5 Dec 2023

Parliament's new Speaker hints at free flow style

From The House , 6:55 pm on 5 December 2023

Parliament’s new Speaker has given a heads-up about how he intends to run proceedings in the chamber, with Standing Orders to be a mere guide rather than the strict line to follow.

The election of National’s Gerry Brownlee as Speaker was confirmed today by the Governor-General, amid the opening ceremonial stanzas of the 54th Parliament, which also included the swearing in of all MPs-elect.

Gerry Brownlee in the Speakers chair during the Commission Opening of Parliament.

Gerry Brownlee in the Speakers chair during the Commission Opening of Parliament. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The swearing in of MPs largely went by its usual conveyer belt routine, but proceedings were enlivened by the six MPs of Te Pati Māori adding their own versions of a second oath before also being sworn in according to Parliament protocol, while performing cultural expressions in between. 

It was immediately followed by the main business of the day, which also had its own element of theatre, with Brownlee being “dragged” as per Parliament tradition by a colleague out of his seat towards the big chair to be elected as the legislature’s Landlord and referee. Te Pāti Māori had nominated the previous Speaker, Adrian Rurawhe of the Labour Party, for the Speaker’s role again, but Rurawhe declined, leaving Brownlee unopposed in being elected.

Scenes from Parliament on Commission Opening Day 2023

Scenes from Parliament on Commission Opening Day 2023 Photo: VNP / Johnny Blades

Brownlee, who also happens to be the longest continuously serving member of the current parliament, offered an insight into what style he will bring to this important role.

“I just want to give some indication of how I might work. Firstly, can I say that our Standing Orders really are just a guide for how this House works. They are important and they give us a framework, but they're not absolute.”

He admitted he hadn’t got on well with some of the Speakers who served before him, but hoped he would have a better relationship with the House, before conceding his “biggest challenge will probably be keeping myself in order”. Brownlee told MPs about valuable advice he’d received as a young MP. 

“When I first came to this house I sat through the Address and Reply Debate where the party leaders were all speaking, one after the other,” he explained, “but that was, to say the least, a very ferocious debate for someone sitting for the first time in Parliament down the back of the house.

“And after it was over, Doug Kidd, who was a very good Speaker, said to me ‘so what did you think of that?’ and I said, ‘well Doug I don't know how I would ever manage to compete and participate in that environment’.

“His advice was simply osmosis: be here, learn from the environment, don't get too hung up on the rules, recognise that there's a free flow of debate and participate in it reasonably whenever you can - but above all learn.”

Gerry Brownlee and Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro.

Gerry Brownlee and Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro. Photo: Angus Dreaver / RNZ

After representatives from all the parties gave congratulations and spoke about Brownlee’s appointment, the Christchurch-based MP was then whipped across town to get confirmed as Speaker at Government House.

Tomorrow, MPs will sit again to hear the Speech from the Throne, delivered by the Governor-General, which is prepared by the new government and outlines its priorities and policy direction.

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