Trevor Mallard: Parliament an 'absolute powder keg' with National to go full throttle in bid to axe Mallard - Tova O'Brien

Parliament is in disarray following the explosive fallout of last night's war of words between Speaker Trevor Mallard and the National Party, with political editor Tova O'Brien comparing the escalating tensions to an "absolute powder keg".

On Tuesday night, the Speaker of the House - under parliamentary privilege - doubled down on allegations of sexual assault against a staffer. Mallard wrongly accused the same staffer of rape in 2019, with more than $300,000 of taxpayer money spent settling a defamation case the man took against the Speaker. He issued an apology, but continued to publicly defend the claim.

The Speaker is now arguing that National's ongoing scrutiny of the case is traumatising the alleged victims. 

"His ongoing behaviour has caused distress to a number of women and he's been asked to stop and he hasn't," Mallard said in the chamber last night.

Mallard also directed his diatribe against National MP Chris Bishop, who Mallard believes came to the staffer's defence online.

The allegations quickly raised the hackles of the Opposition, who pilloried Mallard as a "bully".

"When we look back on this period and the tawdry, sordid period in this Parliament led by this disgrace of a Speaker, I think we will look back with shame," Bishop declared to MPs. "Sue me for defamation. I will plead truth and prove that you are a bully."

Commenting on the chaotic scenes the following morning, O'Brien said she has never seen a Speaker so "highly charged".  

"A few months ago, Mallard said, 'the truth will come out' - and then last night, under that cloak of parliamentary privilege, he absolutely let rip," O'Brien told The AM Show on Wednesday.

"Not only repeating those claims, but going round for bloody round against those National Party MPs, Chris Bishop and Michael Woodhouse, accusing them of defending the staffer - the National MPs in turn are saying Mallard ruined that man's career and his life - Mallard saying he was on the side of the victims, and it just went on and on."

Tova O'Brien said National will be "pulling out all of the stops" to get Mallard replaced.
Tova O'Brien said National will be "pulling out all of the stops" to get Mallard replaced. Photo credit: The AM Show

Speaking in Parliament, Mallard said he stood in solidarity with the victim of the alleged sexual assault - but National claimed the Speaker's allegations had left the staffer's career, and life, in tatters.

"His career has been ruined, his life has been ruined," National MP Michael Woodhouse said. "If there had been a fair go and the right outcome had been reached, it wouldn't have got the scalp Mr Speaker was looking for."

"That man's life was destroyed when he sexually assaulted a woman. That's what did it - I will support the woman and what she said, I will support the investigation that found that he seriously assaulted her," Mallard argued.

Outside the parliamentary chamber, Opposition leader Judith Collins was "shaking with rage", O'Brien said, labelling Mallard "a bully".

"They've stood up to a bully, who is the Speaker of Parliament. He needs to go, now," Collins told reporters.

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard.
Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard. Photo credit: Getty Images

Speaking to The AM Show, O'Brien likened Parliament to an "absolute powder keg".

"This is a place where to even call the Speaker biased is against the rules, so 'petulence', 'disgraceful', 'bully' - this kind of language levelled by the National Party at the Speaker last night is next-level stuff," she said.

"This is a total legal and political minefield. Both sides clearly, emphatically, vociferously and emotionally believe that they are in the right - with just as much conviction, they believe the other side is in the wrong."

Despite National's repeated calls for Mallard's replacement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has continued to support the Speaker, saying it's up to Parliament to remove him.

O'Brien says she believes it's unlikely Ardern will sack the Seeker, but said it's equally unlikely that National will back down from their calls to action.

"I cannot see Jacinda Ardern sacking the Speaker but it's so highly charged now, it's hard to see the National Party resigning from this - hard to see how Parliament is going to function on the basics of democracy."

Judith Collins said Mallard was continuing down a "path of 'utu' against a former staff member".
Judith Collins said Mallard was continuing down a "path of 'utu' against a former staff member". Photo credit: Getty Images

O'Brien believes the Opposition "will be pulling out all of the stops" in its crusade to remove Mallard from the role. 

"[National] will be doing everything in its power," she said. "They've already written letters to the Prime Minister, already tried to pass motions of no confidence - but obviously this momentum is building.

"It's totally unpredictable and it's hard to see where this will go today... something's going to need to happen to take some of the pressure out of this place."

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, Collins said it was an "abhorrence" for Mallard to "continue down a path of 'utu' against a former staff member".

"It was absolutely the worst, the most disgraceful display from Trevor Mallard that I have ever seen in Parliament in my almost 20 years. I've just never seen that behaviour, and he was doing this from his position as the minister as such in charge of parliamentary service.

"He is simply temperamentally unfit for the role. We need people who are calm, who are measured, who actually understand process and legal process - he clearly doesn't."