Trevor Mallard’s future

Trevor Mallard: feeling the heat. 
PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Trevor Mallard: feeling the heat. PHOTO: THE NEW ZEALAND HERALD
Of all the senior Labour Party politicians relaxing at the beach, or wherever they take their holidays, Speaker Trevor Mallard will have the biggest lump under his towel.

Mr Mallard has made a mess of his now-infamous rape allegation. What he said was wrong, and subsequent comments and actions dug his hole deeper.

Clamour for his resignation grew earlier this month, and he must have come close to the bar. Labour and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, however, were not going to give National and Act his scalp to hang on the wall over the New Year break.

There is horror Mr Mallard was so reckless in his claim. He made the matter worse when he said, after a worker was stood down, that a threat had been removed from Parliament. Was Mr Mallard, previously known as a bovver boy and bully, trying to prove woke credentials, to show a 66-year-old man was up with the play?

There is concern this affair has undermined the focus on the toxic parliamentary environment.

And there is concern for both the person pilloried and the people who made the complaint about sexual harassment at Parliament. There are only losers.

Another aspect receiving less attention is disturbing. This is the Speaker’s direction in August to quietly extend taxpayer payment of defamation settlements to all MPs when acting as MPs. Before, only Cabinet ministers and perhaps the Speaker, who might be described as the minister of Parliamentary Services, were covered, subject to provisos.

But while defamation actions and settlements for Cabinet ministers would at least have some potential scrutiny under the Official Information Act, self-serving MPs have consistently refused to include Parliamentary Services under the same Act.

Regular MPs and the Speaker can keep a lot more, including defamation payouts, hidden from the public.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer in 2013, after a Law Commission report, said the argument that the Act should not apply to the offices of Parliament, to Parliamentary Counsel Office, the Office of the Clerk and Parliamentary Speaker of the House was entirely specious.

"They are public offices carrying out public functions. The act applies to most other public agencies and there is no reason at all why it shouldn’t apply to these."

Mr Mallard was also able to get the deputy speaker, former National MP Anne Tolley, after Crown Law Office advice to her, to sign off his $333,000 in costs and defamation.

Questions continue to be asked about why the case dragged on for more than 18 months and at considerable expense when Mr Mallard was so clearly in the wrong.

Why, too, was information about the payout finally released on the same day as a dominating news story, the report into the Christchurch mosque shootings? Mr Mallard’s excuse before a select committee was unconvincing. Given his experience, he must have known how the timing of the release could look.

Ms Ardern has backed Mr Mallard. She will be hoping the matter subsides over January and that the Opposition is unable to resurrect an old news story.

National has indicated it will move a motion of no confidence in Mr Mallard as Speaker next year. This will be able to be brushed aside, given Labour’s majority.

But has Mr Mallard through this whole affair shown the dignity and wisdom Parliament and the public should expect from the Speaker?

Is he the right person to lead culture change in Parliament, despite commissioning the Francis report which preceded his debacle? Were his comments just another example of the abuse highlighted in the findings? Has Mr Mallard shown the independence and judgement and earned respect across the house? How much confidence can the public have in him?

The answers to these questions make it hard for him to remain as Speaker.

Comments

Hard to argue with the sentiments. Maybe a more dignified MP like Eugenie Sage would be a better option as Speaker.

 

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