Official Whaitiri report released
Former Minister’s lawyer disputed bruising allegation
Aredacted version of a report into an allegation of staff bullying against former Government minister Meka Whaitiri has finally been released.
The report, by Wellington lawyer David Patten, confirms what was said in a report which said the new staff member was left with bruising after the encounter with Whaitiri at an event attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Gisborne on August 27.
“After giving careful consideration to this matter, it is my view that the explanation provided to me by Employee A is a more probable explanation as to what happened than the explanation provided to me by the Minister. That is, rather than the encounter between the two of them in the foyer being a face-to-face encounter as described to me by the Minister, the Minister in fact approached Employee A from slightly behind and grabbed Employee A by the arm,” Patten said in the report.
“After considering this matter and, in particular, having regard to the information provided to me by Employee A, I find that the Minister did not pull and/or drag Employee A from the foyer. She did take Employee A outside the building where the meeting was taking place.”
Whaitiri has disputed elements of the report, and among the documents released yesterday is a redacted copy of a letter from her lawyer’s firm Simpson Grierson to Patten.
It refers to a “threatening email” sent to the Prime Minister on September 29 at 8.18am, which Simpson Grierson lawyer Sally McKechnie said contained strong language to describe the alleged events.
The email was sent by a person connected to a friend of the staff member involved and made reference to a “number of serious themes . . . it then goes on to link the alleged action of the minister with this background, saying things will not improve if [redacted].”
“The email includes an explicit threat . . . Given the tone and the content of the email, including the blackmail threat; was Employee A embarrassed that the email had been sent? Did that affect what s/he said about the minister’s action?”
The letter goes on to say that the staff member, a press secretary referred to as Employee A, did not initiate the complaint herself, and that there was potentially a political element to the matter given the PM’s chief of staff was involved.
McKechnie went on to say the staff member had been in the role only a short time, it was understood she had not worked in that role before and it appeared she was “ill-equipped for the role and was not aware of a number of fundamental aspects of it”.
Whaitiri’s lawyer was also concerned that the bruise on the staff member was small and had been described as “tiny” by Patten in his interview with Whaitiri.
The bruise was not the shape expected from a grab that was alleged, the staff member was unsure where it came from because she didn’t notice until she was prompted three days later.
“Given the bruise was not ‘discovered’ until four days after the alleged events it is possible the bruise could have been as a result of an entirely unrelated manner. There is no contemporaneous evidence . . . to indicate the bruise was present on the Monday of the alleged incident and to conclude the bruise was as a result of Ms Whaitiri’s actions in those circumstances is not sustainable.”
McKechnie said the staff member’s version of events appeared to have changed throughout the process but the final report failed to mention those inconsistencies, nor did they appear to have been put to the staffer.
The incident occurred because Whaitiri was unhappy at not having been alerted to a photo opportunity at a media stand-up with Ardern during a lunch break at the function in Gisborne. Other ministers were standing behind Ardern but Whaitiri wasn’t because no one had told her it was happening.
Ardern sacked Whaitiri on September 20 after seeing the final report, saying she had lost confidence in Whaitiri at that time, but did not rule out a return for Whaitiri at some point.
Whaitiri remains the MP for the eastern Ma¯ori electorate of IkaroaRawhiti and Labour’s Ma¯ori MPs maintain support in her as coleader of the Labour Ma¯ori caucus.
Whaitiri was suspended by Ardern as a minister on August 30, while Ministerial Services, the employer of ministerial staff, conducted the inquiry.
In a statement yesterday, Whaitiri reiterated that she had at all times co-operated fully with the investigation.
“I have accepted the Prime Minister’s decision and I intend to work hard to regain her confidence.
“As noted I contested some of the allegations. However, I am disappointed my behaviour led to a complaint. I am committed to my own development, including better managing employment relationships.
“I am focusing on working hard for the people of Ikaroa-Ra¯whiti, as a member of Labour and Ma¯ori caucus and contributing as a Member of Parliament.” 2 dead, 9 injured on roads Two people had died and at least nine had been injured as of yesterday evening in a series of crashes ahead of a school holiday weekend. In the Waikato, five people appeared to be seriously injured after a crash in Mokau. Emergency services had been called to SH3 in Mokau near Ye Old Mill Rd and North St. Police said initial indications were five people may be seriously injured. Meanwhile, a person died in a crash on Saddle Rd, Manawatu. The two-vehicle crash occurred about 2.10pm, 5km from Woodville. Four other people had been injured, two seriously. Saddle Rd was closed and diversions were in place. Further North, a person died at a busy Mount Maunganui intersection in spite of efforts by paramedics to save their life. Emergency services were called to the scene on the corner of Hewletts Rd and Totara St at 1.12pm. A police media spokeswoman said a car had crashed into a fence and the driver appeared to have suffered a medical event. At 2.27pm police released a statement saying the person had died. The death would be referred to the coroner. Stalwart activist dies Penny Bright, the Auckland activist who nearly lost her house after refusing to pay rates for 11 years and whose motto was “open the books”, died on Thursday night. She was 64. For the past 20 years, the hard-boiled activist and former sheetmetal welder made illegal connections for protesters whose water was cut off, got dragged by security guards from council meetings and harangued mayors, bureaucrats, police and the judiciary. She was arrested more than 40 times. Bright died in Mercy Hospice on Thursday. She stood, unsuccessfully, for the Auckland mayoralty and Parliament on numerous occasions. At the start of this year Auckland Council began enforcement action as a last resort and the house was listed for sale to recoup tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid rates and penalties. Bright settled her case with the council in May after seeking a rates postponement application at the 11th hour after offers closed on the Kingsland property she purchased in 1990.
A leaked report to the Herald revealed the incident involving former Government minister Meka Whaitiri and a staff member was alleged to have left bruising to the upper right arm of the staffer.