29 Aug 2023

First, dissolve your Parliament

From The House , 4:15 pm on 29 August 2023
Melting Parliament

Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Before New Zealand can hold an election in October, a little polite brutality is required. First you must dissolve the current Parliament. No-one wants two parliaments at once do they? That would be a whole new kind of chaos. 

Because this is Parliament, and not the mafia this dissolution involves no baths of acid. Lucky that - marble isn’t easy to dissolve.

Parliament will formally dissolve at 11am on Friday 8 September.  The event will take place in public on the steps of Parliament. That’s brutal. 

It’ll only take a few minutes and involve a simple proclamation of a couple of sentences, read out by the New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary to the King (the job title is nearly as long as the proclamation). The Herald does this on the authority of the Governor-General, who is New Zealand’s representative of the Sovereign.

Parliament dissolves every three years, only to spring back to life, fully formed (if somewhat differently populated), a couple of months later, when summoned again by the Governor-General.

Listen: The Clerk of the House David Wilson and Clerk Assistant Suze Jones explain the dissolution

The final meeting of the 53rd Parliament includes a debate about whether to adjourn or not. (Spoiler Alert: they will agree.) But while Parliament can adjourn it doesn’t have the authority to bring itself to a proper conclusion - that’s the job of the Sovereign, who summoned Parliament together in the first place. The Sovereign giveth and the Sovereign taketh away.

New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary to the Queen Phillip O'Shea signs the proclamation dissolving the 51st Parliament.

New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary to the Queen Phillip O'Shea signs the proclamation dissolving the 51st Parliament. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Having only adjourned Parliament will be scheduled (on paper at least) to meet again on 12 September. The dissolution is what properly clears the slate for the election.

The dissolution doesn’t cause the election though, or require it. The election happens because the Governor-General calls for a new Parliament - which requires an election. This summons happens not long after the dissolution - as a sort of promise of continued democracy - but the actual date when a new Parliament meets will depend on the next Prime Minister who will advise the Governor-General.

But - and this bit is where people get confused - the government doesn’t dissolve - just the current Parliament that provided the government, provided oversight over the government, and passed laws for it.

The MPs don't ‘dissolve’ either. The MPs are still MPs until election day, and the ministers remain ministers until a new government is formed to replace them. 

You can watch the dissolution of the 53rd Parliament live on Parliament’s Facebook page. And on Youtube here. And on Vimeo here. It’s at 11am on Friday 8 September. 

Fun Fact: The Interregnum

At Parliament (the institution), the period when there is no Parliament (the meeting of MPs), is informally referred to as 'The Interregnum'. Interregnum means 'between the reigns' and refers to a gap in normal government.  

The irony is that while New Zealand lacks a Parliament it has a sovereign during our interregnum, the most famous interregnum is when Britain lacked a sovereign but had a succession of parliaments. That was in the 17th century between the execution of Charles I and the restoration of Charles II eleven years later.

The reign is uninterrupted in New Zealand; there continues to be both a sovereign and a government even while MPs aren’t meeting. And the MPs remain MPs and can be recalled to Parliament if necessary, by the Governor-General.

Fun Fact II: The Extraordinary

Phillip O'Shea is the only Herald at Arms Extraordinary to the King that New Zealand has ever had. He was appointed to the role by the Queen in 1978 (before well more than half of New Zealanders were even born). While in his role as Herald, he has seen 11 Prime Ministers. This will be his 7th dissolution ceremony.