28 Nov 2018

Bullying, harassment review: MPs need extensive training - Trevor Mallard

11:51 am on 28 November 2018

The Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard says many MPs arrive at Parliament with no idea how to manage staff.

The Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard.

The Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The Speaker yesterday launched an external review of bullying and harassment of staff at Parliament dating back to October 2014.

The review will be carried out by an independent external reviewer, Debbie Francis, who has done similar work with organisations such as the Defence Force.

The Speaker said Parliament can be so toxic he wouldn't recommend it to close friends or his children as a place to work.

He's concerned by some of the behaviour he hears about at Parliament - both incidents that are made public and those he describes as at a "level higher than gossip''.

He said it's a high-stress place to work, the hours are long and sometimes the requests made of staff are unreasonable.

"It can have its toxic periods and if I was looking for a place to recommend for close friends or kids to work at, it wouldn't be at the moment a place I'd recommend.''

Many MPs weren't trained to manage staff, Mr Mallard told Morning Report stating that Parliament could "bring out the best and bring out the worst" in people.

"They [MPs] need to be put through some quite extensive training. I think we do have some very big gaps in our system at lots of levels."

He cited those who chair select committees as "one of our big areas of problems".

As part of the review there will be a mix of interviews with party chairpersons, political party leaders, chiefs of staff, chief whips, MPs (both targeted and randomly selected) and focus groups with a mix of people from the same political parties.

Reviewer Debbie Francis and Speaker Trevor Mallard at the announcement of the launch of the review.

Reviewer Debbie Francis and Speaker Trevor Mallard at the announcement of the launch of the review. Photo: RNZ / Jo Moir

All information will be kept confidential and no one will be identified, or identifiable, in the final report resulting from the review.

Ministers haven't receive good enough training, Mr Mallard said, acknowledging there were ways to better the situation.

"Well I think whenever you're doing improvements it's too little too late and it's often when you have issues which become clear that the need for training that hasn't happened becomes clearer,'' Mr Mallard said.

"One of the things I'm working on separate to this [review] is actually some better training - more organised, more structured training for MPs," he said.

"We have a bubble in which people work. It is quite hierarchical, hours are very long and the stakes are high. But, people are there because they deeply believe in things - both, staff and members of Parliament - and tensions can get quite high.

"We sort of more publicly see the tensions between parties. But, when you're working intensively it can actually be within your smaller office [and] if it's not well managed there could be even bigger tensions."

The review will examine any trends or patterns that emerge and make recommendations on how these could be addressed for the future. Mr Mallard said the review wouldn't be a blame exercise and wouldn't reopen past cases so as to avoid revictimisation.

The findings will be published at its conclusion.

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