6 Feb 2017

Open slather on the big questions

From The House , 8:00 am on 6 February 2017

The first sitting of the House for the year is this week, beginning with the Prime Minister's Statement. Phil Smith explains what to expect.


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Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson


The Prime Minister’s statement is the annual equivalent of what the Governor General or the Queen does at the State Opening of a new Parliament (after an election).


It serves the same purpose (a mix of state of the nation and statement of intent) but with less pomp and pageantry.

Royal Commissioners being led by the Sheriff of the High Court up the steps of Parliament to the Commission opening of Parliament.

Royal Commissioners being led by the Sheriff of the High Court at the opening of Parliament in 2014. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell


The Prime Minister and each member of the governing coalition get a chance to outline a vision for their future intentions and every single opposition MP gets a chance to hold the government to account or to paint their own picture of what an alternative government would look like.


It’s one of the longest debates that happens here.


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Photo: CC0 1.0


The Prime Minister, and the leaders of Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First will each get 20 minutes, and other members get up to 10 minutes. The time limit is 13 hours.


Most debates in Parliament are very specific, focusing on a particular proposal put to the House and any MP speaking on that proposal has to stay relevant.


So, for example, an MP speaking on the current member’s bill which proposes big sports games should be available on free-to-air TV might discuss sport, television, and the cultural ties that bind us together, but can’t stray into criticising government tax policy or policing.


Fans watch nervously during the second half of the RWC 2015 final.

  Fans pack into a bar to watch the RWC 2015 final. Photo: RNZ / Michael Cropp


However when the debate is in response to something all encompassing, like the Prime Minister’s Statement outlining his government’s plans, then very little could be considered off-topic.


So this week is the perfect occasion to kick off an election year. Each party leader is likely to take the opportunity to make a first campaign pitch to the public. Their speeches will probably indicate the tone and messages of the campaign to come.


It will be an interesting week to follow Parliament closely.


It all starts at 2pm on Tuesday February 7th and will likely stretch through both Wednesday and Thursday’s sittings and possibly into the following week.


How many days it will last depends on whether the government has other business it wants to scatter into the mix. If this is the case, they will adjourn the debate for later.


2017 being an election year there will also be a formal State Opening of Parliament later in the year –  probably in late October after the September election.


The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae Governor General of New Zealand  during the official opening of Parliament in Wellington

  State Opening of Parliament in 2014. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski


Until the end of the Muldoon era, parliament would formally end its session for summer every year and begin afresh with a State Opening, but from 1984 the big event was saved up for new parliaments and the Prime Minister now kicks off the years in between.

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