Imported pageantry and motley maiden speeches — all the Parliament opening lacks is Creepy Santa

A great big soup of imported pageantry and indigenous ritual, the state opening of Parliament used to take place every year, but at some point in the 90s they decided to limit the strange and mostly boring spectacle to the start of each parliamentary term.

Cultural heritage is reflected in a powhiri, kapa haka, and highlights from Sir Peter Jackson's plane collection. Next comes the Serjeant-at-Arms wielding a mace and the Usher of the Black Rod wielding, well, a black rod, with which to bash on the parliamentary door. All that's missing is Creepy Santa.

In Britain, they get the Queen to hold her nose and announce - "my government will ..." - the legislative programme. We get instead her guy in Wellington, the Governor-General, delivering a "speech from the throne" scripted in the Beehive. This time round the contents were so dull he skipped several passages. Amid all of that and the wig-wearing functionaries and swearings of allegiance, it's easy to imagine you're in some bizarre fantasyland. Watching Parliament on television this week, for example, I honestly thought I saw Trevor Mallard conducting proceedings from the Speaker's chair. Madness.

The other early delight, of sorts, is the maiden speeches, with each of the fresher MPs invited to address the House. The formula is time-honoured and uncomplicated. It's a privilege to serve, you are humbled, heartfelt thanks to supporters and family and friends, profound respect to your new colleagues and especially your super-amazing leader (that last bit does not apply to Labour MPs this week, obviously). A bit about where you come from, a bit about what you stand for, and a bit about what you hope to achieve. Nothing too specific, ideally - take great care not to leave too many petards by which you might in later years be hoist.


A good example of the form this week came from Parliament's youngest MP, Todd Barclay. Hair gelled and Rs rolled, Barclay was all about the acknowledgments. "I want to acknowledge and thank my family, friends, Clutha-Southland supporters," he said.

He acknowledged former boss Hekia Parata, "an example of someone who is truly in politics for the right reason". He acknowledged Gerry Brownlee, "one of New Zealand's greatest political leaders", he acknowledged Bill English, "the most humble, selfless, focused politician I've ever met", and he acknowledged Team Key. The only thing he didn't acknowledge, sensibly enough, was that when he says he "worked in public relations and corporate affairs", he means he worked for a tobacco company.

As many new National MPs do, Barclay quoted Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who was pushed out of office five months after Barclay was born in 1990. And he finished with an unmistakable allusion to David Cunliffe's "I am Harvard" poem. "For as long as the people of Clutha-Southland will have me my time is their time - this is their time," he intoned. "Mr Speaker, I am from them. I am them."

The pick of the speeches that I've so far seen was that by Peeni Henare, Labour MP for Tamaki Makaurau. In a dignified and amusing address, Henare related a family tree full of politicians of both stripes, pledged a commitment to bipartisanship - there was even a shout-out to "aunty Hekia Parata" - and teared up a bit when saluting his whanau.

The new parliamentary embodiment of the Act Party, David Seymour, a veritable geriatric compared to Barclay at 31, rattled through his material like he was busting to go to the loo. He declared: "You can tell everything you need to know about a person's politics by acquiring their sincere answer to a simple question: 'Is wealth a zero-sum game or not?'" To which most people would sincerely reply: "Who are you and what are you on about?"

And then he said this: "Our communities are leafy and our schools prestigious, so if people want more Epsom, then the answer is to create more Epsom." More evidence, were any needed, that the secret secessionist agenda of Seymour's Act is to declare a People's Republic of Epsom - a charter electorate, if you will - and set about violently conquering the rest of the country. Confiscate their passports at once.

Seymour's speech was fine, really, and he doesn't at least seem like the type likely to be hauled before the criminal courts. He beamed like the cat that got the chocolate milk as the public gallery applauded - there was no waiata, alas - and National MPs queued to shake his hand.

The only real disappointment was that Seymour missed an opportunity to extend the viral fame of his Epsom promotional video by running around the chamber and popping up from the benches to chirp, "Hi!" over and over again. We'll have to wait for the valedictory.


Memo to Prime Minister If the hat fits, wear it

While the Labour caucus have been obsessing over the throwing of names into hats and hats into rings, John Key has been alternating his headwear like one of those cup-and-ball tricksters in a tourist town.

Under questioning from the Greens' co-leader Russel Norman about the number of calls and text messages he'd exchanged with gutter blogger and Dirty Politics star Cameron Slater, Key answered none at all - or none "in his capacity as Prime Minister".

As for the hats: "Prime Ministers wear a variety of different hats - that includes as leader of the National Party, and can include as a citizen." He elaborated: "When I ring my darling wife and I put the cat out at night, I do that in my capacity as a husband, not as Prime Minister."

All very interesting. But also confusing. It would help everyone concerned if Mr Key were to wear actual hats in a range of colours and with clarifying words on them according to his capacity at the time, whether that be "PM", "PAL", "HUBBY", "TEAM KEY", "BBQ KING", "CREEPY SANTA", "ALL BLACK CAPTAIN", or whatever. Cheap, easy, and effective.