Chaos as Parliament staffer stood down

After a day of chaos, a member of the Parliamentary Service has been stood down following an allegation of sexual assault.

A day after the release of the Francis report into workplace bullying and harassment at Parliament, a staff member from the Parliamentary Service has been stood down from work following a historical allegation of assault. 

Speaker Trevor Mallard said he had been informed that Parliamentary Service had stood the man down that morning, after a complaint had been laid with the general manager of the service.

That complaint was laid after Mallard told RNZ's Morning Report that he believed there had been serious assaults at Parliament that he viewed as rape and that the offenders could still be working on the precinct.

Mallard would not comment further as the matter was an active employment matter.

“I do not want to cut across any employment or possible police investigations, but I am satisfied that the Parliamentary Service has removed a threat to the safety of women working in the Parliamentary complex."

The matter could still be referred to the police. Mallard said it was incumbent on the person involved to decide whether or not she wished to pursue that avenue.

Parliamentary Service later released a statement saying the incident had previously been investigated, but the investigation had been re-opened following an approach from the complainant.

The original investigation was not into allegations of rape. 

The allegations came in the wake of the Debbie Francis review into bullying at Parliament, released on Wednesday, which uncovered multiple behavioural issues, including allegations of sexual assault. 

Mallard took those remarks further. 

"We can interpret any sexual assault as being serious, but three appear to be in the rape category," he said. "My view is that any serious sexual assault, man on woman, is rape,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast.

Until Mallard’s comments, interpretations of the Francis review had not reported any incidents of rape in its findings, although 14 people said they had been victims of sexual assault.

Mallard then disappeared for media until later that afternoon. During this period, a complaint was laid with Parliamentary service and the staff member in question was stood down. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for a meeting with Mallard and leader of the house Chris Hipkins after hearing his comments to media. 

She sought Mallard’s assurance Parliament was a safe place for women to work. 

Ardern also suggested Mallard meet with all party leaders to brief them on the steps he was taking to ensure the safety of people who worked at Parliament.  

“We were all given assurances by the Speaker that he was taking appropriate steps that this was a safe place to work,” she said. 

The Speaker is both the landlord and manager of Parliament and oversees everything from the management of Parliament’s buildings to the conduct of its staff. 

Questions have been raised about the handling of the matter by Mallard and Parliament, given the allegations were made on breakfast television. There were also concerns raised about how the matter should proceed given complainants had confided to the Francis review on condition of anonymity.

This raised questions about balancing the safety of staff working at Parliament against the right of complainants to have their confidence respected.

Jan Logie, Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice with responsibility for domestic and sexual violence, said it was crucial the confidence of people who confided in the Francis review was upheld.

“You cannot betray the trust of those who disclose to us,” Logie said.

“The more that we inflame this, the more exposed those victims are going to feel, you’re going to undermine the confidence they have to go through a court process. We have to take measures to ensure workplaces are safe,” she said. 

Conor Twyford, director of Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP said care should be taken with what happens next,

“When these things hit the media it can be quite triggering for the people who are involved,” she said. 

“A knee-jerk response of taking issues straight to the police doesn’t always serve the interest of the people involved.”

Mallard said he he regretted the way the issue had played out, and took some responsibility for it. 

“I think it is clear that some people in the media have a different understanding of the law than I do and some people have a different understanding of how people are traumatised and it would have been better if it had not played out like that, I have some responsibility for that and I accept it,” Mallard said. 

Need help? 

Rape Crisis - 0800 88 33 00 (Will direct you to a nearby centre), follow link for information on local helpline.

Victim Support - 0800 842 846 (24hr service)

The Harbour, online support and information for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour

Women's Refuge (For women and children) - crisis line available on 0800 733 843

Safe to talk - 0800 044 334, text 4334 or web chat

Male Survivors Aotearoa (For men) - follow link for regional helplines

If you or someone else is in immediate danger call 111.

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