8 Jun 2022

Speaker Trevor Mallard criticised over silence on trespass notices fiasco

6:06 pm on 8 June 2022

Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard has refused to answer questions from MPs about the trespass notices issued earlier this year - reigniting calls for him to go.

No caption

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard Photo: Dom Thomas

Mallard appeared before a select committee this morning to discuss Parliament's budget for the year - distinct from the government's Budget - but instead was questioned over his handling of February's anti-vax protest.

His handling of the protest has been questioned - his use of loud music and sprinklers as a deterrent - and then the issuing - and later withdrawal - of trespass notices on prominent figures.

Opposition MPs asked him about trespass notices sent out to former MPs last month, most notably to the last deputy prime minister Winston Peters.

They asked about the decisions to issue those notices, but Mallard said those decisions were delegated to the head of Parliamentary Service security, as they had been since the 1980s.

He repeatedly and firmly said him speaking about such matters was not in the public interest when they were heading to the courts and inquiries.

"I made no such decision, but I'm certainly not going to get into that area because as I've made clear there are over 200 court cases, there's an IPCA (Independent Police Conduct Authority) inquiry into a number of police, and a general inquiry, and I'm not going to prejudice.

"It's not in the public interest to prejudice any of those and I'm not going to be commenting on that for those reasons.

"It's not in the public interest, and anyone who's thought about it carefully knows why."

That means no comment - not to MPs or to reporters - but one of the MPs questioning him, National's Chris Bishop, was not impressed.

"The fact that he basically just refused to answer questions about it I found pretty astonishing," he said.

National MP Chris Bishop

National's Shadow leader of the House Chris Bishop Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"He said it was not in the public interest, I can tell you there is immense public interest in what happened here at Parliament just a few short months ago, and the public deserves to know what happened."

The Māori Party's former co-leader, Marama Fox, was one of the figures briefly banned from Parliament's grounds. Her successor, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, said Mallard needed to be more transparent.

"We have ex-MPs who have been affected and asking us for opinions and it's like 'well, we can't have an opinion where we're not shared what on Earth he's doing'.

"At the end of the day, this is a process that affects our wider community, we need to be making sure that you can come in here and everyone is aware of what the rules are.

Te Pati Maori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"You can't be making them up on the spot, which is effectively what the Speaker has been doing, so he needs to be more transparent and tell us what tikanga he's applying today."

ACT leader David Seymour said Mallard had got so embarrassing he needed to go gracefully, while he still could.

"He's lucky mallard-hunting season ended two days ago on the 6th of June, but there's one more duck that needs to go," he said.

"It's in the public interest for Parliament to be accountable and democratic, especially when you're the Speaker, who is the leader of Parliament.

Leader of ACT party David Seymour at Parliament

ACT leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"It is pure self-preservation from Trevor Mallard to hide behind other proceedings. The only common denominator through all of Trevor Mallard's manoeuvres is that they protect Trevor, not any public interest."

National and ACT have long campaigned for Mallard's removal as Speaker, and a motion of no confidence in him remains on Parliament's order paper.

He has become unpopular with the public too. A 1News Kantar poll out this week found just 17 percent of voters thought he was doing a good job, almost half disapproved, the rest unsure.

But it is Parliament that appoints the Speaker, and with Labour holding a majority his fate is in the hands of the party leader - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

She said she had not seen what Mallard said at Select Committee, but it was a tough job.

"It's an incredibly difficult job, it's a highly political job, and as I've said the Speaker has my support even if we don't always agree on every decision he makes.

No caption

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"You look back through history, it's very hard to find a speaker who pleases everyone. It's a no-win role, it's incredibly tough, you're the referee of 120 politicians."

Not good enough, says National, with Bishop urging her to step in.

"Jacinda Ardern's the leader of the Labour Party, the moment the government loses confidence in Trevor Mallard he will have to go as speaker. And so the decision is really in her hands.

"We call on her to do the right thing, do the decent thing actually, and remove Trevor Mallard from office."

Mallard on Parliament Security and protest inquiries

At the Select Committee, Mallard was also asked whether Parliament had set aside any funding for a wider inquiry into what happened during the protests.

He said no, and whether there was a wider inquiry than that being undertaken by the IPCA was a matter for the Parliamentary Service Commission - a group of MPs from all parties - to discuss and advise on.

"To date, I haven't been advised that that's appropriate, either by staff or the commission," he said.

He said more work would need to be done on the security of the Parliamentary precinct, including consideration of entrances and exits, and discussion would need to be had over keeping New Zealand's Parliament accessible and open in comparison to many other countries.

"I think it is wonderful but it means - if we're not doing the perimeter security heavily, or we might want to have an option of doing perimeter security ... it does mean the perimeter at the point of the buildings and also the monitoring of the area immediately outside, needs to be better than it has been."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs