Hawkesby: Speaker's handling of rape allegation highlights Parliament's toxic culture

Author
Kate Hawkesby,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Thursday, 23 May 2019, 7:28AM
No, it’s not Trevor Mallard's job to lay complaints on behalf of others with police, but surely it is his job to ensure Parliamentary staff feel safe. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

COMMENT:

What a disappointing day yesterday was for Parliament.

Pleasingly, Trevor Mallard's now admitted he could've handled it better. Good. His handling of it was appalling.

He appeared on national media in the morning, alleged publicly that a rapist was working among them at Parliament, gave no further details, other than suggesting the complainants come forward, and then wandered off into the sunset.

What sort of lapse in judgement is that?

It wasn't until National's Paula Bennett appeared later that morning, looking deeply unsoothed and citing scared staff, that he perhaps became aware of the knock-on effect of his words.

Mallard had just made the claims, then put the onus of responsibility on dealing with this at the feet of the victims.

While doing nothing about it himself, other than letting everyone at Parliament know there was rapist among them.

No, it’s not Trevor Mallard's job to lay complaints on behalf of others with police, but surely it is his job to ensure Parliamentary staff feel safe.

How could it look like anything more than scaremongering? His comments and the way he made them were completely bewildering and had the obvious domino effect of causing ructions all over the show.

MPs felt confused and angry, Parliamentary staff felt unsafe and uncomfortable, a witch hunt began trying to find out who this could possibly be.

Paula Bennett was first to jump in, saying police should be involved, that Mallard should clarify his comments, and that the media was not the place to air these allegations.

Eventually, Winston Peters also stepped in, he gave Trevor Mallard a serve too for ostensibly making everyone feel under scrutiny. Winston clarified it wasn’t an MP.

But still the story swirled, how could a workplace, that was just revealed as being toxic in a bullying report, be seen to be ignoring an alleged rapist in their midst?

Why was the Speaker of the House, whose job it is to monitor fairness and accountability not doing that?

How could he think that vague accusations and silence was ensuring a safe working environment for staff?

By the afternoon Mallard fronted media again, this time with an update - a Parliamentary staff member had been stood down following a formal complaint about a historical assault of a sexual nature, the investigation into which, would now be reopened.

But this whole sorry saga makes me wonder just how bad the culture is at Parliament, when the speaker himself seems incapable of addressing serious sexual assault allegations with any kind of professionalism.

Making inflammatory statements to media, and then leaving it to fester, while staff arrive at work upset, seems irresponsible at best.

And just goes to show how much work clearly still needs to be done, to fix Parliament’s toxic culture.

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