Anything but kind

Court documents have provided National with fuel to renew calls for Speaker Trevor Mallard to resign:

The legal threats used by Trevor Mallard to silence a Parliamentary staffer who he falsely accused of rape make him unfit to continue as Parliament’s Speaker, Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bishop says.

National has received the statement of claim by the plaintiff, lodged in the High Court as part of defamation proceedings, which alleges Mr Mallard repeated his false allegation against the staffer in public even after he was told by Parliamentary Service that it was incorrect.

The document also shows Mr Mallard, who has admitted he knew within 24 hours of making the initial claim that he made a mistake, informed the staffer, through lawyers, that he would not apologise, would not pay damages, did not accept the staffer had been defamed, would prove what he said about the staffer was true, and would defend any claim “vigorously”.

Mr Mallard, via his lawyers, said that should the staffer pursue litigation, “the question of his reputation, and his conduct, will be very much the centrepiece of any public proceeding”.

It took about 18 months before Mr Mallard finally settled with the staffer and apologised for “distress and humiliation”. The matter cost taxpayers $333,641.70 in the form of a $158,000 ex-gratia payment to settle the legal claim, $171,000 in fees to Dentons Kensington Swan and $4641.70 to Crown Law for advice to the former Deputy Speaker.

Trevor Mallard has lost the confidence of the Opposition over his handling of this matter and should not continue as Speaker of the House, Mr Bishop says.

“Trevor Mallard behaved in a threatening and bullying way. This wasn’t just a ‘mistake’, as he tried to portray it. His behaviour is unbecoming of someone whose job it is to uphold the standards and integrity of Parliament.

“He is in a position of immense power and has used this power to try and silence a former employee. The irony is that he has exhibited the exact behaviour the Francis review was commissioned to stamp out: bullying.”

National has sought the leave of Parliament to debate a motion of no confidence in Mr Mallard on several occasions this term, but they have been continually blocked by Labour.

Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins wrote to the Prime Minister on March 16 to inform her of this latest information regarding Mr Mallard.

“The Prime Minister and her Labour MPs need to ask themselves whether this is the sort of behaviour they’re prepared to keep defending,” Mr Bishop says.

“In any other workplace in New Zealand, Trevor Mallard would be sacked. What’s good for any other workplace should be good for Parliament as well.”

Making the accusation without proof was wrong.

Failing to apologise as soon as he knew he was wrong made it worse.

Allowing the legal process to continue when he knew he was wrong compounded the wrongdoing.

That the legal process included threats should the accused man pursue litigation is unacceptable behaviour from anyone let alone the Speaker.

This could all have been avoided had Mallard apologised as soon as he knew his accusation was groundless.

It could have been avoided had PM Jacinda Ardern done the right thing by seeking his resignation months ago.

Allowing the matter to fester is anything but kind to the man who was wrongly accused and who lost his job as a result of that.

It is also anything but kind to the taxpayer who has already had to pick up the bill for legal costs and could well face even heavier payments for more legal fees and compensation.

The PM says she always reads letters from children. She should not only read but act on this one:

The transcript of Bishop’s speech is after the break.

 Mr Speaker, what I’m about to say to the House is very important. I want to outline for the House why I and the National Party believe it is critical that Trevor Mallard resign as Speaker of the House. Mr Mallard’s position, for the reasons I want to outline, we believe, is untenable. The basic facts of what has become known as the “Mallard rape affair” are, I think, well known.

On 21 May 2019, the Francis Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament was published. The next day, Mr Mallard gave a series of interviews to media, including Morning Report and TVNZ’s Breakfast show, about the contents of the Francis Review and a man he believed was still on the premises. To Morning Report, Mr Mallard talked about serious sexual assault and said, “Well, for me, that’s rape.” Directly in response to the question “So people have been raped in Parliament?”, Mr Mallard said, “That is the impression I get from the report, yes.” On Breakfast, Mr Mallard talked about three sexual assaults and that three appeared to be in rape category. We know what happened next. Those claims were not correct. Mr Mallard said later he knew they were wrong within probably 24 hours. An employee of the Parliamentary Service then sued Mr Mallard for defamation in December 2019, and it was not until December 2020 that Mr Mallard settled with the plaintiff. That settlement cost taxpayers $158,000 as an ex gratia payment and an additional $175,000 in legal fees, the total being over $333,000. Mr Mallard came before the Governance and Administration Committee and said he knew within 24 hours he had made a mistake. There is still an outstanding employment claim against the Parliamentary Service by the plaintiff; so this amount could rise.

I want to put on record for the House three things that have not yet been made public relating to the sorry affair I’ve just outlined. They are shocking and, I believe, makes the case overwhelming for Mr Mallard’s resignation or for the House to lose confidence in him. Earlier this year, I applied to the High Court of New Zealand for access to the statements of claim and defence filed by the parties in the now settled defamation action. The statement of claim says that, after Mr Mallard’s morning media interviews on 22 May where he spoke of rape, his staff advised him that claim was wrong. Despite being told that, he then repeated the claim in the afternoon of the 22 May in another media stand-up. Let me be clear: having gone on radio and TV in the morning and, effectively, accused someone of rape, Mr Mallard was then told by his general manager that was wrong. He did a media stand-up and was specifically asked about whether he stood by those statements. He said, “Yes. And anyone who’s been involved in looking at the rape law would be aware of the definition of rape in New Zealand.” That is appalling. Mr Mallard knew it was wrong; he said it anyway.

The second thing I want to bring to the House’s attention is that Mr Mallard intended on pleading truth to the defamation claim. On 10 June 2019, the plaintiff, through his lawyers, wrote to Mr Mallard. He asked for the release of an apology to him. He asked for the apology to be read by Mr Mallard to the House. He asked for the payment of damages, and he asked for an undertaking that Mr Mallard would not make any more defamatory statements. Mr Mallard refused. On 24 June, he wrote back. He refused to publish an apology. He refused to pay damages. He claimed his statements were either truth or honest opinion or covered by qualified privilege. Let me be clear about what that means: Mr Mallard said he intended to prove in court the plaintiff was a rapist. He intended to do this knowing it was false. Remember, as I’ve just said, Mr Mallard was told by the general manager the complaint was not about rape, and Mr Mallard told us last year he knew he’d made a mistake within probably 24 hours. So, even though Mr Mallard knew he was wrong, knew he’d made a mistake, in June 2019 he was planning on actually proving the person he defamed was a rapist. The consequences of this are severe. Mr Mallard was either planning on misleading the court or he has misled Parliament. These are not the actions of someone fit to be Speaker.

It gets worse. Mr Mallard said he would defend any claim “vigorously”. He threatened the plaintiff. He said that, should the plaintiff pursue litigation, “the question of his reputation and his conduct will be very much the centrepiece of any public proceeding”. Mr Mallard said he would prove the man was a rapist, knowing it to be untrue, if the plaintiff sued to protect his reputation. This is a gross and disgraceful abuse of power. He refused to apologise to the man he called a rapist even though he knew it was wrong. He refused to compensate even though he knew it was wrong. He said, if the man sought to protect his reputation, he would prove he was a rapist. He threatened to put the man on trial. This is a man who should resign—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member’s time has expired. Members, I chose, during that speech, not to draw attention to the fact that it was completely out of order; Speakers’ rulings 18/7 make that clear. Because I was involved, I thought it was not appropriate to stop the speech. I will say I look forward to the hearing of the Estimates, where the truth will be told.

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