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A Day of Pomp and Ceremony
Last Tuesday was the official opening of the 44th Parliament – and it was a day of considerable formality.
We started in the House of Reps, then all trooped over to the Senate, then back to the Reps where we were all sworn in and the new speaker, Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP, was elected.
Then the sitting was suspended until 2.30 pm, at which time we reconvened in the House briefly, before then again all trooping off to the Members’ Hall - the big ceremonial area in the middle of Parliament House (between the House of Representatives and the Senate Chamber.) Here, the Speaker formally presented all MPs to the Governor-General. With 150 of us, this took some time. Here is a photo of me being presented to Her Excellency.
After that, it was over to the Senate, again, where Members of the House of Representatives like me joined with Senators to listen to the Governor-General’s speech opening the 44th parliament. The speech is written for her by the government of the day; it ran through the key priorities which the government plans to address during the 44th parliament.
This was followed by an afternoon tea, where we were joined by family members and many other invited guests (senior public servants for example.) The day finished with us returning to the House of Representatives where we elected the Deputy Speaker (Bruce Scott, a longserving and well respected Queensland LNP member) and the Second Deputy Speaker (Labor’s Rob Mitchell) and then heard several speeches of tribute to a former long serving Member for the North Queensland seat of Leichhardt, David Thomson.
Much of the day reflected traditions going back to the British Parliament. For example, after the Speaker is elected, he or she is escorted to the Speaker’s Chair by the parliamentarians who nominated her, and makes a pretence of resisting – in recognition of the fact that several hundred years ago the Speaker of the House of Commons was in the risky position of being potentially required to stand up to the British Monarch.
So too the tradition of gathering in the Senate to hear from the Governor-General. This reflects the British tradition of gathering in the House of Lords to hear from the Monarch. It is a bid odd in its antipodean format, however, because the House of Representatives has around twice as many members as the Senate. In the unusual event of gathering members of both Houses together, would it not make more sense to choose the larger, rather than the smaller, chamber in which to do this?
Nor was it the most efficient way to spend a day. The procedures could arguably have been carried out in two to three hours, rather than spreading across an entire day. Still, it comes only once every three years, so perhaps we should not get too worried about the inefficiency. The day’s proceedings certainly sent a clear message to all participants – the 44th Parliament is formally under way.