus."

Allan said she spoke to colleagues, friends and family about the situation. 

"That was bloody hard. It felt a little embarrassing admitting I wasn't doing okay. 

"But what followed was an overwhelming response of aroha - and I am so glad I shared with people I love to help pull me out of my head."