Former National MP Tau Henare lets rip on bullying in Parliament after review release

Former National MP Tau Henare has let rip on Speaker Trevor Mallard and other "cockwombles" on the back of an extensive inquiry into bullying at Parliament.

On Tuesday, the review into bullying and harassment in Parliament, launched in November 2018 by Mallard, was released by inquirer Debbie Francis.

It revealed a toxic workplace and highlighted instances of sexual harassment and assault, abusive texts, frequent shouting at staff, character assassination and overall disrespectful conduct.

"You can't do anything about it. You feel completely helpless," one respondent said. "You've got a job you enjoy; you don't want to raise it in case no one takes your side. I feel that the whole time. I just want to get out."

Another respondent said: "My [MP] would just scream at me, asking for something one minute and then turning around and demanding it five minutes later, when it was clearly a two-hour job."

Tau Henare and Trevor Mallard.
Tau Henare and Trevor Mallard. Photo credit: The Project / Getty

Henare, who has clashed with Mallard in the past, including being punched by him, was on The Project on Tuesday to give his opinion into the workplace - and he did not hold back.

"I think that we have a Speaker that is the epitome of the word irony," he said.

"This guy was the biggest schoolyard bully in the place. If there was a programme called 'The Biggest Bully', he would have won it ten years in a row.

"When it was announced by him that he was going to do a report on bullying, I literally nearly wet myself."

Henare said he didn't like using the word 'culture' to describe the situation, but said in his opinion there was clearly a power imbalance between MPs and staff members.

"There is a handful of, excuse me, cockwombles that walk around the place and own the place, and it is only a handful.

"There are MPs and Ministers that go through staff members like a hot knife through butter, and they don't deserve to be there."

Despite accusations of sexual harassment against some politicians, he said MPs can't simply be fired or forced to step down as they are elected, while staff members don't have such privilege.

"The problem is yes, it happens, it is how you deal with it and it is because the poor old staff member is always going to lose because the MP ain't going anywhere."

On The AM Show on Wednesday, Mallard admitted his past behaviour hadn't always been perfect, but he was working on it. 

"I don't think there will be a person in the building who has been perfect. I am a man of my generation and have acted badly in the past. I have been trying to improve and I think I have improved significantly," he said.

"I think as your own kids get older and you think about the sort of world that you want, you think about what is appropriate more and you adjust your behaviour accordingly.

"I think most of us can do that and those that can't, there is pretty serious stuff happens."

Trevor Mallard and Debbie Francis.
Trevor Mallard and Debbie Francis. Photo credit: Newshub.

Review into bullying

The review revealed 50 people reported unwanted touching and 54 people reported unwanted sexual advances, with sexual messages via text a problem.

But extremely worrying was the revelation that there were 14 reports of sexual assault - 11 made by current staff members.

When asked if there will be further action taken specifically about those people, Francis said: "Not for me to say - this was not an inquiry or investigation."

There were 85 recommendations made by Francis, including a parliamentary code of conduct. Francis said she wants everyone to sign it, including MPs, staff and the media.

Support services are a big part of it, including psychologists with sexual harm experience on site, and an anonymous tip line will be set up.

Party leaders will also be forced to take more responsibility for their MPs.

She recommended staff contracts be changed, the use of hush money minimised, and alcohol consumption be addressed.