Parliament Tour Preview | NZ Parliament
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Parliament Tour Preview | NZ Parliament

March 8, 2020

Kia ora tātou katoa. Welcome to the New Zealand Parliament. It’s one of the longest-running Parliaments in the world. We were the first to give women the vote, and we’ve got universal suffrage, which means that everyone in New Zealand gets to vote. We pride ourselves on being open and transparent. We like people watching what we do, and that’s why you’re really welcome. It was 1854 when Parliament first sat in Auckland, but in 2015 Wellington celebrated 150 years as New Zealand’s capital, and these grounds are steeped in the history of our country. It was right here in 1868 that Frederick Nene Russell, Mete Kīngi Te Rangi Paetahi, Tāreha Te Moananui, and John Patterson took their places as the first Māori MPs. More than 100 years later, the Māori language was recognised as an official language of New Zealand, in 1987. New Zealand’s Parliament was the first in the world to give women the right to vote, in 1893. New Zealand became a dominion in 1907, and self-governing in 1947, with Her Majesty the Queen opening Parliament for the first time in 1954. At the heart of Parliament is the House of Representatives. It’s the seat of New Zealand’s democracy, and the 120 or so members of Parliament are elected to the House, usually every three years, in a general election. Under our Mixed Member Proportional, or MMP, voting system, voters cast two votes: one for who they want as their local member of Parliament, and the second for the political party they want to lead the Government. The party vote determines the proportion of seats each party has in Parliament, and usually the biggest party makes agreements with smaller parties to form a Government supported by the majority of MPs. The Prime Minister sits here and appoints MPs from the Government parties as Ministers. They are given responsibility for areas such as health, police, education, and transport. The Government’s role is to run the country and implement its policies by proposing laws and deciding how taxpayers’ money is to be spent. The Opposition’s role is to hold the Government to account. It does this by asking questions of Ministers and debating major issues and legislation in the House and in select committees. Overseeing the day-to-day business and good order of the House is the responsibility of the Speaker, who is the House’s chairperson. Party whips make sure their party’s MPs are in the House to speak or vote as needed. To find out what’s going on in the House, watch Parliament TV and check out Only Parliament can pass new laws or improve or remove old ones. A proposed law is called a “bill”, and for a bill to become a law, it has to go through a rigorous process. First, the bill is introduced to the House and has its first reading debate. If the majority of MPs vote for the bill, it will be sent to a cross-party select committee for closer scrutiny. The public now has the chance to have its say on the bill. The bill is then reported back to the House with any recommended changes, and a second reading debate is held. If the bill passes its second reading, MPs debate the detail of the bill in the committee of the whole House. This is the last chance to change the bill. The bill then has its third and final reading, and if it passes, it is sent to the Sovereign, represented by the Governor-General, for royal assent, and it becomes New Zealand law. On behalf of the Sovereign, the Governor-General also opens and dissolves Parliament at election time and gives warrants to the Prime Minister and Ministers. So our Parliament has five functions: to represent the people of New Zealand, to provide a Government from its members, to scrutinise decisions and hold the Government to account, to approve how taxpayer money is spent, and to make laws for our country. This Chamber is the centre of the Parliament buildings. It’s where all the debate happens; it’s where the laws are made. We’re pretty unusual in New Zealand in that we don’t have a Senate or a House of Lords; we’ve got just the one Chamber. So what happens here very much affects New Zealanders and what they can do. I hope you enjoy the Chamber and I really hope that you enjoy the rest of the tour. Welcome.

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