New Zealand minister fired for improper affair with staffer

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Wednesday she has fired her immigration minister for having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

Ardern said Iain Lees-Galloway had a consensual affair for about a year with a woman who had worked as a staff member in his office and also at one of the agencies he oversaw.

Ardern, who leads the liberal Labour Party, said she was wary about passing moral judgment but the minister had opened himself up to accusations of improperly using the power of his role, especially since he had oversight of workplace relations and safety.

Lees-Galloway, 41, said he accepted Ardern’s decision and apologized. He said he wouldn’t seek reelection at the upcoming general election, which is being held in September.

“I have acted completely inappropriately in my position and can not continue as a minister,” Lees-Galloway said in a statement.

The development was the latest in a series of scandals from both sides of the aisle in the New Zealand parliament which have amounted to a reckoning of sorts.

Just a day earlier, opposition lawmaker Andrew Falloon abruptly resigned after allegedly sending sexually explicit images to several women, including a university student.

Falloon hasn’t commented on the allegations, other than to say he apologized for making unspecified mistakes, and had been getting mental health counselling.

In both cases, the allegations were first sent to the leaders of the opposing political parties, suggesting there may have been an element of politics at play. But the developments also suggested that behavior which may have previously been accepted or kept quiet in the New Zealand parliament would no longer be tolerated.

Ardern said she learned about the allegations on Tuesday afternoon and questioned Lees-Galloway about them in the evening. She said he’d shown a significant lack of judgment over the course of a year.

“His actions have ultimately led me to lose confidence in him as a minister,” Ardern said.

Ardern said that as she understood it, the relationship had ended several months ago.

She said the parliament had long had a culture and an environment that needed improving. But she stopped short of saying the blame lay with male lawmakers.

“We all have a role to make sure that we maintain standards in this environment,” Ardern said. “I’m not going to start casting judgments on specific genders here.”

Opposition Leader Judith Collins said she wrote to Ardern on Wednesday saying the culture of parliament needed to change and the two of them should work out how to achieve that.

“Parliament and these precincts are not always a safe working place. And it’s not OK,” Collins said. “And I believe she and I have an opportunity to fix it.”

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