● Heather du Plessis-Allan
I’ve got a lot of time for Trevor Mallard. He’s a good laugh. He’s (surprisingly) a sucker for babies. And he was a really good electorate MP. But, Speaker of the House isn’t proving a career highlight.
He’s been accused of bias towards Labour. And even worse, of trying to protect the Prime Minister. And, much as I like the guy, I have to admit he deserves the criticism.
Herald political editor Audrey Young has seen a fair few speakers come and go so she knows what she’s talking about. In a column this week, she wrote that Mallard has “an inbuilt bias against National Party leader Simon Bridges and a soft spot for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern”.
Ouch. That’s a stinging blow. But he was asking for it.
Mallard’s job description is to be as neutral as possible. It actually makes the Speaker’s life blimmin’ lonely. As soon as he took the job, he was expected to cut all ties with the Labour colleagues he’d been mates with for years.
Rough, but crucial to democracy. The Speaker is the guy making sure everyone gets a fair go at what is quite important business: one side’s running the country, the other is making sure the first lot’s doing that right.
But, Mallard can’t claim neutrality any more. His blot sheet is fairly blemished.
His first big mistake was in May when Mallard accused National of calling the Prime Minister a stupid little girl. Mallard told the media. It became an international story. Protecting the PM, exhibit one.
Then in August, Mallard completely over-reacted at the thought of media printing images of the PM’s baby. He threatened to throw out any member of the press gallery who did this. Even if the baby was accidentally in the background. That was completely over the top. No one would’ve printed a photo anyway. The rules don’t apply outside of Parliament and no one’s printed an outside-ofParliament photo. And it screams special treatment because at least two other female MPs have newborns at Parliament and yet there was no dictum about photos of their babies. Protecting the PM, exhibit two.
Also, Mallard’s love of a good inquiry is not worth the trouble it’s causing him. He’s inquired (twice) into the leaking of Bridges’ expenses and (once) into bullying in Parliament. All three inquiries generated negative news stories for National. That’s not flash for a supposedly impartial guy.
These accusations are obviously lousy for Mallard. He’s clearly trying really hard to do the job well.
It’s also not flash for the PM. She’s already struggling with the perception she lacks steel. Having a man publicly coming to her defence doesn’t help. Without naming names, there are a few men close to her who also do it from time to time and should reconsider.
The only people who benefit from us discussing Mallard’s bias are National MPs. It just let them off the hook. They’d been under the pump for days over the Maggie Barry bullying allegations and the ongoing internal leaks. And then, surprise, they get kicked out the house, plead bias and everyone’s attention shifted to this.
Doesn’t this look to you like a distraction that worked brilliantly?
Don’t you think National engineered this deliberately? Don’t you think both Bridges and former Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee know the rules around criticising the Speaker? Don’t you think they knew they would get kicked out of the House if they did it?
It wouldn’t be the first time National’s pulled this stunt to create a distraction.
In the end, Mallard’s soft spot for the Prime Minister is backfiring on the Government. And so, if he cares about Labour as much as he appears to, he’d be wise to start playing fair. Just so it gives National one less way to wriggle off an awkward hook.
● Heather du Plessis-Allan is on Newstalk ZB in Wellington, weekdays, 8.30am-noon.
Trevor Mallard is giving National too much ammo.