Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Commission Opening of NZ Parliament

New Zealand’s 52nd Parliament has begun. Today was the Commission Opening of Parliament, the swearing in of the new Members of Parliament and the selection of a Speaker. This happens after every General Election, regardless of whether there’s been a change or government or a re-elected government. It establishes the authority of the new Parliament under law, so it’s very important. The following videos are taken from the live broadcast from the House today.

Reading of Letters Patent

In this video, the Royal Commissioners, three senior judges appointed by the Governor General, enter the House of Representatives Debating Chamber in Parliament, preceded by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (that’s the black stick he’s holding). They then read the Letters Patent appointing them.

Proclamation summoning Parliament

After reading the Letters Patent, the Commissioners read the Proclamation summoning Parliament, followed by a request to select a Speaker who will be presented to the Governor General for confirmation as Speaker. There is also a video following this one [WATCH], but just showing the Commissioners leaving, and the very beginning of the video following it, the next one I’ll talk about.

Swearing in members of Parliament

In this video, the longest of them by far, the Clerk of the House of Representatives administers the Affirmation or Oath of Allegiance, calling MPs in alphabetical order, one to three MPs at a time.

Each Member of Parliament has the right to say either the oath or affirmation, and to do so in either English or Te Reo Māori. After that, they are entitled to repeat the oath in their native language if they want to. The first five people sworn in demonstrate all of that. This is why MPs are sometimes called alone: The person following them is doing something different. They’re called in groups of two or three when they’re all doing the exact same thing—oath or affirmation, and in the same language. It’s kind of interesting how some are better at reading in unison than others are.

It’s worth noting that nothing whatsoever can be concluded by whether MPs choose the oath or the affirmation: Some religious people prefer to use the affirmation, for example. On the other hand, New Zealand is a very secular nation, and many members probably have no religion. You just can’t tell what their story is based only on which they choose.

While I would prefer that the oath and affirmation be worded differently (a topic in itself), this is a remarkably egalitarian and democratic way of doing things. And, yes, I watched or listened to most of it.

Election of the Speaker

In this video, the new Speaker of Parliament was selected. However, it descended into a circus and farce, courtesy of the National Party. The Opposition decided to play stupid games and tried to trick the Government into thinking they didn’t have the votes to elect a Speaker, and National would nominate someone. To get National’s support, the Government had to allow more National Party MPs onto select committees—something they’ve been arguing about pretty much since the Government was formed. So, in other words, it was a power play by the Opposition.

This must never happen again.

National has now demonstrated that they will use every tactic, no matter how underhanded or deceptive, to try and derail the elected Government. Apparently, they just can’t accept that they’re not in government anymore, and are having a perpetually bad day.

Be that as it may, the Government apparently didn’t realise that they did, in fact, have the votes to elect a Speaker without National, which is why National didn’t push for a vote. The government must never again not know how many votes are there, no matter what games National plays. They must also be prepared for more silly games from National—because there will be a lot of games played by them.

At any rate, the new Speaker, Trevor Mallard, was selected unopposed, and he makes his first remarks as Speaker at about 7:40 in the video. At the conclusion of those remarks, at about 13:20, the Serjeant-at-Arms bends over and picks up the Mace, which is the symbol of the Speaker’s authority, and places it on the table in front of the Speaker’s seat. At that point, Parliament is officially in session (though it can be even if the Mace isn’t present or in the right place—it’s just a symbol).

After the election of the Speaker, party leaders congratulate the new Speaker, and it’s mostly good-natured, though with a dig or two. Those videos are available for viewing the NZ Parliament’s YouTube Channel, “In The House NZ”.

In the final video posted to YouTube today [WATCH], the Speaker made his final remarks, and then adjourned the House until 10:30am tomorrow for the State Opening of Parliament, and the Speech from The Throne by the Governor General (the speech is written by the Government). The speech will be followed by the Address-in-reply Debate, leading into the maiden speeches by new MPs. This can take several days, so it’s broken up so the House can get on with ordinary business, including eh first Question Time in the new Parliament on Thursday.

But the main thing is, New Zealand’s 52nd Parliament is now in business.

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