House rocked by Speaker’s ruling over Whaitiri’s resignation


Meka Whaitiri (VNP Photo by Phil Smith via RNZ)

Venu Menon
Wellington, May 5, 2023

Shortly after Speaker Adrian Rurawhe took the Chair on Wednesday, 3 May 2023, he announced that Meka Whaitiri, until then a Labour Party member and Minister of Customs (outside Cabinet), was from that day “regarded as an independent member for parliamentary purposes.”

The Speaker’s announcement prompted a protracted debate that ended in deadlock with the Chair standing by his ruling declaring Whaitiri an independent member of Parliament.

The first member to take the floor was Michael Woodhouse of the National Party who raised a point of order and quoted Whaitiri as saying before a hui that she had officially notified the Speaker of resigning from the Labour Party and joining the Te Paati Maori.

Citing the Electoral Act, Woodhouse urged the Speaker to “table the correspondence” from Whaitiri about her resignation from the Labour Party to shed light on why the seat had not been vacated.

The Speaker responded by informing the House that no events had happened for him to declare Whaitiri’s seat vacant.

Woodhouse argued it was incumbent on those political parties concerned to make a full disclosure to the House over the issue.

Leader of the House and Minister of Finance Grant Robertson rose to quote a proviso in the Electoral Act that did not trigger the vacation of the seat held by Whaitiri.

Bur Woodhouse argued he did not believe “it was the Electoral Act’s intention that the form of communication prevented the effect of the Act from being followed.”

He said Whaitiri was “still able to maintain the seat” only “because of paperwork.”

Following up on a point of order raised by Chris Bishop (National), the Speaker confirmed to the House that he had “not received any letter of resignation, signed or unsigned” from Whaitiri.

However, he confirmed getting an “indication from the Hon Meka Whaitiri that for parliamentary purposes, she has withdrawn her vote with the Labour Party.”

The Speaker also confirmed to the House that Whaitiri indicated as much in a letter sent to him by email.

He ruled that members could say whatever they liked outside the House, but “unless they inform me in the correct way by sending me a signed letter that that is the case, I can’t act on it.”

The Speaker stressed that, under House Standing Orders, Whaitiri “can, as any member can, give her proxy vote to whomever she likes.”

ACT Party leader David Seymour asked the Speaker to clarify whether he regarded Whaitiri as being a member of the parliamentary Labour Party or not, arguing that if she wasn’t, then a vacancy was inevitably created.

The Speaker replied: “It’s really not for me to determine who is in which party.”

The Speaker said he could not interpret that Whaitiri had left the Labour Party.

Bishop wanted to know if Whaitiri would be “regarded as a Maori Party MP for the purposes of oral and supplementary questions?”

“She’ll be regarded as an independent member for those purposes,” the Speaker explained.

Seymour asked if Whaitiri was regarded as an independent member, “how can it possibly not also create a vacancy?” Robertson pointed Seymour to Standing Orders 144 and 145, which related to votes that are held in the House. Woodhouse then sought to take the debate back to Whaitiri’s communication to the Speaker.

The Speaker intervened to say that “a vacancy can only be declared if notice is given in a specific and correct way to the Speaker.”

After allowing further points of order to be raised by members across political parties, the Speaker rounded out the debate by ruling that, for parliamentary purposes, Whaitiri was an independent MP under Standing Orders, that she had withdrawn her proxy from the Labour Party and that she “wishes to sit somewhere else.”

 Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington.

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