Claire Trevett: National’s attacks water off a Mallard’s back

Speaker Trevor Mallard has given, witnessed and demanded a fair few apologies in his political life so he should well know how to draft one.

His apology at a select committee hearing for his 2019 comments linking allegations against a formerParliamentary staffer as ‘rape’ was fulsome and bereft of conditions.

He apologised to the man in question, to Parliament and the people of New Zealand.

He said he had realised that his definition of ‘rape’ was incorrect, and apologised for that.

There was genuine contrition that his actions had distracted from the issues and work to overhaul the culture at Parliament and make it a safer place for staff.

But there is always fine print even to the most polished apology – especially when a politician is involved.

Waters got muddied soon after Mallard’s apology as MPs – mainly National’s Michael Woodhouse and Chris Bishop – started interrogating the actions that led to the apology, and why the taxpayer was footing the bill for it.

Mallard first used the ‘amounted to rape’ line in the aftermath of the release of the Debbie Francis report into bullying and sexual harassment at Parliament.

Mallard had said that some of the behaviour staff had reported was of very serious sexual nature, and in his view “amounted to rape.”

Those words were linked to the case in question when it was revealed soon afterwards that a staffer had been suspended from work, and Mallard said a threat to women’s safety had been ‘removed from the building.’

Mallard admitted he had realised within 24 hours that he had made a mistake when he used the rape comment – a comment he had not moved to clarify despite extensive questioning about it.

His answer as to why he had not clarified matters then was complete tripe.

He claimed it was because there was an employment process under way, and he had not wanted to interfere with it.

He was the living embodiment of the ‘stitch in time saves nine’ saying.

Instead of quickly correcting the record then and there Mallard instead let it drag out for 18 months and for $333,000, the amount it cost taxpayers to pay Mallard’s legal fees and a payout for the man in question.

It may end up costing even more, Parliament Services chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero also revealed the man was taking a separate employment case against Parliament, which had already cost about $37,500 in legal bills.

Being a combat politician, Mallard also knew how to distract and defend himself to try to even the ledger.

Helped by softball questions from Labour MPs on the committee, Mallard emphasised the good he had done in dealing with the Debbie Francis review recommendations.

Mallard knew full well that work is more important than his own cock-ups – and that he has been widely praised for pushing ahead with it.

National still intends to put forward a motion of no confidence in the Speaker.

He is the first Speaker known to have faced a defamation suit, and National claims it besmirches the reputation of Parliament. It has alsopointed to the prolonged period before Mallard accepted he was wrong, the impact on the man in question, and the cost of his blunder.

However, Mallard’s appearance at the select committee will give no more reason for that to succeed: it can be blocked simply by the one MP refusing it and at the moment, Mallard has 64 on his side.

Mallard’s cockiness about that might have been unbecoming: he told Woodhouse there had been 19 motions of no confidence against a Speaker since 2000, and none had succeeded.

Mallard then went on to tell Woodhouse that even National MPs had told him they valued his work, and thought he did a good job.

Woodhouse retorted that given Mallard’s case was unprecedented he might not take such comfort from those 19.

It is also rare for one of the major parties to lodge a motion of no confidence in a Speaker. Of those 19, 14 were lodged by Winston Peters against former National Speakers David Carter and Lockwood Smith.

However, the Speaker is safe as long as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confidence in him, and he gave no reason at the select committee to change that.

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