Na­tional find­ing in­tol­er­ance of Mal­lard’s a sticky prob­lem

Rotorua Daily Post - - Business - Au­drey Young

Par­lia­ment’s Speaker Trevor Mal­lard has an in­built bias against Na­tional Party leader Si­mon Bridges and a soft spot for Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern.

That much has been clear since Mal­lard took the chair just over a year ago. Bridges gets un­der his skin.

But Bridges crossed a line in the House on Wed­nes­day and can­not cred­i­bly ob­ject to hav­ing been thrown out by Mal­lard.

If the in­ci­dent forces Mal­lard to re­assess the way he is try­ing to con­trol the House, it may be a good thing.

Dur­ing ques­tions to the Gov­ern­ment about the Karel Sroubek case Bridges ac­cused Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern of “duck­ing and div­ing”.

Such a de­scrip­tion is not un­usual in the cut and thrust of pol­i­tics.

Mal­lard stood up to ob­ject — we don’t know whether he was about to make Bridges with­draw and apol­o­gise and put him on a fi­nal warn­ing.

But be­fore he could mete out pun­ish­ment, Bridges said: “Here comes the pro­tec­tion.”

That was the of­fend­ing phrase and that got him ejected from the House — and for that there can be no ob­jec­tion.

It crossed a line. It can be eas­ily ar­gued that Mal­lard was too quick to leap to the de­fence of Ardern af­ter she was ac­cused of duck­ing and div­ing — not that she re­quires any help from Mal­lard in the cham­ber.

But for Bridges to ac­cuse the Speaker of pro­tect­ing the Prime Min­is­ter is an un­ac­cept­able in­sult.

Al­le­ga­tions of bias against the Speaker are usu­ally ex­pressed more obliquely through elo­quent points of or­der by Shadow leader of the House Gerry Brown­lee.

Af­ter Mal­lard had or­dered Bridges out, Brown­lee in­ter­jected that it must have struck a nerve, and Mal­lard or­dered Brown­lee out too, cre­at­ing a walk-out of most MPs ex­cept those which had ques­tions to ask.

It was not an iso­lated in­ci­dent. Na­tional has long ob­jected to Mal­lard’s un­fair prac­tice of tak­ing ques­tions off Na­tional as a pun­ish­ment for a trans­gres­sion.

For as long as that egre­gious rule is ap­plied, there will be wounded re­la­tions be­tween the Speaker and the Op­po­si­tion be­cause that is the Speaker play­ing God.

Mal­lard’s in­tol­er­ance was on dis­play when he re­ferred to Bridges’ ques­tions as “smar­tarse” which is also an ap­palling lapse by a Speaker to the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion.

And dur­ing an ex­change with Brown­lee, he ba­si­cally agreed that tighter stan­dards ap­ply to Op­po­si­tion ques­tions than to an­swers by Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters.

He can’t stand a bit of crosshouse ban­ter and he seemed per­son­ally of­fended when MPs in­ter­ject in the se­cond per­son.

The sad­ness of Mal­lard’s speak­er­ship is that he had hopes of in­sert­ing him­self less into Ques­tion Time than other Speak­ers, but he is do­ing the ex­act op­po­site.

On New­shub this week, Win­ston Peters tried to sug­gest Mal­lard was not be­hav­ing like a Labour MP, but that is not true. It is im­pos­si­ble to take the pol­i­tics out of the politi­cian.

On a good day, when he is in a good mood and does not ex­pect per­fec­tion, when he is in a mood to help the Op­po­si­tion hold the Gov­ern­ment to ac­count, Mal­lard is the best of Speak­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately, the good days don’t come of­ten enough.

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