Te Pāti Māori’s co-leaders have been booted from the House after trying to hold a welcoming ceremony for Meka Whaitiri.
Co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer made a point of order and then Rawiri Waititi and Whaitiri entered the House as a waiata was sung.
The Speaker stood and the audio feed was cut. He subsequently said he was informed on Tuesday morning that all parties had agreed to the welcome, but then told by a number of parties that that wasn’t the case.
“Given it happened anyway, I have limited ability to address it except Rawiri Waititi will leave the Chamber and Debbie Ngarewa-Packer will leave the Chamber as well.”
Afterwards, Waititi said the party was “clearing a clear pathway” for Whaitiri to sit on the benches opposite Labour.
“Clear everything spiritual and allow her to move there with the mind, in her own words, to be the liberated MP that she needs to be for her own people.”
He offered Whaitiri his seat on the front bench. He wanted to make sure she was comfortable.
“Unfortunately, this House hasn’t treated wahine well in the past,” he said, before listing off a number of wahine, including Whaitiri and former Green MP Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, who has just become an independent MP.
“This place is not a safe place for our people. Hence why we do things our way and make sure they’re looked after. I will always move with my seat for our wahine to ensure that they are safe.”
Whaitiri later made a personal statement in the House, saying the decision to cross the floor to Te Pāti Māori “wasn’t an easy decision”.
“But for my whanau and I, it was the right decision. It is time to put our whakapapa first, to return to our people, to serve and work for our people, the calling that comes deep from within my puku.”
She told media that she was joining a party “that doesn’t censor the voice of Māori”.
“I am joining a party that enables the voice of wahine Māori to be heard for our people to celebrate being Māori unashamedly Māori.”
Whaitiri was asked if there were any specific policies in Labour that she felt she couldn’t talk about.
“There’s a lot of challenges as Māori MPs about compromise in this place. I’ve made a decision that I want to close that chapter and I want to enter a waka that’s based on liberation and to speak our truth.”
It was Whaitiri’s first opportunity to speak in Parliament after last week making the bombshell announcement she was leaving Labour for Te Pāti Māori. She’ll technically sit as an independent MP.
Some of Labour’s Māori MPs have expressed disappointment Whaitiri didn’t take up an offer to meet with their caucus to discuss her defection. She hasn’t spoken to the Prime Minister about her decision, saying on Tuesday she only consulted her “trusted sources” – her whānau.
“It’s a real Maori thing to do, to actually get into a room on the marae usually and have a korero,” said MP Tamati Coffey. “You put your case, we put our cause, we leave, we have a cup of tea, we move on.”
He said it was hurtful she hadn’t participated.
“I think that if you’re going to be taking a tikanga Māori approach to your new political life, then actually, you can’t be choosy about this.”
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins on AM on Tuesday morning said he hadn’t heard issues from Whaitiri.
“She hasn’t raised any concerns, at any stage, with me or with other leaders within the party and we do create a lot of space for Members of Parliament and for minister to be heard.”
The Prime Minister said Whaitiri, despite being a minister outside of Cabinet, was a member of multiple Cabinet committees.
“Every MP within the Labour team gets the opportunity to raise any issues that they want to and she didn’t do that at any point.”
Ultimately, the defection was Whaitiri’s decision, Hipkins said.
“She’s made her decision, she’s announced it, she’s done and so now we’ve got to really focus on the more pressing issues that are in front of us which are around the Budget next week, around the cost of living and, of course – directly revelation to the people of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti – supporting them through the cyclone recovery.”