Senior Labour MP David Parker has defended his under-fire colleague Trevor Mallard, saying National MPs have also made defamatory statements they refused to apologise for until taken to court.
Mallard, who has been Parliament's Speaker since 2017, spent more than $300,000 of taxpayers' money in a legal battle with a former parliamentary staffer accused of sexual assault, which he described in 2019 as tantamount to "rape".
The case was settled, and Mallard apologised for the comments in December - 19 months later. But it recently emerged he continued to repeat the false claim after being advised by staff it was incorrect, leading to renewed calls for his removal as Speaker.
"He's unfit to be Speaker," National MP Simon Bridges told The AM Show on Friday.
"The reason for that actually, you could go into lots of detail, is just this simple - within 24 hours of calling someone a rapist, he knew that that was a lie. Yet he continued for 18 months through court to take this man through the wringer."
Parker, appearing with Bridges on The AM Show, said Mallard "made a mistake" but not a career-ending one.
"I don't deny that he made a mistake. He did make a mistake. You can say he should have apologised for it earlier, perhaps he should have. He did apologise, he settled on terms that were acceptable to the aggrieved person.
"You know, Trevor Mallard's had a 30-year career as a politician. I don't think we should throw him out over that mistake, even though it was a bad one."
Parker then said he didn't want to "be political", but accused National MPs of making similar false accusations, without naming names.
"There were prior ministers in the last Government sued for defamation, and they didn't admit they were wrong for a long time, until it got to court."
Bridges hit back, saying no National MP accused of defamation ever "called anyone a rapist".
"It's very simple. You and I are lawyers, but you don't need to be a rocket scientist or a lawyer to know the law of defamation and have a sense that when you know you've got it wrong here, you fess up real quick.
"By the way, you save the country $350,000 - probably half-a-million by the time this thing is finished... There's that cost, but I just actually think there's a moral compass question there."
Removing the Speaker would require a majority vote in Parliament. Labour has an outright majority, and there are no signs they're about to move on Mallard. Another senior minister, Chris Hipkins, on Thursday said there was a lot we don't know about the case.
"He is doing a good job as Speaker. I think Trevor Mallard made a mistake and he apologised for that. We don't know all of the facts around that case because not all of those have become public."
Parker hinted at this too, saying there were "other allegations" against the staffer. Bridges said they were "not even remotely, closely, at any level in the ballpark" as rape.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the issues have "already been traversed" and Mallard was safe in his job.
"I'd just say to Jacinda Ardern, have a good look at yourself and ask yourself whether you're prepared to continue to defend this guy," said Bridges.