A government minister who allegedly had a physical altercation with a press secretary was fired yesterday by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the second to leave under a cloud in as many weeks.
The center-left prime minister did not detail what New Zealand Minister of Customs 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 that Whaitiri was accused of bullying after becoming involved in a physical altercation with a press secretary who had just started working for her.
Ardern, who late last year swept to power on a wave of “Jacinda-mania,” denied that Whaitiri’s demotion was a sign that her coalition government was becoming unstable.
It comes after former New Zealand minister of broadcasting, communications and digital media Clare Curran resigned earlier this month for using a private e-mail account to conduct government business.
Both are to remain in parliament, meaning that Ardern’s coalition government retains its three-seat margin.
However, their demotion reinforces perceptions that the charmed run that marked Ardern’s early months in office has come to an end.
“Of course no one wants to lose ministers, 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,” she told reporters.
Asked if her government remains stable after two rapid-fire departures, she said: “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.
However, the ministerial sackings have added to a string of setbacks, including policy squabbles with coalition partners and plummeting business confidence.
Ardern is probably hoping that a trip to New York City next week for the UN General Assembly would act as a circuit breaker for her domestic problems.
She is taking baby Neve on the trip and is to make a number of high-profile media appearances, including on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and NBC’s Today Show.
It follows a profile in the New York Times this month that described Ardern as “the biggest thing to hit [New Zealand] since Frodo dropped the ring into Mount Doom.”
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