8 Nov 2017

Parliament goes full pomp for State Opening

From The House , 10:35 pm on 8 November 2017

MPs were summoned, roped off, and locked in to hear the Governor General's Speech from the Throne.

The State Opening of Parliament.

The State Opening of Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The speech is part of the State Opening of Parliament in which the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy explains why she has summoned Parliament.

It's one of the principal state occasions and the ceremony includes welcoming the Governor General with a powhiri, fanfare, 21 gun salute and some unusual traditions like roping the MPs into their seats.

Dignitaries such as ambassadors, judges and the Mayor of Wellington are invited to the Speech from the Throne (given from actual thrones made of enamel and red silk upholstery) but the speech itself is actually written by the Government.

It outlines the Government's legislative plan for the parliamentary term and once it's delivered, it's debated in the House in what's called the Address in Reply.

Before MPs get stuck into the debate there are some other formalities to sort out like appointing Deputy and Assistant Speakers and as the Government found out, the Opposition was more than willing to live up to its name.

The Leader of the House, Labour MP Chris Hipkins, nominated fellow Labour MP Poto Williams for Assistant Speaker but Ms Williams had not yet been sworn into the House and National MP Simon Bridges questioned whether she could be nominated.

"It is a question of whether she is validly able to be a presiding officer given that she [has not been] sworn in," he said to the Speaker.

MPs are MPs regardless of whether they are sworn into the House but they cannot speak or vote until they are sworn in.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard said he was "confident" Ms Williams could be given the role.

"I just want to make absolutely clear to the member that it is a matter that I have looked into," he said.

"I have researched and I am absolutely confident that the Member is able to be elected as a presiding officer of this Parliament because she is a Member of Parliament not withstanding the fact she hasn't been sworn in."

Poto Williams was elected as one of two Assistant Speakers but the Government's other nomination also hit a snag.

Party leaders and whips cannot be appointed as presiding officers and Mr Bridges argued against the nomination of Adrian Rurawhe as the second assistant Speaker because Mr Rurawhe's name is on the door for the Labour Whip's office. 

Mr Mallard told Mr Bridges he was "trifling with the House" and Mr Rurawhe was appointed to the role.

The position of Deputy Speaker was assigned to National's Anne Tolley.