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Interesting Parliamentary Experience

The Fijian parliamentary delegation will find a parliament steeped in history and rich in tradition when it begins its experience in  Wellington today. The delegation, led by Viniana Namosimalua, the
28 Oct 2014 12:00
Interesting Parliamentary Experience

The Fijian parliamentary delegation will find a parliament steeped in history and rich in tradition when it begins its experience in  Wellington today.

The delegation, led by Viniana Namosimalua, the Secretary-General to Parliament, will be observing and learning how the NZ parliament works until Thursday. Some interesting facts about the NZ parliament taken from its official records.

Speaker

Today, the Speaker is impartial, but this wasn’t always the case. During Parliament’s early years, the Speaker got more involved in debates.

From the 1880s, the convention of an impartial Speaker began to develop, and this strengthened in the twentieth century.

Business

The House has always been a vehicle for Governments to make laws. At the start of each session, the Government states its programme in the Speech from the Throne.

During the session, it introduces bills (draft laws) and presents annual Budgets to the House for approval.

The basic process for passing laws has changed little. Now, however, most bills are reviewed by select committees — small groups of members appointed by Parliament to consider specific matters.

Members’ Bills

Individual members can also propose laws through members’ bills. Before political parties emerged in the 1890s, members’ bills were common.

The disciplined ‘party system’ changed this. However, members’ bills have regained importance with the current proportional electoral system, under which individual members have a greater chance of getting support in the House.

Speeches

For many years, there was no time limit for speeches in House debates.

Once, a speech ran for 24 hours! The Opposition could bring Government business to a standstill by speaking on and on — a tactic called stonewalling. Some members fell asleep during such long debates.

In 1894, time limits were introduced, and from 1932, the House could end debates with a ‘closure’ motion. Today, rules about the number and length of speeches are strict, allowing the Government to push business through at a faster and more predictable pace.

Question time

Question time is when members ask questions of Ministers in the House. The Opposition has always used this time to call Governments to account.

Over the years, question time has become more prominent and organised, and it is now a feature of parliamentary proceedings.

Rules

The House has always had rules to ease the process of getting business through and to control proceedings. The Speaker applies these rules.

He or she decides who may speak and makes sure the proceedings are orderly. If necessary, the Speaker can order members out of the debating chamber and punish them for bad behaviour.

In 2003,  four MPs including the defiant Winston Peters, leader of NZ First Party, were given their marching orders from Parliament.

A breakdown of law and order which began when Winston Peters refused to explain a reference to the seven dwarves.

The New Zealand First leader, two Labour MPs and a National backbencher fell victim to speaker Jonathan Hunt’s determination to stamp on rule-breaking members.

Mr Peters was pestering Prime Minister Helen Clark over foreshore and seabed policy, and accused her of backing down after she was “hit by a revolt of the seven dwarves”.

He had previously referred to Labour’s Maori members as the seven dwarves, but this time Mr Hunt picked up on it and told him he had to apologise if he was referring to MPs. The Fijians will no doubt meet the maverick politician. The Speaker also requires that members dress appropriately.

As standards have changed, the rules have changed too — but Parliament still follows many traditions that reflect its history.

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

 




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