(Bloomberg) — New Zealand Speaker Trevor Mallard will step down following a number of controversies, including blasting protesters on parliament grounds with Barry Manilow songs.
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Mallard will leave his role in mid-August before taking up a diplomatic post in Europe in early 2023, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday in Wellington. She denied the move has anything to do with criticism of Mallard’s behavior, saying he told her after the 2020 election that he wanted to transition out of the Speaker’s role.
“Every Speaker, in their time in this incredibly difficult and highly political role, has at times faced points of pressure or disgruntlement from the opposition,” Ardern told a news conference. “Trevor’s had a very hard job, exacerbated by some issues that no other Speaker has faced. That is not the cause of his departure.”
Mallard, 67, is a political veteran who served as a minister in previous Labour Party administrations. He has been a controversial Speaker, generating headlines Ardern’s government could do without as it faces a rejuvenated opposition National Party ahead of an election next year.
In a recent 1News Kantar poll, which showed support for Labour at 35% against 39% for National, just 17% of respondents approved of the way Mallard was conducting himself as Speaker.
In 2020, Mallard had to apologize after he made unsubstantiated claims that a parliamentary staffer had raped someone, reportedly paying several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money to settle the resulting defamation case.
Earlier this year, he drew criticism for his response to anti-vaccine protesters camped on parliament lawns. He turned sprinklers on them and blasted songs by Manilow, Celine Dion and James Blunt over loud speakers in an effort to get them to leave — tactics that failed and that police said they hadn’t endorsed.
Mallard has been Speaker for five of his 35 years as a member of parliament.
Ardern on Monday also announced a mini Cabinet reshuffle that includes a change of police minister, after incumbent Poto Williams became a target for opposition parties during a period of heightened gang violence. Education Minister Chris Hipkins will take the police portfolio.
Kris Faafoi, who holds the justice, immigration and broadcasting portfolios, will leave parliament in coming weeks to spend more time with his family, Ardern said.
The departures of Mallard and Faafoi will not trigger by-elections because they are both list MPs and don’t represent electorates.
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