Trevor Mallard defamation case has already cost taxpayers $80,000

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Jun 2020, 4:07PM
Trevor Mallard is being sued by a former Parliamentary staffer. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Trevor Mallard is being sued by a former Parliamentary staffer. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Trevor Mallard defamation case has already cost taxpayers $80,000

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Fri, 26 Jun 2020, 4:07PM

Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard's defamation case has so far cost the taxpayer almost $80,000.

Mallard faces legal action after last year saying that a rapist was working at Parliament.

The Parliamentary worker, who was stood down last May after Mallard's comments, is alleging the Speaker defamed him.

Mallard issued a statement this afternoon about the legal costs incurred so far.

"I have received an inquiry as to the costs to date to the Parliamentary Service in the defamation action. All invoices to date have been paid totalling $79.979.33," he said.

"The case is currently subject to extensive non-publication orders therefore no further comment will be made."

Mallard made the comments in May last year as a report was released by independent reviewer Debbie Francis into bullying and harassment at Parliament, which revealed 14 people who said they had been the victim of a sexual assault in the parliamentary workplace.

The report highlighted three serious incidents that Mallard said in media interviews were the actions of a man still working at Parliament.

"Reading the report carefully, I get the sense that the man is still on the premises," he told RNZ.

"I'm not aware whether they are an MP or staff ... I don't know who it is. If I knew who it is, I would tell the police."

Mallard characterised the alleged incidents as rape.

"We're talking about serious sexual assault. Well that, for me, that's rape."

Asked if he meant that people had been raped at Parliament, Mallard said: "That is the impression I get from the report, yes."

His comments - called shocking by some parliamentary workers - sparked a series of turbulent events that led to a historical assault complaint and a parliamentary staffer being stood down.

Mallard then said that a threat to safety had been removed from the premises.

The staffer, who the Herald has chosen not to identify, later lashed out at Mallard, saying he felt bullied out of the workplace and was the victim of Mallard's "slanderous" comments.

At the time National's then deputy leader Paula Bennett called Mallard's comments a "serious lapse in judgment", but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she continued to have confidence in him.

Nick Smith: Remarks an 'inappropriate attack'

National MP Nick Smith said Mallard revealing the legal bill was prompted after Smith had lodged a written parliamentary question about the matter on Tuesday.

He called the amount a "big sum of money" to cover an "inappropriate attack" on a parliamentary worker.

"The taxpayer would not be footing this bill if it wasn't for the fact that the Speaker went way too far in accusing someone in a way that was inaccurate."

Smith went further, accusing Mallard of abusing his power in light of the fact that Smith was forced to leave the House under escort late last night for arguing with the Assistant Speaker Adrian Rurawhe.

Smith – who had already been removed from the House during Question Time for arguing with Mallard on Thursday – was escorted out of the debating chamber by the Serjeant-at-Arms and has since returned to Nelson.

He did not physically resist but, as he was removed from the House, yelled: "What sort of Nazi establishment is running the place?"

"I find it extraordinary that the Speaker is releasing this information only after I lodged a written on Tuesday. He uses his powers as Speaker to do me over on Thursday, sends me home and then late on Friday releases the embarrassing information.

"This is an abuse of power by the Speaker by targeting me in the Parliament for asking uncomfortable questions about The Speaker's Office around this taxpayer bill. It's just too cute that he released the information not through the written question system, and when he has removed me from the parliamentary precinct."

If a minister had responded to a written parliamentary question in the same way, it would be a contempt, Smith said.