National loses confidence in Speaker Trevor Mallard after $333,000 bill to settle legal battle over 'rape' comments

Judith Collins says National has lost confidence in Speaker Trevor Mallard over revelations that $333,000 in taxpayer money was spent to settle his legal battle over "rape" comments. 

Mallard apologised earlier this week for accusing a former parliamentary staffer last year of committing "rape" and he has confirmed in a written answer to National that $333,641.70 was spent settling the dispute.

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.

"This is unacceptable behaviour from the Speaker of the House. This sheer size of this pay-out illustrates how serious the matter is," Collins said on Friday.

"It is the Speaker's job to set the standard of behaviour for everyone at Parliament but he has been reckless with his words, resulting in taxpayers footing a bill of more than $330,000 to clean up this mess.

"There has been no formal apology to Parliament for this, despite the National Party encouraging the Speaker to do so on the final sitting day this year.

"Because Mr Mallard has not lived up to the high standards of behaviour that he has set for Parliament, we believe he is no longer fit to hold the role of Speaker."

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 tantamount to rape. 

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

National leader Judith Collins and deputy leader Shane Reti.
National leader Judith Collins and deputy leader Shane Reti. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

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 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."

National's Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bishop said earlier this week that Mallard must tell the public if a settlement was reached with the individual and if taxpayer money was used. 

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

"It's disappointing," Bishop told reporters heading into Parliament on Wednesday. 

"The Speaker is Parliament's person and what we've learnt is that the taxpayer is footing the bill for not only the legal case but also potentially a legal settlement with the person who he has settled the claim with.

"We think that he should be upfront about how much has been spent on that case and if a payment has been made; how much that payment was for.

"The taxpayer is entitled to know how much of their money has been spent on a pay-out to someone for a defamation claim. What the Speaker said was... there are very few things you could say that are worse about someone and clearly there's been a settlement."

Bishop asked Mallard in Parliament if he intended to make a statement about his apology to the individual. 

"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 responded. 

Mallard said the matter was agreed on Thursday and Friday of last week and he released his statement as soon as was practical. 

"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."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it's an issue for the Speaker. 

"The Speaker serves on behalf of all of Parliament and therefore his role is independent of us in that sense," she told reporters. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said while he controls the overall Budget, Parliamentary Service - the Government department Mallard heads - controls what their budget is spent on. 

"Generally when it comes to Cabinet ministers there are rules about what happens in the course of your duties. The rules around the Speaker apply more in the Parliamentary Service sense and that's a little bit outside of my jurisdiction," he told reporters.

"I think a statement's been made, the comments at the bottom of it if I recall that no further correspondence will be entered into... It's a situation where Mr Mallard has to be accountable to his actions."