Panoho considers legal action against John Tamihere

1.00pm

The Labour Department employee who resigned after being questioned about her involvement in the Maori Party has confirmed she is considering legal action against cabinet minister John Tamihere.

Amokura Panoho, who was the northern regional manager of the Labour Department's Community Employment Group (CEG), was involved behind the scenes with the Maori Party but had not thought she was active or high-profile enough that it compromised her role with the public service.

However, she resigned last Friday after being questioned about her attendance at a recent Maori Party hui -- a hui to which Youth Affairs Minister John Tamihere has admitted sending staff from his electorate office.

Since her resignation Mr Tamihere has alleged she used Labour Department equipment for Maori Party work and State Services Minister Trevor Mallard claimed she was trying to recruit her staff for the party.

Both minister have since retracted the allegations and apologised to Ms Panoho, who said this morning she was considering legal action over the allegations but did not want to elaborate.

Mr Mallard was yesterday forced to withdraw his assertions and Mr Tamihere this morning followed suit after the Labour Department told National Radio it accepted Ms Panoho's word she did not use its equipment or do Maori Party business on its time.

"If the Labour Department says that, I accept what it says," Mr Tamihere told National Radio.

Asked if he therefore apologised to Ms Panoho for any slur he had cast on her reputation, Mr Tamihere said: "I do. But I don't resile from the right to (raise) concerns though."

Mr Tamihere has been under fire by other Maori MPs, including Green MP Metiria Turei, for sending his staff to the hui -- an action described as "spying".

Ms Panoho told National Radio she had felt bullied and threatened when she learned a complaint had been made to the department about her Maori Party involvement.

"The fact is that they were made as a result of my participation in a public meeting at which I believe I acted appropriately and did nothing to compromise myself as a public servant, or my employer," she said.

She said she felt Mr Tamihere was "out to get me and I felt bullied and I felt threatened..."

She resigned because she was worried about CEG, which is already under review over some of its funding decisions.

"I was worried about the basis for it and the motivation for it and I did not want the organisation...to be used as a political football," Ms Panoho said.

The actions during the past week of Mr Tamihere in particular reinforced her decision, she said.

However, she knew she had never acted unprofessionally and felt vindicated by the department's statement to that effect.

Ms Turei today called for an inquiry into the conduct of the ministers and said an apology was not enough.

"It's clear that they've both run off at the mouth somewhat but a woman has effectively lost her job as a result," she told NZPA.

"I'll be making a written request to the Maori affairs select committee to conduct an inquiry into the activity of ministers ... as to the propriety of their behaviour and comments."

Ms Turei wanted an inquiry to consider whether there should be a code of conduct for ministers when over making comments which had such serious consequences for public servants.

- NZPA

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