Opening of Parliament Ceremony
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Opening of Parliament Ceremony

November 28, 2019

RAY WRIGHT: The Opening of Parliament ceremony
is when the Governor comes to the Legislative Council to give a speech which outlines the
government’s policies for the forthcoming parliament. It’s a statement of how the
government intends to enact the policies upon which it was elected. The procedure is very interesting. The procedure
is that the Governor requests that members of the Legislative Assembly come from the
Lower House to the Upper House to hear the speech, and the officer who is sent down to
do that job to bring them up is the Usher of the Black Rod. So an instruction is given
to the Usher and the Usher marches down to the Legislative Assembly Chamber and he finds
the doors barred. Now the reason he finds the doors barred is that way back in 1642,
King Charles I, during the middle of the English civil war went to the House of Commons to
arrest five members for treason. He was accompanied by some 400 soldiers by all accounts. So he
marched into the House of Commons, saw that the members weren’t there and asked the
Speaker where they were. When he asked the Speaker where the five missing members were,
the Speaker replied, that he only took his instruction from the Parliament, he was their
servant, he was not the King’s servant and from that time no member of the royal household,
no representative of the Crown (the Governor) has entered a Lower House in the Westminster
system, they always go to the Upper House. So the Usher of the Black Rod finds the doors
barred to his entry when he’s delivering the message on the Opening of Parliament Ceremony
as an assertion of the Assembly’s right to make up their own mind about things, so
the Black Rod finally is permitted to enter the chamber. He gives the message, he goes
back and then it takes a little while for the members of the Assembly to come to the
Upper House because again the Assembly is asserting its right to be independent and
do things its own way. So it’s a very old tradition. And yet here we are, the ceremony
in Victoria for example starts with a ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony in which Aboriginal
elders meet the Governor and welcome him to the area which has been their traditional
tribal areas. So we have this interesting grafting, on the one hand we’ve got a reference
back to the 1642 and on the other hand we’ve got a reference back still earlier back to
Aboriginal occupancy of this land. So it’s an interesting mixture of, if you like the
old and the very old.

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