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The Governor-General, Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, visited Parliament Buildings on 21 December 2011 for the State Opening of Parliament and to outline the Government’s plans for the next three years.
The day before, Sir Jerry Mateparae sent three Commissioners, headed by the Chief Justice Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias, to Parliament to declare the 50th Session of the New Zealand Parliament open and to instruct MPs to elect a Speaker. After each MP took the oath or affirmation of allegiance before the Clerk of the House, Mary Harris, they elected Dr The Rt Hon Lockwood Smith as Speaker-elect. The nomination was made by the Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key, and seconded by Hon Trevor Mallard, an Opposition MP.
Later in the day at Government House, Sir Jerry Mateparae confirmed the House of Representatives’ choice of Dr Smith as its Speaker. Dr Smith was accompanied by the Serjeant-at-Arms carrying the Mace, which represents the Speaker’s authority, in the crook of his arm. When the Governor-General confirmed Dr Smith as Speaker, the Serjeant-at-Arms placed the Mace on his right shoulder.
The State Opening of Parliament is the day the Governor-General comes to Parliament buildings to tell the MPs the Government’s reasons for summoning Parliament to meet.
By custom, the Governor-General does not enter the Debating Chamber. This reflects a tradition followed for more than 300 years as a reaction to an occasion when a King Charles I entered the Chamber of the House of Commons in London in an attempt to arrest some MPs. Instead, the ceremony is held in the Legislative Council Chamber, the chamber in which the upper house used to meet until it was abolished in 1951.
After taking his seat on the Throne, the Governor-General sent a messenger, known as Black Rod to the House to summon members to the Council Chamber. David Baguley is the current Black Rod and the Office is named after the black staff the holder carries. Black Rod held a role similar to the Clerk of the House in the Legislative Council, but with its abolition, it is a completely ceremonial role.
On reaching the House’s Chamber, the door was shut so that Black Rod must knock on the Chamber door. When he has been admitted he gave the House the Governor-General’s message and the House, led by the Serjeant-at-Arms (with the Mace) and the Speaker, marched in procession to the Council Chamber.
When the members assembled in the Council Chamber, the Governor-General informed them of the Government’s reasons for calling Parliament together in what is known as the Speech from the Throne. Written by the Government, it is a statement of the issues and bills it wishes MPs to consider.
At the conclusion of the Speech, the Governor-General presented a copy of it to the Speaker and departed. After Sir Jerry Mateparae left, members follow the Speaker back to their Chamber in procession to carry on with their business.
When the House resumes, the Speaker Dr Smith reported the Speech from the Throne to the House and the following days the House will debate the issues outlined in the Speech in the Address in Reply debate.