Last week I attended the official opening of Parliament, a day of special significance because it is the 50th parliament elected within New Zealand in the past 150 years. This milestone makes New Zealand one of the oldest democracies in the world.
There's a great deal of pomp and ceremony attached to the official opening. It upholds the traditions brought to New Zealand by our English forebears and has an equally symbolic Maori ceremonial element that makes the event uniquely ours.
The ceremonies actually take place over two days. The day before the opening the governor- general confirmed our Speaker – until this time he's known as the Speaker-Elect. The Speaker for the new parliament remains Lockwood Smith.
The second day of ceremonies was and always is the bigger – the State Opening of Parliament. Quite a lot happens during the course of the day and it's pretty exhausting.
At 9am all the National MPs met for a caucus to discuss who is in Cabinet, who chairs and deputy chairs the select committees. We also discussed the details of the governor-general's Speech from the Throne, which was delivered later in the morning. The speech always outlines the agenda for the Government over the next three years. This is always a substantial document so if something isn't covered in it, it's a matter that probably won't be given much attention.
We then moved into the debating chamber where we are sworn in as MPs – usually in lots of four. During this ceremony we could either swear an Oath of Allegiance or an Affirmation as prescribed within legislation. Some may recall the last ceremony when Hone Harawira attempted to say something different, which resulted in his being ordered from the chamber for breaking the law.
Once the swearing-in was complete we all filed into the former legislative chamber, now known as the House chamber, to hear the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, deliver the aforementioned speech from the throne. At the conclusion of the speech, he presented a copy of it to the Speaker and departed.
Once the speech has been delivered and the vice-regal party has departed, the hard yards really begin. The members followed the Speaker back to their chamber in procession so as to carry on with their business. A debate on the Speech from the Throne (which can last upwards of 20 hours) ensued during which the Opposition moved an amendment which resulted in a vote of no confidence. At this point the battle through due process began.
People must wonder why we bother with this marathon debate, but there's good reason. The Queen's Opposition is there to hold the Government to account on behalf of the people of New Zealand. That translates as ensuring everyone stays honest.
At the end of the debate there is always a `motion of closure' and Parliament rises. Parliament is now in recess until the Tuesday after Waitangi Day.
The business and ceremonies that are transacted on the first two days of the new Parliament are steeped in tradition and symbolism, reminding us all of the importance of our roles. The weight of our responsibilities is reflected in the weight of the ceremonies.
With a big year behind me I'm looking forward to a holiday. My wife and family see very little of me through the year so I'm looking forward to sharing some valuable time with them.
I wish everyone a very happy and safe Christmas and New Year and look forward to working for the electorate in 2012.
- The Marlborough Express