Support person not action


The leaked report on the investigation into allegations that then-Minister Meka Whaitiri assaulted a staff member don’t reflect well on her :

. . . David Patten, the Wellington lawyer who conducted the inquiry for Ministerial Services, the employer of ministerial staff, found on the balance of probabilities that the staff member’s version was the more likely explanation.

He found that Whaitiri did not pull or drag the press secretary outside from the foyer of the building where the meeting was taking place.

But he found it more probable that Whaitiri approached the staffer from behind and grabbed her by the arm and that Whaitiri spoke in a raised voice to the staffer.

In evidence to the inquiry, the staff member said Whaitiri had blamed her for missing the media standup with the Prime Minister.

Having a paddy because she missed the stand-up is bad enough by itself even without any grabbing and raised voice.

“It was during … the break so I’d gone out into the hallway, gone to the bathroom and I’d just gone out into the hallway into the vestibule for a bit of a breather and that’s when she came over,” the staff member said.

“She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside and said she needed to talk to me and when we were outside she raised her voice.

“I wouldn’t say yelled but she did raise her voice to me and asked me if I knew what I was doing in my job and did I realise I’d missed a media opportunity and that that was embarrassing to her because it was her electorate.”

The staffer originally told the inquiry that Whaitiri had pinched her arm but changed that to grabbed.

“It was hard and it scared the living daylights out of me,” she said.

In other parts of her evidence, she said: “She was definitely angry, and was definitely mad that I had screwed up. It scared me a lot and I didn’t want to return to that [work environment].” . .

Patten’s finding in the draft report is: “The photographs taken by Morag Ingram on August 30 2018 of [the press secretary’s] upper right arm showing a bruise on that arm … are consistent, in my view, with someone being approached from behind and grabbed by a
right-handed person“. . .

In the urgent debate Labour MPs did a lot of defending and supporting Whaitiri without condemning her actions.

It is possible to do both, especially when this is the party that purports to stand up for workers. It’s the party that purports to abhor violence.

Its actions, in this instance, don’t reflect its words.

Political blood is thicker than water but that is no excuse for putting loyalty to a colleague before the principles of fair treatment of staff and not showing that in supporting her they also condemn the use of physical force.

How strident would Labour be if a National minister mistreated staff?

They wouldn’t accept the loss of ministerial warrant as sufficient punishment. They’d be calling for the MP to resign altogether.

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