7 Dec 2018

Doubts over Speaker's impartiality need to be sorted quickly - Borrows

2:50 pm on 7 December 2018

If accusations that Speaker Trevor Mallard is biased toward Labour persist, it will further damage Parliament's standing among the public, says a former deputy speaker.

The Speaker, Trevor Mallard enters the House

Speaker Trevor Mallard is being accused of being partisan. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Accusations have been flying this week that Parliament's Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard, has been showing signs of political preference.

The role of the Speaker requires them to be strictly impartial.

Former deputy Speaker and National MP Chester Borrows told Morning Report it was vital that recent incidents, such as Opposition leader Simon Bridges being booted out of question time for criticising the conduct of the Speaker, be curtailed.

He said the public already had a low image of Parliament.

"If there is an appearance of partisanship it's going to detract even further," Mr Borrows said.

"Trevor already has a bit of a battle on his hands. He's gone from being the rabid attack dog for Labour, then becomes the poacher-gamekeeper sort of guy. So he's behind the eight ball.

"He's having to play a much straighter bat than he's ever had to play before."

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows

Former deputy speaker Chester Borrows says there are positives to Trevor Mallard's performance as Speaker. Photo: RNZ

Mr Borrows said Mr Mallard had done some good things in the role, such as insisting MPs speak without notes and stick to the point, however, it was possible to get all the wheels in Parliament turning smoothly without being partisan.

He said similar accusations were made in the last Parliamentary term against the previous speaker David Carter who was accused of protecting former prime minister Sir John Key.

He also pointed to the performance of another speaker Sir Lockwood Smith, who he said was very successful in having clear rules around answering questions and holding the government to account.

His personal standing had risen to the point where at one point he was more popular than Sir John, Mr Borrows said.

Former speaker Sir Kerry Burke advised Mr Mallard to follow his example and speak to National's caucus members.

Sir Kerry took up former prime minister Jim Bolger's invitation and laid down his rules to the caucus members.

"I told them I was going to be fair and absolutely transparent. I presided [as Speaker] for three years and never ejected any members."

Sir Kerry said he did not agree with the practice of the Speaker taking away questions from political parties as a punishment.

National's current "leadership issues" were making the situation more difficult for Mr Mallard, he said.

Mr Bridges was taking a more extreme position on issues than Mr Bolger ever did and it was hard to know how it was going to be resolved, he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected any accusations she was not fronting questions on the matter, and Mr Mallard declined to comment on the criticisms levelled against him by Mr Bridges.

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