Rookie MPs take grand tour

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2011

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Goodie bags containing iPads and smartphones and instructions on how to maximise your free air travel and accommodation perks – it must be induction day for Parliament's new MPs.

The new crop of politicians arrived in Wellington yesterday for their first day on the job. For most, it began with a caucus meeting.

Parliamentary Service organised a mini-expo in the Grand Hall for the 25 new faces.

Posters hanging in booths outlined their new perks – "unlimited domestic travel", exclaimed one. Backbench MPs now get $141,800, after a $7000 bump in salaries this month.

Two goodie bags were on offer: one containing a notebook, pen and bag of mints, and the other, more popular choice, an iPad 2, iPhone or BlackBerry.

Staff were sensitive about the induction room, scolding journalists who took a regular shortcut through the hall and eventually stationing security guards at both doors.

Parliamentary Service and the Office of the Clerk also gave tours of the precincts.

The new MPs took part in a mock debate in the House yesterday afternoon, with Speaker Lockwood Smith and long-time MP Trevor Mallard. Radio New Zealand newsreader Hewitt Humphrey was on hand to give public speaking tips.

"We've had lots of briefings ... a phenomenal amount of information to get through," said North Shore MP Maggie Barry.

It was "wonderful" to sit in the House – and Ms Barry took a turn in the prime minister and deputy's chair "by mistake".

"As a reporter, I've often been in the House but to actually sit down there ... [the seats] were very, very comfortable."

National's Senior Whip, Chris Tremain, said he was taking his new MPs out to dinner at Shed 5 to celebrate their first day. He also assigned "buddy" MPs to help them through the first few days.

Green Party MP Holly Walker, who is an adviser for the party until Saturday, was back at her old desk. The Greens have swelled their ranks by four but are yet to be allocated offices. Day one was a "a bit overwhelming" and her first caucus meeting was "emotional".

"It's information overload, lots of forms to sign and things to read ... they provided us all the information preloaded on to iPads," she said.

NZ First, which brings in six new faces plus parliamentary veterans Winston Peters and Barbara Stewart, is also without offices.

In the meantime, owners of the Green Parrot – a famous Wellington haunt of Mr Peters – say the MPs can meet at the Taranaki St restaurant. Jimmy Sakoufakis, son of co-owner Costa, said: "We always have room for them.

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"He [Mr Peters] loves his seafood, groper, flounder, scallops. He'll probably come in as soon as he comes to Wellington, for a nice meal."

Mr Peters said once offices had been assigned, NZ First would hold a caucus meeting to select a deputy and party whip.

"People have got to get out before we get in ... NZ First has got manners, not a common commodity in politics."

WHAT NOW?

Parliament is likely to meet on December 19 or 20.

Seven minutes before the time appointed in the proclamation summoning Parliament, the House's chamber bells are rung for five minutes and MPs assemble to wait for the three royal commissioners, who represent the Queen and governor-general.

The Usher of the Black Rod – the governor-general's messenger – announces the arrival of the royal commissioners.

The MPs are sworn in four at a time in alphabetical order.

They then sign the roll of members. Next, the Speaker is elected.

The state opening of Parliament is likely to occur on January 31.

Prayers are read by the Speaker and the House waits for a message from the governor-general.

The door is locked as Black Rod approaches. Black Rod has to knock on it three times and is admitted only on the Speaker's command. After a procession out to the Grand Hall, the governor-general delivers the Speech from the Throne.

The address-in-reply debate – the first major debate of each session – usually takes place on the next sitting day.

- Fairfax NZ

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