Speaker Trevor Mallard is using the legal immunity of parliamentary privilege tonight to explain why he falsely accused a worker at Parliament of being a rapist.
He is bound by a mediation agreement not to speak about the matter outside parliamentary proceedings, but tonight is speaking in the House during the annual review of the Parliamentary Service and the Office of the Clerk, for which he is the responsible Minister.
He has previously billed tonight as “where the truth will be told”, and is expected to speak – and face questions – at about 8pm.
Mallard’s false claim cost taxpayers more than $330,000 – including more than $175,000 in legal fees and a $158,000 ex-gratia to the former staffer to settle a defamation claim – and led to the National Party calling for him to resign.
He made the rape claims in media interviews on May 22, 2019, after the release of the Francis report into bullying and harassment at Parliament.
He said he believed a man was responsible for three serious sexual assaults mentioned in the review, and that he believed the man was still working at Parliament.
After the former staffer was stood down, Mallard said that a threat to safety had been removed from the premises.
The former staffer had been the subject of complaints from two women but the complaints were not of rape. An investigation into his conduct found no wrongdoing could be substantiated.
The former staffer lashed out at Mallard, saying he felt bullied out of the workplace and was the victim of Mallard’s “slanderous” comments.
Mallard told a parliamentary committee last year that he realised his mistake “probably within 24 hours” of making the original comments.
In settling the defamation case, Mallard issued an apology in December last year – on the afternoon of the release of the Royal Commission of Inquiry’s report into the March 15 terror attacks.
The former staffer quit his job but says he was constructively dismissed – the subject of an ongoing employment dispute.
Parliamentary Service general manager Rafael Gonzales-Montero told a parliamentary select committee in March that he was unwilling to settle the claim.
“I am not willing to settle with anybody that I believe has done something wrong,” Gonzales-Montero said.
“If we get taken to court and we lose, I’d rather lose because we have done the right thing.”
National MP Chris Bishop then called for Mallard’s resignation during a speech in Parliament, accusing him a gross abuse of power, while Mallard was in the chair.
Court documents showed how Mallard had persisted with the allegation even after learning from Gonzales-Montero that the staffer had not been accused of rape, Bishop said.
“Mr Mallard said he planned to prove in court the plaintiff was a rapist. He intended to do this knowing it was false,” Bishop said in his March speech.
“The consequences of this are severe,” he said. “Mr Mallard was either planning on misleading the court or he has misled Parliament. These are not the actions of someone fit to be Speaker.”
Mallard said the whole speech was out of order – “but because I was involved, I thought it was not appropriate to stop the speech.”
He said he would look forward to the annual review of Parliamentary Service spending, “where the truth will be told”.
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