Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Summoned to Parliament

The Parliament "sitting" in the Debating Chamber

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark

The New Zealand Parliament has been on recess for a couple of weeks, but yesterday they went back into session, or as they say here, they were sitting. Prime Minister Helen Clark didn’t exactly summon me to Parliament, but I was ready if the government (the party in power is referred to as the government) wanted any advice. According to their schedule, they sit on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Each session starts with Questions for Oral Answer. As a regular viewer of the British Parliament’s Prime Minister Questions on C-Span, I thought this would be a great opportunity to see a similar event live.

Arriving at the Parliament you get to experience the running of the security gauntlet. First at the front door, then checking in all your valuables (my umbrella), waiting in groups of 10 so there is not a big line at the next security checkpoint, and finally into the public gallery. It takes about 20 minutes to become “secure.” I did get a good front row seat in the gallery next to a New Zealand couple who shared with me a copy of the members seating chart with the oral questions on the back. I had somehow missed the step of getting this crucial document.

The House meets in what is titled the Debating Chamber. It is a gorgeous room appearing very similar to the British Parliament. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition John Key sit opposite each other across the “table.” The party in power is Labour (for 8 years) and the opposition is the National Party. From watching the local news and reading the papers the last three weeks Labour is having some difficulties (similarly to the UK) and there is an election scheduled later this year. The structure of the government here is that there is only one legislative branch, there not being a House of Lords (it was abolished in 1951). As New Zealand is a part of the British Commonwealth the head of the government is the Queen, and is represented in New Zealand by the Governor General. However the real power is the elected House, lead by the majority party (or as it is now, a coalition of labor with some minority parties) who elect their prime minister. There are a total of 121 members of Parliament.

The Questions for Oral Answer are all filed prior to the session, and unlike in Britain, they are directed to various Ministers who are members of Parliament and selected as the Ministers of various departments. The Prime Minister answered the first question as to whether she still had confidence in the Health Minister. There is a political stink going on at the moment over the Government sacking a local Hospital Board in Hawke’s Bay. After the initial question was answered, supplementary questions were permitted with the debate being refereed by the Speaker of the House. There was a lot of hooting and hollering like in “Prime Minister Questions.” This grilling of the “cabinet” is not a bad idea and I think would be a great addition to our Congress and administration. There were a total of 12 questions on the list and the debate lasted an hour and a quarter.

The New Zealand Parliament has a wonderful website (if you are interested in government operation and organization), including video, charts, photos and history, which can be found at

Quirky Living Note: Mary Ann found herself in a dilemma when dining. She doesn’t like beer, has grown an allergy to wine, doesn’t always want to have cola with dinner, and real booze from the U.S or Canada is too expensive to buy here. When in a pub in Napier, I noticed a lady and her daughter getting a drink at the bar which was mixed by the bartender and looked similar to ginger ale. It turned out to be something called “lemon-lime and bitters.” Mary Ann tried it and the rest is history. It can also be purchased in bottles and now we have a supply in the fridge (kiwi talk).

No comments: