The Herald reports:
Open warfare has broken out after National criticised Speaker Trevor Mallard’s handling of Parliament and criticised him for telling the media a National MP had described PM Jacinda Ardern as a “stupid little girl” – a comment it says has never been proven.
National’s shadow Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee has written to the Speaker, saying National’s confidence in him was “significantly shaken”.
Brownlee questioned whether the Speaker had told media a National MP had called Ardern a “stupid little girl” in Parliament earlier this month, a comment that did not appear to be heard by anybody else and could not be heard on Parliament TV.
Mallard has now confirmed to the Herald he did tell a journalist he had heard that comment. “I was asked by a journalist what the comment was. I answered.”
On May 9 when the “stupid little girl” comment was said to be made in Parliament, Mallard had called for a National MP to apologise for a “very sexist remark” but nobody owned up and Mallard would not repeat the comment when Brownlee asked what it was.
It was inadvisable of the Speaker to tell a journalist what he thought was said. It ended up as a major story that went global, effectively smearing multiple National MPs. It is no surprise that National MPs are upset.
The Speaker would have been far better to have referred the journalist to an audio recording. As it happens no such comment can be heard on the audio recordings.
Brownlee said if Mallard had passed on such information it was unacceptable.
No National MPs had heard the comment in question and all denied saying it. “If the source is the Speaker that is unacceptable. The Speaker cannot go briefing the media against the Opposition.”
The Speaker may not have intended to cause such an incident, but by talking to the journalist he is responsible for a story that went viral.
It came on the same day National’s deputy leader Paula Bennett walked out of Parliament after the Speaker docked five questions from National because he took offence at a comment made by Brownlee while Bennett was asking questions of the PM.
Bennett later said she had done so out of frustration at Mallard’s system of docking questions when he was displeased with an MP because it was arbitrary and unpredictable and made it hard for the Opposition to do its job.
In his letter, Brownlee said National was concerned about Mallard’s running of Parliament.
“Your arbitrary taking of questions from the Opposition and the disruption to proceedings are seriously limiting our ability to do our job of holding the Government to account.”
Brownlee told media that system effectively meant the Speaker was determining the level of accountability the Government faced. “That’s not acceptable.”
I thought the innovation of adding and deducting questions for disorderly conduct was a good idea in principle. But in practice it is not working, and it is causing major upsets. A political party should be able to know how many questions it has to ask the Government. I think the Speaker needs to look at more traditional ways of dealing with disorderly conduct.