7 Nov 2017

Opening a whole can of Parliament

From The House, 10:35 pm on 7 November 2017

The Commission Opening has less pomp than the state one, but it’s really the main event. Very briefly, the Commission Opening day involves three parts: (1) The sovereign proclaims a fresh new Parliament, (2) the MPs are sworn in, and (3) they elect a Speaker. Each part has its own oddities.

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Labour MP Anahila Kanangata'a Suisuiki swears her oath in both English and Tongan Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

It's a particularly special day for new MPs who, along with their elders, troop up to swear allegiance to the Sovereign. Until they do so they are not fully members of the House of Representatives and can neither vote nor speak. It sounds quite medieval but at least they don’t have to bend the knee or kiss a ring.

This requirement to swear an oath to the Queen is what has kept elected members of the Irish Republican party, Sein Fein, from taking their seats in Westminster.


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National MP Jiang Yang signs the written version of his oath of allegiance. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith


So everyone swears an oath (on a holy book of their choice), or an affirmation (a promise without recourse to a higher power). To kick off this Parliament there were 77 Oaths (swearing on a holy book), and 40 affirmations (without a holy book). The holy books used were the bible, the Ratana Book of Hymns and Prayers and the Buddhist Diamond Sutra).


Legally, MPs can only swear in Maori or English, but with agreement they can repeat their oath in another language immediately afterwards. Ninety five swore in English and twenty two in Te Reo. Today MPs chose to double down in Hindi, Tongan, Samoan, Dutch, Korean & Mandarin.


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  Gerry Brownlee grins while Jamie Lee Ross shakes a compromise deal with Labour's Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith


The action really started on Tuesday when the House moved on to elect the Speaker. What had been a gentlemen's agreement became a fractious argument over whether the opposition would stand their own last minute candidate for the office.


It was an odd tangle, but it provided a spontaneous 'teachable moment', about the rules and processes for the House. You'll have to listen to the audio story to hear how that occurred.


The Serjeant at Arms Places the Mace for the new Speaker Trevor Mallard

The Serjeant at Arms places the Mace on the Table, symbolising the new Speaker's authority beginning in the House. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith


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