Jacinda Ardern has 'confidence' in Speaker Trevor Mallard as National vows to probe him over taxpayer-funded legal settlement

The Prime Minister has "confidence" in Speaker Trevor Mallard, but National plans to bring him before a Parliamentary committee and probe him about taxpayer money used to settle his legal dispute.  

The Speaker of the House is accountable to the Governance and Administration Select Committee and chairperson Barbara Kuriger, a National MP, will call a meeting this week where Mallard will be questioned. 

It comes after National and ACT lost confidence in the Speaker last week over revelations that $333,000 in taxpayer money was spent to settle his legal battle for accusing a former Parliamentary staffer last year of committing "rape".

Of that, $158,000 was a payment to the former staffer to settle a legal claim, $171,000 was paid in fees to law firm Dentons Kensington Swan and $4641.70 went to Crown Law for advice to the former Deputy Speaker Anne Tolley. 

"So far there has been no apology to Parliament, no statement, and no accountability. This is not good enough," National's Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bishop said on Monday. 

"If Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Party, who ultimately must decide if they have confidence in the Speaker, won't hold him to account then National will."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Breakfast she still has confidence in Mallard and that there's nothing unusual about taxpayer money being used in that way.

"We have an arrangement within both Government and as ministers but also for the Speaker that essentially in those roles, if we find ourselves in a situation similar to the Speaker where we've been legally challenged... we are covered for that if it is in the course of us doing our duties," Ardern said. 

"That's because of course we in our jobs generally are in high-profile jobs where in the course of our day-to-day duties may find ourselves legally challenged... Yes, he made a mistake but he does still have my confidence."

Ardern said Tolley, as Mallard's then-Deputy Speaker, took advice from the Solicitor-General and it was determined that was how Mallard should be treated.

House Speaker Trevor Mallard.
House Speaker Trevor Mallard. Photo credit: Getty

Mallard made the accusation after the Debbie Francis report into bullying and harassment at Parliament was made public in May last year. He was commenting on a sexual assault accusation in the report. 

The report did not identify the accused offender, which Mallard said was integral to the review, but he did acknowledge at the time that he knew who the offender was and that the staffer had been stood down.

The Francis Review found 14 reports of sexual assault and Mallard announced that Parliamentary Services removed a "threat to the safety of women". 

He said what the staff member was claimed to have done to a colleague was serious sexual assault and compared it to rape.  

The Speaker didn't directly attribute rape to the man who was stood down but the accused's lawyers last year began defamation proceedings against him over the "rape" accusation. 

The Speaker had not spoken about the case until last Tuesday. His office released a statement in which Mallard apologised to the man he accused of rape and for any distress he had caused him. 

"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," the statement reads. 

"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."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty

Bishop asked Mallard in Parliament last week if he intended to make a statement about his apology to the individual but the Speaker shot it down. 

"The answer to that is no and the second part of the answer is part of the agreement is that I make no further comment," Mallard said. 

"There was a matter which reached finalisation and the first sitting day which was yesterday I released the statement as agreed and I will take no further discussions."

Ardern told Breakfast Mallard had good intensions. 

"That was a review the Speaker instigated to try and make sure that Parliament was a place where staff and the workforce could feel safe," Ardern said. 

"There had been longstanding issues and claims around Parliament not being a healthy workplace, around there being bullying, around it not being safe for women. He instigated that work, he has followed it through. In the course of that, yes he made a mistake but he does still have my confidence.

"My understanding also is that one of the select committees wants to talk to the Speaker this week about the issues that have been raised. He has proactively contacted the chair to make a time for that so he is making himself available to answer questions that have naturally arisen from this situation."