It’s spring in Wellington. Broken umbrellas in downtown rubbish-bins are as sure a sign as the rush of buds and blossoms.
There is also new life emerging at Parliament, which was a dour and empty place during the higher alert levels.
At level 2 MPs are back in force, minus (most of) the large Auckland contingent; and there is energy and volume back in the debating chamber.
Our Sunday radio edition of The House reviews Parliament’s week of business - you can read about that here (for government business) and here (for member’s bills) - or you can listen to highlights from the week at the link above.
Instead of rehashing those stories here, we give you a more visual impression of the return to the House.
Spring is definitely here. It was delivered in boxes. The free daffodils on Parliament’s forecourt were actually a protest by flower growers unable to sell all their spring crops. Or was it a fiendish plot to fill Parliament’s halls with hayfever and have MPs lining up for precautionary Covid tests? This was actually from the previous (and first) week back in the House.
Inside the House is a more formal affair under level 2. The Speaker has implemented a cautious level 2.5 inside the chamber with masks de rigeur. Here the Clerk of the House David Wilson mans The Table - and with both cape and mask cuts a Zorro-esque impression.
In England’s House of Lords the changing room still has special storage loops for members’ swords. Could there be incognito sword-play here too?
Parliament’s current Covid-19 measures include staggered seating which can leave an MP feeling slightly isolated. Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins plays to the audience while her Senior Whip Matt Doocey and Covid-19 spokesperson Chris Bishop watch.
Across the chamber, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern listens carefully to a Judith Collins supplementary question. The art of answering is not just to answer the current question but to see (and if necessary forestall) where it may be leading.
The Speaker demands silence for questions and so they often feel like a small moment of zen before the next onslaught of interjections.
Back across on the opposition side, the newly elevated Shadow Leader of the House Michael Woodhouse, doubly armed with pens, expresses umbrage at a Government answer.
During the General Debate on Wednesday, Labour’s Peeni Henare spoke about vaccination efforts, and finished with cheeky vax catch-cry couplets.
“I said, in my last contribution in the House, the beauty about being bilingual is the play between Māori and English, and I used a particular kōrero last time, which was, ‘Be a doer, and not a hua.’ That's about receiving the vaccine. The one I want to leave with the House today is, ‘Don't be a tero, get the wero’.”
Next on her feet was National’s agriculture spokesperson Barbara Kuriger in matching party colours. She had things to say about the Government’s Three Waters reform, and a catchy talking point repurposed from Tuesday’s debate on the drinking water bill: “We used to be number eight wired people, and now all we get is strangulation by red tape.”
Also during the General Debate Labour’s Kiri Allan picked up Peeni Henare’s wero and also spoke about vaccination; especially the East Cape’s sad history of brushes with passing plagues. Especially Te Whānau-ā-Apanui on the western side of East Cape where 13 hapū have 13 mass graves of family buried during the 1916 pandemic.
“They have shown incredible leadership to destigmatise the impacts of the vaccination. They have this wonderful doctor there, Dr Rachel Thomson, who has built the trust over many years, working alongside the hapū up there. Their iwi tribal leadership have gone around, talked to the whānau, delivered crayfish, and whatnot. They will have one of the highest vaccination rates in Aotearoa per population because that 1916 memory is so alive in their DNA, wiping out almost a generation.”
Kir Allan is one of Parliament’s most dynamic speakers, and a relief to photography in an often static debating chamber - so there are a few more moments from this speech below. It would be a shame to waste them.
Duncan Webb’s speech is watched by both The Speaker and the Clerk at the Table. The MP who currently has ‘the call’ is the only one in the chamber allowed to be unmasked - a very visual reference to their right to speak.
This also has the effect of somewhat muffling the interjections from MPs disagreeing with the current speech.
The Speaker Trevor Mallard presiding in a black mask branded with Parliament’s crest. It’s a serious looking covering that does not invite naughtiness from the rank and file.