Opening of 54th Parliament will be heralded by pomp and pageantry


The opening ceremonies will usher in a new three-year term of Parliament (Photo credit: Parliamentary Service)

Venu Menon
Wellington, November 8,2023

New Zealand’s 54th Parliament will mark the start of a new three-year term, when Members of Parliament elected in the general election on 14 October 2023 meet once the new government is formed.

Two ceremonies will mark the formal opening of Parliament.

Commission Opening of Parliament

The first is the Commission Opening of Parliament, when the Governor-General, Dame Cindy Kiro, sends Commissioners to the House to declare Parliament open on her behalf. The Commissioners walk from the Supreme Court to the Debating Chamber before declaring Parliament open. Members then take an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, administered by the Clerk, before they elect a Speaker.

The Speaker-elect is then confirmed as Speaker by the Governor-General in a simple ceremony held in Government House, marked by the lifting of the Mace to the Serjeant-at-Arm’s shoulder. Once confirmed, the Speaker formally requests the Governor-General for parliamentary privilege, which includes freedom of speech in debate and free access to the Governor-General.

State Opening of Parliament

The second ceremony marks the arrival of the Governor-General to Parliament to brief MPs about the Government’s priorities for the coming term.

Customarily, the Governor-General does not enter the Debating Chamber, and summons the MPs to the Legislative Council Chamber instead. The members are led there in a procession by the Serjeant-at-Arms and are addressed by the Governor-General from the Throne. A copy of the Governor-General’s speech is tabled in the Debating Chamber to which members respond in the Address in Reply debate.

Key figures in the Opening of Parliament

Ten key people are involved in the Opening of Parliament. They are the Governor-General, Chief Justice of New Zealand, New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary to The King, Usher of the Black Rod, Tumu Whakarae, Clerk of the House of Representatives, Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives, Clerk Assistant of the House of Representatives, Serjeant-at-Arms, and the New Zealand Defence Force.

Governor-General

The King of New Zealand is Charles III, who is represented in Aotearoa by the Governor-General.

The custom of the Governor-General not entering the Debating Chamber of the House of Representative dates back to 1642 when King Charles I entered the chamber of the House of Commons in London in an abortive bid to arrest five members of Parliament.

In New Zealand, the practice has been for the Governor-General to deliver the King’s speech in the Legislative Council Chamber, where New Zealand Parliament’s Upper House met until it was scrapped in 1951.

Chief Justice of New Zealand

The Chief Justice of New Zealand and two senior judges will act as Royal Commissioners at the Commission Opening of Parliament, as representatives of the Governor-General.

At the State Opening of Parliament, the Chief Justice will be accompanied by up to 11 senior judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and the Sheriff of the High Court.

New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary to The King

The New Zealand Herald of Arms oversees the ceremony at the State Opening of Parliament, and is a member of both the Royal Household (in London) and the Governor-General’s Household in New Zealand. Mr Phillip O’Shea, the current Herald of Arms, was the first to be appointed by Queen Elizabeth 11 to the position in 1978, which he holds to this day.

Usher of the Black Rod

The Usher of the Black Rod communicates on behalf of the Governor-General with the House of Representatives. The Usher of the Black Rod also leads the Royal Commissioners into the House at the Commission Opening of Parliament, and summons members to attend the Speech from the Throne delivered by the Governor-General at the State Opening of Parliament.

Tumu Whakarae

The Tumu Whakarae, or Principal Advisor Maori, handles the Maori customs and practices involved in Parliamentary events, including the closing and opening ceremonies of Parliament.

Clerk of the House of Representatives

The Clerk of the House of Representatives is the chief executive of the Office of the Clerk who advises the Speaker and MPs on parliamentary law and procedure, and is not a political appointee.

When Parliament opens, the Clerk administers the oath to the MPs.

Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives

The Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives supports the Clerk of the House of Representatives during the opening of Parliament, and also provides services to the House during sittings.

Clerk Assistant of the House of Representatives

Along with the Deputy Clerk, the Clerk Assistant supports the Clerk of the House of Representatives during the opening of Parliament.

Serjeant-at-Arms

The Serjeant-at Arms supports the Speaker and Presiding Officers in ensuring the House functions smoothly.

The Serjeant-at-Arms leads and announces the Speaker’s arrival when the House sits and carries the Mace, symbolising the authority of the Speaker.

During the opening of Parliament, the Serjeant-at-Arms accompanies the Speaker-elect to Government House for confirmation by the Governor-General.

The Serjeant-at-Arms also allows the Usher of the Black Rod to enter the Debating Chamber in order to summon MPs to hear the speech delivered by the Governor-General from the Throne in the Legislative Council Chamber.

New Zealand Defence Force

The New Zealand Defence Force plays a role in the opening of Parliament and is represented at the event by the Royal Tri-Service Guard of Honour provided by the Royal New Zealand Navy, the New Zealand Army, and the Royal New Zealand Air Force, as well as the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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