● Heather du Plessis-Al­lan

Herald on Sunday - - REVIEW - Heather du Plessis-Al­lan @HDPA

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.

Photo / Mark Mitchell

Trevor Mal­lard is giv­ing Na­tional too much ammo.

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