National's Chris Bishop appeared to be stunned today as Speaker Trevor Mallard admitted he knew "within 24 hours" that he was wrong about his rapist in Parliament accusation that led to a costly defamation case.
Mallard today appeared before a Select Committee over the defamation case, which has cost taxpayers $333,600 to settle. The legal dispute was spurred by him incorrectly describing an allegation as rape in the Parliament bullying and harassment report.
Mallard opened the Select Committee hearing by apologising to Parliament “and also to New Zealanders for my mistake”.
“The comments I made in error were in relation to serious concerns being raised about the safety of Parliament service staff following those findings being reporting,” he said.
During questioning from the Opposition, Mallard was asked by Bishop, "When did you realise you’d made a mistake?"
"Probably within 24 hours," Mallard replied.
"Of making the initial comments?" Bishop asked, looking stunned.
"Yep," Mallard responded.
"So why didn’t you do something after the 24 hours? Why didn’t you turn around the next day and say, 'I made a mistake. That is not correct?'" Bishop pressed the Speaker.
"Because there was an employment process involved and I didn’t want to interfere with it," Mallard replied.
Bishop continued his line of questioning.
"Is it really your position that because there was an employment process underway you couldn’t say you had erred in your words?"
Mallard responded: "I’d clearly made the mistake but I didn’t want to delve in to an area which would have been inappropriate for me to do so."
Bishop then gave his final perspective on the line of questioning.
"MPs misspeak all the time and normally we try and clear it up — particularly in this circumstance when there are very few worse things to call someone in such a public way in such a public forum with all the media scrutiny.
"I just don’t understand why if you’d realised you’d made a mistake after 24 hours you just didn’t clear it up.
"It would have saved the taxpayer the best part of $330,000," Bishop said.
Mallard didn't respond to the comments and National MP Michael Woodhouse then began asking questions of his own.
On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said appearing before the Select Committee was the "right thing to do".
"My view is, and obviously he agrees, he has made a mistake. No one is debating that. Does that change my view he is the right person for that job? No, it doesn't."
Mallard’s apology to the individual was brought as hard copy to the press gallery in Parliament after 4pm on Tuesday last week by a staff member.
Mallard said this was due to being the first day Parliament sat since the agreement was reached, and the late timing was because of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 terrorist attack was released earlier that day.
“Out of respect to the victims and their families, I waited until journalists were released from the lock up and the debate in the House had completed. I believe this was the most respectful and appropriate thing to do,” he said today.