COMMENT:

When Jacinda Ardern sacked Meka Whaitiri a week ago, it was on a trust-me basis.

She said she couldn't tell the country why she had sacked the minister, her first sacking, without breaching the privacy of a staff member who complained about the minister — even though no one has named the staffer.

She relied on a report by a respected barrister, and after reading it Ardern no longer had confidence in Whaitiri as a minister "at this time".

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She held out a glimmer of hope the minister could return one day — as Ruth Dyson, Nick Smith, and Peter Dunne have done.

The draft findings, leaked to the Herald, clearly reveal why Ardern reached the decision she did on the basis of David Patten's report.

It is a careful assessment of evidence on crucial issues from relevant parties which then offers findings on the balance of probabilities, the standard of proof required in civil cases.

It doesn't say X absolutely happened, or absolutely didn't happen. It says which version is probably true.

On the balance of probabilities he is inclined to believe that Whaitiri was very annoyed she had not been alerted by her press secretary to the fact that Ardern was holding a standup where we see MPs nodding in the background, that she grabbed her staffer by the arm to say they needed to talk outside, and then pointed out to her in forceful language that it was her job to make sure she didn't miss out on such media opportunities. The alleged grabbing of the arm and the bruises are the clincher, though Whaitiri denies physical contact.

Graphic / NZHerald
Graphic / NZHerald

Realistically it will be impossible for Whaitiri to return as a minister this term. A byelection in Ikaroa-Rawhiti is unlikely unless the pressure becomes too much.

Whaitiri has an unswerving support base in the Māori caucus.

National will double-down on its attacks over the incident, but its real target is Ardern.

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Whaitiri may survive in the short term, but on the balance of probabilities, she will not be Labour's candidate next election.