Key Points:

Senior minister Trevor Mallard accepts he is heading for a demotion after punching National MP Tau Henare days before the Prime Minister reshuffles her Cabinet.

Mr Mallard today said he accepted that some form of demotion in the upcoming reshuffle would be appropriate given his actions.

"I've made it absolutely clear that I wouldn't want to continue ... on the current basis," he said on Radio New Zealand.

"And if I'm more of a liability than an asset then it's better for the party that I go."

A distraught Mr Mallard was yesterday taking time out in Taupo to reflect on what he described as "one of the most stupid things" he had ever done.

He punched Mr Henare in a lobby off Parliament's debating chamber on Wednesday night, striking his jaw after a heated exchange.

The clash started when the National MP goaded his rival in the chamber about his personal life.

Mr Henare said Mr Mallard "lost his rag" after he directed a "very short, three-word, comment" at him in the House about his personal life.

He said the phrase started "shut up" but he would not say what the third word was.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia said she was surprised police were not investigating the assault, despite no complaint being laid.

It is understood the pair fell to the floor and had to be separated by two parliamentary staff members.

Mr Henare described the first blow as a "short-arm uppercut" and said he defended himself in response.

He did not have any visible marks from the scuffle.

Mr Mallard's Labour colleagues are unhappy about the fight and Helen Clark yesterday refused to discuss whether she wanted him to stay in the Cabinet.

She noted she had only recently opened a national anti-violence campaign which had the tagline "It's Not OK".

"I'm taking a lot of factors into account in the reshuffle," Helen Clark said when asked if she would demote Mr Mallard next week.

The minister is ranked No 7 on the Government's front bench.

Until the scuffle with Mr Henare, he could have expected to move up at least one place because of the pending retirement of the higher-ranked Steve Maharey.

Helen Clark yesterday appeared to suggest that Mr Mallard could be demoted, but stay on the front bench.

"He has been a tremendous colleague to me," she said. "He is extremely remorseful. He can't work out what possessed him."

Mr Mallard has been dealing with difficult issues in his personal life, including the break-up of his long marriage, the death of his father and media interest in a new relationship.

It is believed Mr Henare got under Mr Mallard's skin by referring to his new partner in the debating chamber, although the National MP will not repeat what he said.

Mr Mallard last year yelled taunts at former National leader Don Brash relating to an alleged affair and Mr Henare revealed today that Dr Brash contacted him following this week's incident.

"I got a text from Dr Brash basically saying, good on ya," he told Newstalk ZB.

Mr Mallard yesterday conceded that regardless of what had been said, he should not have punched Mr Henare.

"I'm a minister and I'm 53 years old. I shouldn't be acting like a schoolkid," he said.

"There's never an excuse for hitting someone."

Mr Mallard visited National's offices with Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen on Wednesday night and apologised to Mr Henare.

It is understood the visit was made after National's shadow Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, contacted Dr Cullen about the incident.

The Deputy PM said his first reaction was to say, "Oh, Trevor".

"I'm pretty disappointed in this one. It was quite unnecessary on both sides," Dr Cullen said.

Should Mr Mallard remain on Labour's front bench, he might be stripped of some of his portfolios, including the senior one of Associate Finance Minister and perhaps sport.

National Party leader John Key yesterday refused to say whether he felt Mr Mallard should stay on as a Cabinet minister.

He said he preferred to say only that there was no place for violence in society and the brawl had sent the wrong message to the public.

Mr Henare said he had accepted Mr Mallard's apology, and considered that the end of the matter.


Trevor Mallard says he is in a relationship with former top rower Brenda Lawson, but that it developed after his marriage break-up.

"Subsequent to my separation, I have been involved in a relationship with Brenda," he said last night.

"I have known her for over a decade, but the close relationship is one that has developed in the last few months."

Brenda Lawson won New Zealand's top sports honour, the Halberg Award, in 1994, with her double-sculls partner, Philippa Baker.

The two won world titles in 1993 and 1994.

She lives in Taupo and is the mother of two boys.

Her former partner, Cliff Jones, was named the Herald New Zealander of the Year in 2002 for his search and rescue work with the Turangi police.

Mr Mallard said he was having some time out "and reflecting on the last couple of days".

He had not considered leaving politics.

Brenda Lawson did not want to comment last night.

Mr Mallard's relationship became a political target in Parliament because of the interjections he made in the House last year to then National leader Don Brash about his marriage problems.