8 Nov 2017

Parliament's opening 'a first day farce'

8:39 am on 8 November 2017

The leader of the House Chris Hipkins admits the first day of the 52nd Parliament was "a farce".

National, in opposition, and Labour struck a hasty deal on the first day of the 52nd Parliament to increase the number of select committee positions to 108.

National, in opposition, and Labour struck a hasty deal on the first day of the 52nd Parliament to increase the number of select committee positions to 108. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Labour denies it was hoodwinked by National when the election of the Speaker - which is usually a formality - turned into a debacle moments into the 52nd Parliament.

Speaking to Morning Report, Mr Hipkins said they were not anticipating the National opposition move and they responded to ensure the Speaker got off to a good start.

"It was a first day farce," he said.

He said the coalition did know their numbers, but the Prime Minister did not want a vote.

"We weren't anticipating that the National opposition would force the matter quite so early on in the term of Parliament. They did. And we responded to ensure that the new Speaker could get off to a good start."

After MPs were sworn in, a hasty deal was struck on the floor of the House when Labour did not appear to muster a majority to have its MP Trevor Mallard elected as Speaker. National had questioned whether Labour had a majority to get Mr Mallard elected in a vote.

After a quick consultation between party whips and senior MPs, Labour agreed to increase the number of select committee positions from 96 to 108.

In fact, Labour did have the majority it needed, but allegedly fell for the bluff.

The Labour front bench in deep discussion.

The Labour front bench in deep discussion. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Five government MPs and one National MP were absent from Parliament as MPs were sworn in. This meant 55 National MPs and David Seymour for ACT were present; versus 58 for the coalition.

"We did know our numbers but we didn't want to have to use them. And the Prime Minister was very clear, that she did not want Trevor Mallard to begin his stint as Speaker with a very closely divided House. We would have won the vote.

"It was a first day farce because we certainly weren't anticipating that there was going to be a vote," Mr Hipkins said.

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Labour MP and leader of the House Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Mr Hipkins said the National Party had earlier indicated they were supporting Mr Mallard for Speaker in return for National's Anne Tolley as the deputy Speaker.

"We discovered that they weren't sticking fast to that deal when the vote was starting.

"And so, yes they did catch us unaware and it did take us a few minutes to figure out what was going on and what the opposition's intentions were.

"We wanted to ensure that Trevor Mallard had the full support of the House and we managed to achieve that.

"I don't think it reflects well on the Parliament at all."

Mr Hipkins said if the opposition decided to be obstructive the coalition would respond accordingly and no opposition had disrupted the state opening of Parliament before.

Trevor Mallard

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

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