The Dominion Post

This is why people hate politician­s

- Henry Cooke

People hate politician­s. On Tuesday night, it was easy to see why.

Indeed, the debate about Trevor Mallard’s defamation case and the sexual assault allegation at the centre of it made it easy to see something else, too – why women are often terrified of coming forward with complaints about sexual misconduct in the workplace. The conviction rate is low, the court process horrid for many, and if your complaint concerns a workplace like Parliament, it could soon become a political plaything.

The reason we are still talking about this alleged assault, years after the review that was meant to clear up this kind of workplace behaviour, is politics.

Mallard made two appalling mistakes on the day the review, which contained a printed allegation of ‘‘sexual assault’’, was released.

First, he went on the radio and said that the alleged assault in the report amounted to rape in his eyes. His defence here is that he didn’t connect that word with any ongoing complaint process, instead just reading the term sexual assault and stepping it up one level. But as Speaker, he should have known that saying that word – and with it, saying there was an alleged rapist in the building – was going to turn the heat up immensely. Staff in Parliament spend their entire lives in the building. When you regularly stay at work well past the sun going down, the prospect of that workplace being unsafe becomes even worse.

Naturally, this became hugely political immediatel­y.

National’s Paula Bennett told the media her staff felt afraid, and called for the police to be involved immediatel­y. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a crisis meeting with Mallard. Behind the scenes, one of the complainan­ts asked for the matter to be looked into again, and the man was stood down from Parliament pending the results of the investigat­ion.

Mallard here makes his second appalling mistake. Instead of just saying the plain facts, he fronts the media, stands by his ‘‘rape’’ comment, and then says a ‘‘threat to the safety of women’’ has been removed. That phrase appeared to link his ‘‘rape’’ comments from the morning to this man – and explains well why he ended up having to settle for hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars with the man.

But it is not just Mallard who has kept this matter in the public and political eye.

Ever since the facts of the settlement were revealed, the National Party has waged an unrelentin­g war on Mallard’s speakershi­p. It has produced social media videos on the matter and made it the focus of Judith Collins’ media rounds several times, as well as several prosecutio­ns by National’s shadow leader of the house, Chris Bishop, in select committees and in the House.

Clearly there is an honest view within the party and for many across the country that Mallard’s actions are bad enough that he should resign. But it has also been obvious for months that this isn’t going to happen, and this has merged into a mixture of political point-scoring and personal crusade.

At the centre of that personal crusade is the seeming fact that Mallard and Bishop hate each other.

The enmity goes beyond the normal Labour v National strife. It

 ?? ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF ?? Speaker Trevor Mallard used the protection of parliament­ary privilege to defend himself on Tuesday.
ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF Speaker Trevor Mallard used the protection of parliament­ary privilege to defend himself on Tuesday.

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