22 May 2019

National urges Mallard to involve police in Parliament rape claims

2:47 pm on 22 May 2019

National's deputy leader Paula Bennett has called for Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard to involve the police immediately if he believes there is a rapist in the parliamentary precinct.

Paula Bennett

National's deputy leader Paula Bennett is the party's spokesperson for women, and spokesperson for social investment and social services. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mr Mallard this morning said his interpretation of allegations of sexual assault in yesterday's report into bullying and harassment at Parliament was that rapes had occurred at Parliament.

The report by independent reviewer Debbie Francis outlined a culture of serious bullying and harassment that was rife at Parliament, and made 85 recommendations for how it could change.

In it, Ms Francis described sexism, racism and unreasonably aggressive behaviour, including allegations of sexual harassment and three cases of serious sexual assault.

Trevor Mallard, Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives.

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Mallard told Morning Report today that he interpreted "serious sexual assault" as rape. He said from his reading of the report he believed there was one perpetrator, and believed they still worked at Parliament, but he did not know who it was.

Mrs Bennett this morning said if anyone was withholding information or not acting to protect staff at Parliament, they could be accused of "harbouring a criminal".

"No one respects the privacy of victims more than I do, but I also acknowledge that there are people here that are feeling unsafe at the moment."

She said she was personally dealing with staff who were feeling very "vulnerable and upset ... feeling ill and uncomfortable, and nervous", particularly in light of the Speaker's comments this morning.

"I think there is a duty of care for Debbie Francis and the Speaker to have police involved immediately so that those allegations can be followed up and the safety of the people working here be put first."

Mr Mallard earlier maintained that the report was carried out with an expectation of privacy, and that must be continued.

"The complaints were made under the absolute condition that none of that would be passed on. You can't have women come on that certain basis and make complaints and then totally betray their trust," he said.

Mrs Bennett acknowledged people had come forward because they were promised anonymity and she respected their continued right to privacy.

"But I also have concerns on behalf of people working here, that they feel that there is a known perpetrator of a crime, and they are feeling unsafe.

"We have a responsibility to be providing a safe workplace, and I don't think I can stand here confidently and say that's happening right now ... and the Speaker has a responsibility to make sure that's happening," she said.

She said it "almost feels like they are harbouring a criminal".

"If they know who it is I feel they have a responsibility on behalf of us all ... to make sure that if there is someone here that has alleged criminal activity.

"This is not just a bit of inappropriate behaviour, the Speaker is alleging a very serious criminal act and I'm not convinced that everything is being done that should be."

External reviewer Debbie Francis reveals details of her report into bullying at Parliament.

Debbie Francis Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Even if the Speaker did not know who the perpetrator was, Ms Francis - who was contracted by the Speaker - did, Mrs Bennett said.

"If she knows the name of someone that allegedly, according to the Speaker, has not just once but multiple times allegedly sexually assaulted someone in these premises, I think that is serious enough that we need to be asking if enough is being done.

"And I can't look at staff ... in the eye and tell them I think enough is being done."

Her colleague, National MP Judith Collins, said male MPs were being smeared as rapists as long as no one was specifically identified.

Ms Collins said she'd be surprised if it was an MP but either way she'd like to know.

While he admitted that having them tell their story over and over again was a problem in the court system, Mr Mallard urged the survivors to speak to police or support agencies like Rape Crisis.

This afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she'd had assurances from Mr Mallard that he was taking steps to ensure Parliament was a safe place to work.

Ms Ardern said it should be up to the victims of alleged sexual violence to decide if they wanted to involve police.

Victim wellbeing was the priority, she said.

Rape Crisis national spokesperson Andrea Black however urged them to find someone to talk to who they trusted not to shut them down, who would believe them.

Where to get help:

For urgent help: Safe To Talk 0800044334.

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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