Parliament's Speaker Trevor Mallard is expected to appear before a select committee today for questioning after foisting a $330,000 bill on the taxpayer for a legal dispute, entirely of his making.
It's another extraordinary development in a year so full of surprises.
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Trevor Mallard defamation case: Settling Speaker's false rape claim against staffer costs taxpayers $333,000 - National
As with so many political bombs, Mallard inadvertently called the airstrike on himself with good intentions. Desiring to clear the air of perceived bullying and harassment, he commissioned independent reviewer Debbie Francis to look into "harmful" behaviour in Parliament.
The day after the Francis report was released, Mallard over-egged his justification for it by claiming an accused rapist was working in Parliament. Subsequently, the rumours swirled and zeroed in on an individual; a staff member was stood down; and the staff member launched defamation proceedings.
It has since come to light that Mallard's failed attempt to defend the action and its eventual settlement cost the taxpayer more than $333,000 in an ex-gratia payment and legal fees. As part of the resolution, Mallard last week publicly apologised for the comments.
At some point during the defamation action, the rules were changed to ensure taxpayers paid Mallard's bill. The rule-change was not specifically devised for this case but the timing is both a windfall and dreadful for Mallard's standing in the public eye.
National leader Judith Collins has already made it clear the Opposition will not let the matter rest, saying the party has lost confidence in Mallard. National has indicated it will move a motion of no confidence next year - likely to fail, given Labour's majority but raking the sorry matter up again.
Indeed, the Opposition would remiss not to do so if it is not strenuously dealt with by the select committee. First and foremost for the damage to the reputation and career of the staff member, but also for the ensuing attempts to defend it while clocking up a bill to the public.
Other aspects are additionally troubling and raise further doubts over the judgment of a man charged with holding New Zealand's third most important office, constitutionally, after the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.
The timing of his apology, coinciding with the well-advertised release of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques, may not have been intended to screen his humiliation. But a man of Mallard's political experience should have recognised the risk of it appearing that way.
The entire saga also injures the so-called MeToo movement, a rallying of support for genuine victims of sexual abuse and sexual harassment where people publicise allegations of sex crimes committed by powerful and/or prominent men. Any false rape claim undermines the real hurt and pursuit of justice in genuine cases. One from such high office, only more so.
Mallard's situation will be an ongoing distraction and impediment to the second term of Government for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. For a Government needing sharp focus on recovery from a pandemic and a stated desire for transformation, continuing in this role must surely be untenable.