Speaker Trevor Mallard comes under fire from National, ACT over 'rape' comments

House Speaker Trevor Mallard has come under fire from National and ACT who fear taxpayers have footed the bill for an alleged settlement with the man he implied committed "rape". 

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.

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 has 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."

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

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

"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. 

National's Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bishop.
National's Shadow Leader of the House Chris Bishop. Photo credit: Getty

ACT leader David Seymour urged the Speaker to provide an explanation. 

"You hold yourself out as a Speaker who campaigns against bullying and harassment. There are serious concerns raised in the media and I think you owe it to the House regardless of any private agreement you may have in any capacity, to give an explanation of why you chose to release this information while the country was embroiled and digesting the Royal Commission of Inquiry."

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."

National MP Simon Bridges then stood to speak. 

"I had understood that the code of conduct all Members of Parliament signed included provision that we were no longer to do non-disclosure clauses. Is that no longer the case?"

Mallard bluntly responded: "No."

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Getty

What money was paid out will never be known because the Government department Mallard heads - Parliamentary Services - isn't subject to the Official Information Act (OIA). 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said while he controls the overall Budget, Parliamentary Service 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."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw says the Speaker should reveal how much - if any - taxpayer money was spent on a settlement. 

"Generally yes, the Green Party has always said that when it comes to those kinds of expenses they should be made public," he said. 

"The Greens have called for significant reform of the OIA and you've got to remember we were the first to voluntarily release our expenses which everyone said at the time said would be a disaster and ultimately now it's standard practice."