Barry Soper: Trevor Mallard's rape accusations could have been his undoing

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Tue, 8 Dec 2020, 7:18PM
Speaker Trevor Mallard. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Speaker Trevor Mallard. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Barry Soper: Trevor Mallard's rape accusations could have been his undoing

Author
Barry Soper,
Publish Date
Tue, 8 Dec 2020, 7:18PM

OPINION:

This was a story that could potentially have brought down Parliament's Speaker.

Trevor Mallard was being sued for defamation after a Parliamentary staff member was sent packing after being accused by Mallard of rape.

The accusation came after the Debbie Francis report into bullying and sexual harassment at Parliament was made public in May last year. Mallard was commenting on serious sexual assaults identified in the report. He said what the staff member was claimed to have done to a colleague was tantamount to rape.

"We're talking about serious sexual assault. Well that, for me, that's rape," Mallard said at the time.

The man was sent packing from Parliament without explanation, with Mallard saying “the threat had left the building" and staff around the place were panicking there was a rapist in their midst. In fact, the accused was never interviewed by Debbie Francis. No complaint was made to the police, even though Mallard urged the woman to make one.

On the day he made the allegation, Mallard summoned me to his office and urged me not to interview the staff member he accused, saying it would re-traumatise the victim.

I got the sense that he didn't want the interview to take place because he knew his claim wouldn't stack up. It didn't.

The man was left devastated, saying the accusation put him in a very dark place. His lawyers last year began defamation proceedings against the Speaker, who has refused all comment about the case up until now. He did make an unsuccessful move through his lawyers though to have the man's name made public.

On the day the Royal Commission on the mosque shootings was being made public, and on the eve of the Whakaari White Island eruption's first anniversary, Mallard put out a statement which reads:

"On 22 May 2019, shortly after the publication and dissemination of the Francis Review into bullying and harassment in the New Zealand parliamentary workforce, the Speaker of the House the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard made a number of comments to the media about the findings of that report and in particular as they related to an individual working at Parliament.

"Some of Trevor Mallard's comments gave the impression that allegations made against that individual in the context of the Francis Review amounted to rape.

"Trevor Mallard accepts that his understanding of the definition of rape at that time was incorrect and that the alleged conduct did not amount to rape (as that term is defined in the Crimes Act 1961) and that it was incorrect of him to suggest otherwise.

"Trevor Mallard apologises for the distress and humiliation his statements caused to the individual and his family.

"Trevor Mallard has provided a personal apology to the individual. Both parties consider the matter is now closed and no further comment will be made."

Of course it won't. There's clearly been a settlement with the man who was maligned. I expect his legal expenses will no doubt be taken care of just as Trevor Mallard's will be - by the taxpayer.

What money was paid will never be known though, because the Government department Mallard heads - Parliamentary Services - isn't subject to the Official Information Act.

The Speaker knows he's safe. Even if a motion of no confidence is moved against him today, the last day of Parliament until February, it wouldn't survive a vote because of Labour's outright majority in the House.

The irony in all of this is, the Francis review was all about bullying and harassment.