Parliament is known to be a bear pit. MPs and officials alike can tell stories of bruising encounters within its walls.

There's the debating chamber, where few holds are barred, especially during the general debate. There's a roaming pack of press gallery journalists who can smell blood a mile away and are ready to put an unprepared MP on the spot.

The environment is deemed so toxic at times that Speaker Trevor Mallard has an investigation under way into bullying and harassment of staff at Parliament.

Speaker Trevor Mallard with Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime's baby Heeni during a debate in 2017. Photo / Parliament TV
Speaker Trevor Mallard with Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime's baby Heeni during a debate in 2017. Photo / Parliament TV

But Mallard is also working on other ways to make it a kinder, gentler place.

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A long-time animal lover, the former hard man of Parliament can often be seen with one of the three dogs he shares with wife Jane Clifton, a journalist.

And he encourages all staff to bring in their four-legged friends, telling the Herald the presence of dogs humanises the parliamentary precinct and brings people together.

Yesterday for example, Mallard walked through the corridor of the press gallery with Violet, his and Clifton's Australian shepherd. She brought out hordes of reporters ready for some canine affection.

They got that in spades, but they also got a wee accident in the middle of the press gallery hallway. Nobody likes the media.

Trevor Mallard with Violet in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Trevor Mallard with Violet in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Mallard is willing to turn a blind eye to the odd accident, like the time Violet left a present in the corner of the Labour caucus room when she was a puppy.

And the time she got overexcited about meeting police dog puppies and peed under his desk last year.

She wasn't the first, and she won't be the last.

An unnamed Beehive staffer tells of a doggie visitor making a beeline for a minister's office and relieving itself behind the desk.

Mallard, who has been bringing his dogs to Parliament for the past 25 years, sneaking them in at the weekends, said there was a gap in the policy.

Some people brought them in, others thought they weren't allowed.

It was a discussion he held early on, when he was first proposed as Speaker. The consensus was that as long as other people working in the room where dogs would be present didn't object, and as long as the pets didn't go into the cafe and were brought in through the back, they could be allowed.

"Dogs sort of humanise a place. They are quite often a way of getting a bit of tension out of the workplace and can often bring staff and Members together in a positive experience."

None of his dogs, Violet, Jeeves (another Australian shepherd) and Elsa (an elderly rescue Chow), have been in the debating chamber.

Mallard said that might be a step too far, but if an MP needed a dog for a disability that would be different.

There was also an MP who had been contemplating training guide dogs, which he said would be allowed in the debating chamber to get them used to unusual situations.

Trevor Mallard is a long-time animal lover. Photo / Stuart Munro
Trevor Mallard is a long-time animal lover. Photo / Stuart Munro

It has been one of Mallard's defining missions as Speaker to make Parliament more friendly, particularly family-friendly.

MPs with young children have been encouraged to bring them into the House. Mallard held Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime's baby Heeni when her mother was busy debating paid parental leave.

Speaker Trevor Mallard with Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime's baby Heeni during a debate in 2017. Photo / Parliament TV
Speaker Trevor Mallard with Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime's baby Heeni during a debate in 2017. Photo / Parliament TV

Green MP Julie Anne Genter and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are among Members who bring their young children to work regularly.

Meanwhile, Mallard's vision of a playground at the front of Parliament's grounds will get under way shortly, with construction due to start in June.

Mallard hoped the play area, which will consist of a slide, a pole maze and balance beams, would encourage families to visit Parliament, and to make the experience more welcoming, enjoyable and accessible.

Speaker Trevor Mallard and Violet at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Speaker Trevor Mallard and Violet at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In another move to make Parliament more accessible, Copperfield's cafe in the Beehive is open to the public on non-sitting days.