Labour MP Trevor Mallard has questioned Education MInister Hekia Parata over whether she has ever struck a staff member.
Under parliamentary privilege in a select committee hearing this afternoon, Mallard asked a series of questions including whether the Ministry of Education kept a record of physical violence in schools and whether there was any record of violence within the ministry.
He then asked Parata about the last time anyone was hit within her office.
Parata took exception to the question, saying: "Mr Mallard, no one has been hit within my office or any staff of my office".
Mallard then asked again whether Parata had ever struck a staff member, with the minister again emphatically denying she had, adding: "I take absolute offence to any suggestion that that has occurred".
National MPs in the committee took exception to the question and Parata was visibly angry.
Mallard later returned to the question, asking whether it was accurate to say Parata had never struck an employee of Ministerial Services.
"It's absolutely accurate and I think it's totally inappropriate for you to be using a select committee process on a vote to pursue your own political agenda, it is absolutely untrue, there is no basis in fact whatsoever."
National MPs again intervened.
Parata told reporters afterwards that she had never hit a staff member "in my current employ or in my previous employ".
"I'm aware that there has been a rumour but there is no substance to it and I would prefer that Vote Education focused on what we are here to do which is to talk about what we are doing with all the taxpayers' money and have that reported," she said.
Parata did not know who was spreading the rumour and called the comments "inappropriate, offensive and inaccurate".
She said she had never been accused of striking a staff member and said Ministerial Services had never raised the matter with her.
Afterwards, Mallard told reporters he had "received information" which led to his questions.
A former staff member was claiming to have been hit, he said, though he had not heard from the staff member.
"I've heard it indirectly," Mallard said
He said he believed the allegation had substance "because of the sources that I've heard it from" though he refused to elaborate on those sources.
He did not know whether the accusation was passed on to Ministerial Services for investigation.
The alleged incident happened this parliamentary term but not this year, he said.
The staff member had since left and had not taken a personal grievance.
In Tonga, Prime Minister John Key said the claim was "typical Trevor".
"If it comes to a stoush between Trevor Mallard and Hekia Parata I know who I believe and it certainly wouldn't be Trevor Mallard," he said.
If the alleged incident had happened it would be a serious matter and the employer of the staff member - claimed by Mallard to be Ministerial Services - would take it up.
"That hasn't happened," he said.
Key said he had not spoken to Parata about it but she would not lie to a select committee, he said.
He had also not had to speak to Parata about staff management issues.
Asked if she had a temper on her, he said: "I don't think so."
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