Trevor Mallard's decision to label assault allegations from inside Parliament as rape during a media interview on Wednesday morning was "irresponsible", Paula Bennett says.
A report from Debbie Francis into the bullying culture in Parliament was released on Tuesday, revealing allegations of serious sexual misconduct.
- Winston Peters says alleged Parliamentary rapist is not MP, staffer
- 'Power imbalance': Sexual assault, bullying claims revealed in Parliament
- Paula Bennett demands clarification from Speaker Trevor Mallard on rapist comments
Mallard described the misconduct as rape in an interview on Wednesday morning.
Bennett told The AM Show on Thursday she spent a large part of Wednesday dealing with upset staff members.
"One of our younger women just walked through the door in tears and said 'I'm driving to work this morning and I hear on the radio that there's a rapist in the building... I'm scared, I don't want to be here, can I please go home?'
"I had another young woman come in and say 'my parents have just called, they're driving to Parliament to pick me up because they don't think I should be here because they've heard that [there's a rapist]' so just really inflammatory, just to escalate it to a level through the media.
"So to actually deal with that with staff, one woman on my couch that had been raped years previously and this was just bringing everything up for her."
A member of the Parliamentary Services staff was stood down on Wednesday afternoon due to historical sexual assault allegations.
"I am satisfied that the Parliamentary Service has removed a threat to the safety of women working in the Parliamentary complex," Mallard said at the time.
The AM Show host Duncan Garner asked Bennett if she thought it was irresponsible of the speaker to use the word rape to describe the sexual misconduct and she agreed.
"It hadn't been used before that time," she said.
Bennett called for police to be involved in the case on Wednesday and said she believes investigators are now involved.
She said despite everything Mallard is an "incredibly caring man" and does want to make a difference.
"I think he acknowledges that there was a whole lot of trauma caused yesterday to a whole lot of people.
"But it does seem extraordinary that there has been a known alleged perpetrator in the building and other people feeling unsafe."
Where to from here?
Employment experts are saying a lot needs to be done to ensure people feel safe working at Parliament.
Employsure spokesperson Ashlea Maley told Newshub we expect a lot of MPs.
- Parliament 'serial sex offender' won't be immediately identified
- Former National MP Tau Henare lets rip on bullying in Parliament after review release
- MPs accused of treating staff like servants in bullying review
"Everyone sort of thinks that Parliament, because it is that kind of Governing body or sort of the judiciary of New Zealand is kind of held to a higher standard."
The inquiry revealed 50 people reported unwanted touching and 54 people reported unwanted sexual advances.
Veritas Investigations Director Richard Middleton told Newshub Parliament needs to be serious about following through on what the inquiry recommends.
"I would suggest that every three months they need to have a scorecard of what they've achieved out of those 85 recommendations."
Middleton said the investigation needed to happen, as it ripped the scab off a wound that had been "festering" for a long time.
He said it's important workplaces make it easy for employees to report bullying.
"All instances of bullying need to be reported and to do that workplaces have to have a mechanism and a process for that."
Maley said it sounds like it's time for Parliament to have a shake-up of its guidelines for employee behaviour.
"Sounds like from the report that came out those policies need a massive update and then as well just fostering that positive culture."