New Zealand

New Zealand minister sacked after 'physical altercation'

Dismissal follows resignation of minister earlier this month in controversy over email use

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 4:37pm

A government minister who allegedly had a physical altercation with a press secretary was fired by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday, the second to leave under a cloud in as many weeks.

The centre-left prime minister did not detail what Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri did during an incident last month, but said an internal government report into the matter convinced her the minister needed to go.

“Based on the context and conclusions of the report, I no longer have confidence in Meka Whaitiri as a minister at this time,” she said.

Unconfirmed media reports said Whaitiri was accused of bullying after becoming involved in a physical altercation with a press secretary who had just started working for her.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern faces first major crisis as minister quits

Ardern, who swept to power on a wave of “Jacinda-mania” late last year, denied Whaitiri’s demotion was a sign her coalition government was becoming unstable.

It comes after Ardern’s former broadcasting minister Clare Curran resigned earlier this month for using a private email account to conduct government business.

Both casualties will stay on in parliament, meaning Ardern’s coalition government retains its three-seat margin.

But their demotion reinforces perceptions the charmed run that marked Ardern’s early months in office has come to an end.

“Of course no one wants to lose ministers,” she told reporters.

“But I have to make decisions based on the information I have in front of me and I’ve made a decision Meka no longer has my confidence.”

Asked if her government remained stable after two rapid-fire departures, she replied: “Absolutely.”

The 38-year-old took power promising “a government of change” after almost a decade of conservative rule.

The optimism surrounding her administration was enhanced in June when she gave birth to daughter Neve – becoming only the second female leader in the world to have a baby in office.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern back to work after maternity leave, will take baby to New York for UN meeting

But the ministerial sackings have added to a string of setbacks including policy squabbles with coalition partners and plummeting business confidence.

Ardern will hope a trip to New York for next week’s UN General Assembly will act as a circuit-breaker for her domestic problems.

She is taking baby Neve on the trip and will make a number of high-profile media appearances, including The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and NBC’s Today Show.

It follows a profile in The New York Times this month which described Ardern as “the biggest thing to hit (New Zealand) since Frodo dropped the ring into Mount Doom”.