After 35 years in Parliament – and one of the more controversial terms as Speaker in recent memory – Trevor Mallard is leaving the building in mid-August to take up a diplomatic post in Europe.
Mallard, who first entered Parliament as a Labour MP in 1984, was always a slightly unusual choice for Speaker, says NBR political editor Brent Edwards.
In its purest form, the Speaker is a referee – a neutral observer and enforcer of the parliamentary rules – and given the often-rancorous disputes Mallard was embroiled in with National MPs over the years, it was always going to be hard to win over some in the Opposition.
“In Parliament, he had a reputation in the debating chamber for being one of the more difficult, disruptive MPs. There was a bit of irony when he was appointed … it was very much the poacher-turned-gamekeeper.”
It’s worth noting that Mallard oversaw a unique time in New Zealand politics. But Edwards says, nonetheless, some of the decisions he made seemed to bely his decades of parliamentary experience, such as falsely accusing a parliamentary staffer of rape, and how Mallard dealt with the occupation of Parliament grounds.
“He’s still open to making some quite clear political botch-ups you might not expect from someone with that experience, and that’s probably because he’s always retained that thing where he’ll jump in and speak first without always considering what the consequences might be of what he’s saying.”
However, Edwards says Mallard did introduce some reforms which may stand the test of time.
“He’s made the place more informal and family-friendly – and, I might add, dog-friendly as well – but also that review that was done around the bullying and conduct at Parliament: I think the longer-term thing of that will be, maybe people’s behaviour around Parliament will be a bit better, particularly those that work there who do have a power imbalance with MPs and others. Maybe they will be treated better.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern noted in her speech announcing Mallard’s retirement from the office that he would be taking up a diplomatic post overseas, following in the steps of other long-serving MPs like Annette King, Jonathan Hunt, Lockwood Smith, Jim Bolger, and Mike Moore, among others.
This has led to some eye-rolling, and accusations of ‘jobs for the boys’.
But Edwards says there’s a logic to it.
“For instance, Jim Bolger and Mike Moore, both former prime ministers, going to Washington in the US. I think it was clear that they got access at a political level because of their political background and their political contacts – and the fact they were prime ministers – that a career diplomat wouldn’t have got.
“Equally, a former Speaker, for instance, in London: the role of Speaker is an elevated role, it also gives you a certain amount of kudos in a country like that, and maybe some access.”
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