The new Labour Government has kicked into action after Parliament began yesterday, introducing its first bill on paid parental leave after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern crossed swords with National leader Bill English for the first time in debates.

Tonight MPs were debating under Urgency the Paid Parental Leave Bill to increase paid parental leave from 18 to 22 weeks in 2018 and up to 26 weeks by 2020 - the first time Labour has called Urgency in this term.

The bill was passed with support from all in Parliament other than Act's leader David Seymour who voted against.

National delivered its first U-turn - agreeing to support the paid parental leave bill despite vetoing it when it was in Government.


The day began with the pomp and ceremony of military salutes and the Governor General reading the Speech to the Throne setting out the Government's agenda for the next three years.

However, normal politics resumed swiftly and both English and Ardern spoke in the debate in Parliament.

English said the Government was "dripping with good intentions" but that was a far cry from reality. He said the mark of success of the Labour Government would be whether it could better National's record in the areas in which Labour had criticised it, such as on child poverty, housing and wages.

Ardern responded by saying she understood the Opposition's desire to defend its record - but that record included high levels of homelessness, dirty rivers and lakes, and child poverty.

"By all means, defend the record of the last nine years while we get on with fixing it."

She said the briefings officials had given to ministers showed the country had suffered from chronic under-investment for the last nine years.

"It is also clear that it is far worse in some areas than we could have ever imagined. Our hospitals and our schools are growing under the pressure of a growing and ageing population.

English also delivered an impassioned plea to Labour to pick up his "social investment" approach of using data and data sharing to identify at-risk children and families as early as possible to allow intervention.


He was also critical of Labour's policy of free tertiary education, saying it would mean checkout operators were subsidising law students.

Ardern hit back in her reply, saying English lacked ambition for checkout operators if he did not believe they could go on to tertiary study.

"And I say to those checkout operators, having been one myself - you, too, can be a Minister of Finance, or the Prime Minister of New Zealand."

The maiden speeches also kicked off yesterday with Labour's Tamati Coffey and Jo Luxton giving their first speeches in Parliament. Most other new MPs will deliver their maidens next week.

The day followed a torrid opening of Parliament for Labour when National challenged whether it had the numbers to elect Trevor Mallard as Speaker because five of the Government MPs were not sworn in. That had forced Labour to agree to National's demand to increase the number of select committee places to cater for National's large caucus.

Hipkins yesterday conceded that was not a great look for the new Government's handling, but did not mean it was chaos. There were further, more minor skirmishes today over the election of the two assistant Speakers and National also forced a lengthy debate on the Government's motion to bring bills which were waiting to be passed under the previous Government before the new Parliament.

Only four bills were cut out - including the Pay Equity Bill setting out a process for those in female-dominated professions to get equal pay to males in comparable jobs.

That was introduced after the pay equity settlement for care workers last year - but Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said it reduced the opportunity for future pay equity claims and Labour had opposed it and intended to start again.

"Women made it absolutely clear to us that they had been ripped off by National's legislation, and the only way to proceed was to bin that and start again."