Paula Bennett demands clarification from Speaker Trevor Mallard on rapist comments

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett has called for Speaker Trevor Mallard to clarify his comments about a rapist in Parliament and says police must become involved.

On Tuesday, the review into bullying and harassment in Parliament was released, detailing a toxic culture including instances of sexual assault.

Mallard told Newshub there was a "serial sexual offender", but the report didn't make clear the number of complaints against some individuals.

He also told RNZ that the instances of sexual assault mentioned in the report could constitute rape and that the rapist may still work at Parliament. 

Mallard said he believed rape had been committed and it was likely that the perpetrator still worked at Parliament.

"We're talking about serious sexual assault, well that, for me, that's rape... that is the impression I get from the report, yes.

"Reading the report carefully I get the sense that the man is still on the premises." 

Bennett has now criticised him for coming out with the comments and not providing any further information.

"It almost feels like they are harbouring a criminal," she said.

"There are a whole lot of people in this building looking for answers."

Paula Bennett speaking to reporters.
Paula Bennett speaking to reporters. Photo credit: Newshub.

She said she sent a note out to staff, some of who she described as feeling "ill", "uncomfortable" and "nervous" after the comments, saying they will be looked after if they decide to come forward.

Asked whether Parliament was a safe place for women, she responded: "Doesn't feel like it today".

The deputy leader admitted she didn't have all the answers about how to get the alleged perpetrator off the premises without revealing the identity of the complainants, but said something had to be done. 

"I think there is a duty of care for Debbie Francis and the Speaker to have police involved immediately so those allegations can be followed up and the safety of the people working here be put first.

"I would have thought though that if someone has got known alleged complaints, I am not saying they should out the victims, I think the victims have a complete right to their privacy, but I also have concerns on behalf of people working here that they feel that that there is a known perpetrator of a crime and they are feeling unsafe."

Bennett has spoken to Mallard while National Party leader Simon Bridges has spoken to the Prime Minister.

Identity of the perpetrators

The report didn't identify who the accused bullies and sexual offenders were - which Mallard said was integral to the review.

"The basis of this report was that people were free to come and talk to Debbie Francis in the absolute knowledge that their positions would be secure, they wouldn't be reported and that they would be supported where appropriate to take complaints to the police, or to their management, or to their party leaders."

Not even he knows the identity of some of the bullies and it's unlikely he will unless victims go to police. All records of the inquiry will be destroyed to protect those who have given evidence.

"Debbie Francis [the reviewer] has acted absolutely properly and has not passed on any names to me, and in fact the records will be destroyed because that was the undertaking given to the people who were giving evidence.

"If people want to make complaints, and they will be really supported if they do make complaints… then the people can be identified that way, but they are not going to be identified out of a process where they were guaranteed confidentiality because if we did that people would have never have come forward.

"The police will be involved if the people who have been assaulted are prepared to have them involved."

The review

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.

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.

If you have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or assault and would like to speak to someone, you could call the HELP support service.