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Parliament 2023, year of the shake-up

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Rawiri Waititi about to be sworn in as MP on the opening day of the 54th Parliament, 5 December 2023. Photo / RNZ, VNP, Johnny Blades

By Johnny Blades of RNZ

There’s no denying it’s been a year of great change in Parliament – 2023 began with a brand new Prime Minister, and ended with another new Prime Minister, a new Government and a new Speaker.

So much has happened that it’s almost hard to believe there were three months without the house sitting (during the election and subsequent period of government formation). So The House offers a recap by way of this audio compilation below.

Not everything made it into the audio version, so here we summarise some of the highlights from our coverage. There were estimates hearings broken down, ministerial grillings unpacked, Question Time tactics fleshed out, and select committees dissected. Not only that but The House looked at the ways select committees tweak legislation. There was also an explainer on the very different way that MPs cast a Personal Vote on conscience issues (sex and alcohol-adjacent topics mostly).

The final thing Parliament did before it adjourned for October’s general election was agree on some alterations to the rules that will apply in the 54th Parliament. These are changes that the parties and the clerks have been working on since last year. Some of those MPs spoke about the changes, and interestingly about what changes they did not achieve.

We went behind the scenes with the work of people who make parts of this place work – people like Maika Te Amo, the head of Parliament’s Māori Language Service whose work is in demand more than ever because of an increased appetite to learn te reo Māori among members and staff from different parts of the Parliamentary system; or Rachel Hayward who holds two official titles simultaneously: Secretary of the Cabinet and Clerk of the Executive Council – two interlinked and overlapping roles.

Because we look at the ways the public engages with Parliament, The House also offered a look at four activists who have long participated in the Parliament space – in protests, delivering petitions, submitting at select committees and mo – from single or multiple issue campaigners to the lifelong activist who became an MP and got out the other side with activism intact.

Senior Accessibility Advisor at Parliament, Stew Sexton, 8 May 2023. Photo / RNZ, Johnny Blades
Senior Accessibility Advisor at Parliament, Stew Sexton, 8 May 2023. Photo / RNZ, Johnny Blades

Efforts are underway to make Parliament more accessible for people who live with disability, and not before time, after the recent creation of a Senior Accessibility Advisor at Parliament.

A regular submitter to the Standing Orders Committee, the former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer still ponders tweaks to improve New Zealand politics and democracy. The pressures facing MPs are increasing and Sir Geoffrey believes Parliament needs to expand and have better resources for MPs to do their job.

Meanwhile, the Officers of Parliament who apply independent scrutiny to government’s actions – the Ombudsman, the Auditor-General, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment – face an increasingly complex, changing, and demanding environment that puts additional pressure upon their resources.

One of the members of a cross-party group of MPs who attended a meeting of the International Parliamentary Union in Bahrain mid-year found herself in a tight spot of geopolitical crossfire as part of a committee drafting a resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Vanushi Walters herself played it down, but her colleague Scott Simpson said she withstood intimidation from the Russian delegation and its allies.

A Parliamentary exchange visit to Samoa by five MPs may sound like it was fun in the sun, but it’s not merely a junket. The great value of inter-parliamentary travel abroad is the relationships that are built, not just between countries but among the MPs themselves.

Labour Party MP Vanushi Walters chairs Parliament's Justice Select Committee during a hearing on Youth Justice. Photo / RNZ, VNP, Phil Smith
Labour Party MP Vanushi Walters chairs Parliament’s Justice Select Committee during a hearing on Youth Justice. Photo / RNZ, VNP, Phil Smith

As much as anything else, 2023 was a year of goodbyes with many MPs leaving Parliament, and some notable valedictories, including from Jacinda Ardern and Todd Muller, the latter of whom was bracingly honest about climate change, mental health, the Treaty and Māori. He’d earlier sat down with us and spoken about the importance of the human factor in Parliament.

After the election, the number of Members of Parliament who come from farming backgrounds increased markedly, including a spate of newly elected MPs who have been leading figures in Federated Farmers. This, and the rise in the average age of MPs both turn to days of yore in the Parliament.

The 54th Parliament got underway with a whole lot of swearing in, with the newly expanded Te Pati Maori making a splash; while the State Opening provided its traditional pomp and the weather behaved.

MPs on an Inter-Parliamentary visit to Samoa. Apia, 10 July 2023. From left: National MP Todd Muller, Labour's Tangi Utikere, Parliament's Speaker Adrian Rurawhe, Lemauga Lydia Sosene of Labour and Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono. Photo / RNZ, Johnny Blades, VNP
MPs on an Inter-Parliamentary visit to Samoa. Apia, 10 July 2023. From left: National MP Todd Muller, Labour’s Tangi Utikere, Parliament’s Speaker Adrian Rurawhe, Lemauga Lydia Sosene of Labour and Green Party MP Teanau Tuiono. Photo / RNZ, Johnny Blades, VNP

The new Speaker of Parliament is Gerry Brownlee. Each Speaker tends to come at their job with slightly different interpretations of Parliament’s many rules. Brownlee had promised he would give guidance as to his own approach after combative early weeks of Question Time.

Even in its early days, the 54th parliament is so far living up to the frenetic feel of the 53rd. The new coalition government has got busy winding back some of the laws made by the previous lot, with two weeks of rewinds under urgency to begin the new Parliament. MPs are due to sit again in late January.

– RNZ



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