What Kiri Allan's 'unprecedented' sudden ministerial departure means for Labour's future

The arrest of former Minister Kiri Allan is a "huge blow" for the Labour Party and the "multiple ministerial situations" this year could make it hard for Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to prove he's a good lead minister in Cabinet, a political scientist says.

Allan had been involved in a car crash on Evans Bay Parade in Wellington shortly after 9pm on Sunday and was taken to the Wellington Central Police Station before being released at about 1am.

She was charged with careless use of a motor vehicle and refusing to accompany a police officer, and will appear in court at a later date. Allan was also issued an infringement notice for excess breath alcohol between 250 and 400mcg.

While Hipkins is confident Labour can still win the election in October, Victoria University political science associate professor Lara Greaves said what happened with Allan on Sunday is "unprecedented".

"It's a huge blow [for Labour]," she told Newshub Live at 11:30. "They've occurred as a broader set of circumstances where Hipkins' Cabinet looks quite unstable. Allan is the fourth minister to leave in the last six months, so it potentially shows a bit of instability in Cabinet, within the Government." 

Other ministers who have left their portfolios are Stuart Nash, who was sacked in March, Meka Whaitiri, who defected from the Government to join Te Pāti Māori in May, and Michael Wood, who resigned in June after further undeclared shareholdings surfaced.

At his post-Cabinet press conference earlier on Monday, Hipkins commended Allan's "bravery" for speaking openly about her mental health.

"When you are dealing with issues around mental health, that is incredibly difficult. I don't take that lightly. I have taken it seriously from the beginning. I have been guided by feedback from Allan about what will work for her," he said.

"It is really tough. I commend Kiri for speaking openly. It is an absolute tragedy what happened yesterday. It is brave to speak openly, but it is not acceptable it got to that point yesterday."

Chris Hipkins.
Chris Hipkins. Photo credit: Newshub.

Greaves said there will be sympathy for Allan and Hipkins, and this has even been seen from ACT leader David Seymour. Although she believed the Opposition is ultimately trying to undermine Hipkins' ability to manage people.

"I think in and of itself, the circumstances, people wouldn't blame Hipkins, but given there have been multiple ministerial situations now, I think that will make it hard for Hipkins to make this case that he's a good lead minister in Cabinet," Greaves said.

But the Government is still stable enough where there isn't cause to call a snap election, she added.

"Any criticisms that we might have of the Cabinet, of Chris Hipkins, of the Prime Minister, the Government can still pass confidence and supply. They still have a majority in Parliament," Greaves said.

"To have a snap election or to bring forward the election would mean instability in and of itself. Voters have this expected timeline, there's a regulated period, there's all these laws that go on behind it, and so to call a snap election would be quite drastic."

Earlier on Monday, Hipkins said Allan was offered more time off but said she wanted to get back to work. It was only just more than a fortnight ago Hipkins announced Allan would return to work and resume her full duties after accusations surfaced about mistreatment of staff in her office. Allan had previously rejected the allegations, saying no formal complaints had been made.

The accusations came to light while Allan was on a week of leave for mental health reasons.

"I made sure she had got support, that she had been seeing a counsellor," Hipkins said. "I did not compel her to stay away from work."

Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan.
Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan. Photo credit: Getty Images

He said Allan was very well-supported and the issues around ministerial conduct were unrelated to mental health.

"Kiri had very good support from colleagues," he said. "We had arranged professional support for her. One of the conditions of returning to work is that she would continue with professional support."

Hipkins also said there was no hint of any issues when they had a text conversation on Sunday morning. He understood there were developments personally for her later in the day.

"I like to think I have handled the situation fairly and with respect. Mental health shouldn't disqualify someone from employment and it hasn't in the past. People should be supported," Hipkins said.

"Kiri has been supported. We have given her time off and I encouraged her to take more time. People can make politics of this, and it appears they are doing [that], but I think they should consider what message that sends to others."

Allan was now heading back home to consider her political future, he said.