Unruly scenes in the House, PM rebukes, Opposition wants him to go
Auckland, May 5, 2021
Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard sparked another outburst in the Debating Chamber last night (Tuesday, May 4, 2021), when he accused a former staffer of sexual assault.
National Party MPs Chris Bishop and Michael Woodhouse called for his resignation yet again saying that their Party has lost confidence in him as a Speaker, while the issue took another dramatic turn today (Wednesday, May 5, 2021) issued a statement rebuking Mr Mallard for his behaviour in Parliament.
National Party Leader Judith Collins has consistently said that she had lost confidence in Mr Mallard and that he should be removed from the Speaker’s role.
Allegation and apology
Last year, Mr Mallard had raised a controversy, when he accused a former staffer of rape. It resulted in a defamation settlement costing taxpayers more than $330,000 and an apology.
But Mr Mallard accused the man of sexual assault last night, creating an uproar in Parliament, by dismissing claims by the National MPs that he had destroyed the man’s life.
“That man’s life was destroyed when he sexually assaulted a woman. That is what did it. I will support the woman and what she said, I will support the investigation that found that he seriously assaulted her and I will support the Police and their investigation and the results of that investigation,” he said.
Mr Bishop and Mr Woodhouse questioned Mr Mallard as to why he continued to mount a defence against the defamation case, after he had told a Parliamentary Committee that he thought that he had made a mistake.
“He told us at the Committee meeting that he knew that he made a mistake within 24 hours, and the question is why he then did not clean up the matter immediately, and instead spent 18 months fighting a legal battle that has ended up costing the taxpayer over $330,000 and rising,” Mr Bishop said.
Mr Mallard said that he had apologised for the mistake but it did not “erase the face that there were serious allegations from staff members that had to be taken seriously.”
Mr Bishop told the House that Mr Mallard should be removed as the Speaker.
“When we look back on this period as a tawdry, sordid period in this Parliament led by this disgrace of a Speaker, I think we will look back with shame. That 10 minute contribution will probably be the thing that sinks him as the Speaker,” he said.
Prime Minister rebukes Mallard
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issued a lengthy, strongly-worded statement that left no on in doubt that she was angry over Mr Mallard’s behaviour but said his job was safe.
“The serious issue of alleged sexual assault and harassment at Parliament was poorly managed and inappropriately politicised last night. The tone of the debate did not reflect well on Parliament as a whole. Any investigation of claims of sexual assault should be in a manner that takes a victim-centric approach. It also needs to include principles of natural justice for the person allegations are made against,” she said.
Ms Ardern said that she had spoken to Mr Mallard and that he retained her overall confidence.
“However, I have expressed serious concerns to him about the manner in which he conducted himself in the House last night. It did not meet the standards I expect. Nor do I consider it to have met the needs of the victim in this situation. The Speaker acknowledges he did not meet his own standards either. I also believe the behaviour of opposition members was inappropriate. Issues of this serious nature should not be litigated in Parliament in such a manner. It was wrong,” she said.
Cross-Party Working Group
Ms Ardern said that she was writing to the Speaker (Mr Mallard), Deputy and Assistant
Speakers asking them to reconvene the Cross-Party Working Group to consider how the Behavioural Standards can be given practical effect when Members of Parliament are dealing with sensitive staff conduct matters such as sexual assault.
“Parliament must continue to maintain its right to hold government Ministers and the Speaker to account for actions. However, this can be done in a robust and appropriate manner. I urge all parties and MPs to adopt a bipartisan approach to ensure Parliament is a good and safe place for staff to work,” she said.
-With inputs from RNZ