Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

MP sticks to his guns on Mafia remark

Speaker may be looking for way to control Twitter comments personally, expert says.

Speaker David Carter (right) has referred the issue of Twitter to the Privileges Committee after Trevor Mallard tweeted he looked like 'a Mafia don'. Photo / NZ Herald
Speaker David Carter (right) has referred the issue of Twitter to the Privileges Committee after Trevor Mallard tweeted he looked like 'a Mafia don'. Photo / NZ Herald

The MP whose tweet caused the Speaker to refer the issue of Twitter to the Privileges Committee does not resile from his description of the Speaker as a "Mafia don".

The Speaker has referred the use of Twitter and other social media by MPs in Parliament to the Privileges Committee to consider how social media use affects Parliament's rules, such as contempt and privilege.

It followed concern from National's Gerry Brownlee about an MP using Twitter to criticise the Speaker. He did not name the MP, but Labour's Trevor Mallard had just objected to a decision by the Speaker, tweeting: "2nd week in a row where the Speaker looked like Mafia don running his @NZNationalParty protection racket."

In his ruling, Mr Carter said MPs needed to be clear about the rules, which should be reviewed. Tweets were actionable in court and could result in findings of contempt in Parliament.

"Accusations that the Speaker has shown partiality in discharging his or her duties have in the past been judged very seriously, given the special position the Speaker holds."

Mr Mallard, who has ambitions to be Speaker, has frequently been ejected from Parliament.

Yesterday Mr Mallard said he did not believe any change was required to Parliament's rules. He stood by his criticism, saying he praised Speakers when they were fair but criticised if they were not. "I've indicated I think Lockwood Smith was a very good Speaker, he ruled fairly and evenly. I think Mr Carter on occasions has not been up to that standard."

Otago University constitutional law expert Andrew Geddis said if Mr Mallard had made the comments in his tweet out loud in Parliament, he would not have got away with it.

"It's pretty on the point. The general rule is that bringing the Chair into disrepute or challenging the Speaker is a contempt of the House."

Mr Geddis said social media had made the Speaker's job harder and it was possible the Speaker was looking for a way to deal with Twitter comments himself, as soon as they came to his notice, rather than having them referred to the Privileges Committee.

Sledging the Speaker on Twitter

Trevor Mallard, May 13:
2nd week in a row where the Speaker looked like a Mafia don running his @NZNationalParty protection racket."
April 9: "Facial expression is important and Speaker shouldn't be seen to cheer for the Prime Minister."
June 6, 2013, after walking out over ruling on Peter Dunne's status as party leader: "Farcical ruling" and "I agree with @PeterDunneMP 'If you lose confidence in the Speaker then frankly you start to lose confidence in the whole system'."
Chris Hipkins, May 13: "The Speaker has enough trouble keeping control of what is happening in front of him in the House, forget trying to censor Twitter!"
March 27, 2013, ejected from Parliament: "Speaker Carter clearly has double standards."

- NZ Herald

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