24 Oct 2018

100 years of Parliament's debating chamber

From The House , 6:55 pm on 24 October 2018

The green chairs and wooden panelling of Parliament's debating chamber are a familiar backdrop to speeches, witty remarks, and naughty quips and today marks 100 years since MPs first sat in the chamber.

The House debates the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Monetary Policy) Amendment Bill with Assistant Speaker Poto Williams presiding.

The House debates the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (Monetary Policy) Amendment Bill with Assistant Speaker Poto Williams presiding. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Chamber was rushed to completion in time for the first sitting in 1918, while the rest of the building wasn't finished off until 1922. 

Construction was marred by strike action by workers, as well as negative reactions from the press and MPs who were unimpressed with the acoustics and the lack of air conditioning. Presumably for a few years they exited the chamber and found themselves amid a building site.

More on the chamber from Parliament's website.

Upgrades mean today's chamber is much nicer to sit in, and the Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard acknowledged the anniversary by quoting the then Prime Minister William Massey who said:

"The fact of our being here today is a promise of better things in the future and I have no doubt that promise will be kept. It will of course be in the minds of Honourable Members that the chamber in which we have met this afternoon will in all probability be the principle legislative chamber of the dominion for long after the present generation has passed away, perhaps for centuries to come.

"I hope that within its walls legislation will be framed for the good government of the dominion which will mete out just and equal treatment for and between different classes of the community and which will encourage national sentiment and national ideas which will tend to make this country honoured and respected not only within the British empire but among the whole of the nations of the world.”

The Speaker Trevor Mallard and the Clerk David Wilson at their posts for Orals Questions

The Speaker Trevor Mallard and the Clerk David Wilson at their posts for Orals Questions Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Part of the work to make sure that legislation will “mete out just and equal treatment” is done during question time, in which the Government is quizzed on its performance.


Opposition Leader Simon Bridges asked the first of the anniversary day's 12 oral questions. His was to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on "whether she stands by all her Government’s statements and actions?"


It's a general question which has the advantage of concealing the question asker's subsequent angle of attack, but it also allows the answer to be equally general, and the Prime Minister took the opportunity to list some of the Government's achievements which included extending paid parental leave, increasing the minimum wage, and implementing the Families Package.



The Prime Minister's minute-long answer listing her administration's actions may have been prompted by another political anniversary today; it's roughly one year since the coalition government was formed.


"That was a Government coming together from three parties with different traditions but shared values for this country to form a coalition government that I am extremely proud to be a member of," said Minister of Finance Grant Robertson during the general debate.

The general debate involves 12 speeches of up to five minutes each, and happens after question time on Wednesdays. Debates in the chamber are normally restricted to the topic of a bill, so this is the chance MPs have to talk about subjects that normally wouldn't be allowed.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivers his speech for Budget 2018.

Minister of Finance Grant Robertson. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Mr Robertson used his time to take stock of the coalition Government's performance.

"If we just pick off the big issues of that election campaign last year: the worry that New Zealanders had that not all New Zealanders were benefiting from economic growth," he said. 

"We turned that around in the first 100 days. We said "no" to tax cuts that favoured the wealthiest New Zealanders and turned that back to being low and middle income New Zealanders actually getting a fair share."

On the other side of the House the Opposition also took stock.

"Over the last few days what have we seen from this Government?," said National Party Leader Simon Bridges.

Simon Bridges

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"We've seen petrol prices rise at an unprecedented rate in the history of New Zealand. People filling up for the long weekend who can't afford it are doing it tough. We've seen bus strikes—the 15th transport strike this year. That's more than we had in a decade."

Mr Bridges said the country has a Government "that loves tax, that loves spending," and said National will hold the Government to account.

That's also something that has been happening in this room for a century, and if Massey was correct, will continue for a long while yet.  

Full transcripts of the general debate can be read here.