It didn't take long for David Carter to settle in to his job yesterday in his first question time as Speaker.

It was almost business as usual.

The Prime Minister mangled his English ("dis-interrupted," "optionality"), Steven Joyce delivered long, boring answers, Hekia Parata didn't deliver answers at all, Tau Henare tweeted, Trevor Mallard and Winston Peters challenged decisions, and David Shearer was barely noticed at all.

Carter handled it competently and confidently like an old hand, with Lockwood Smith his absent guide.


Carter made it clear with two ministers that he has decided to maintain the Smith model, of not just being umpire, but commentator on ministers' answers.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully refused to state categorically he would not meet West Papuan independence activist Benny Wenda, in response to Green questions and answered in Sir Humphrey style: "Our embassy in Jakarta advised the ministry's head office of Mr Wenda's impending visit and recommended that if Mr Wenda requested a meeting with the Government, officials from the ministry should meet him."

Greens co-leader Russel Norman was not satisfied and complained to Carter that it was a very direct question.

Carter: "And I think it was very clear from his answer that he is not intending to meet, but his officials have the opportunity."

Norman complained, saying he did not like the previous Speaker's habit of interpreting answers.

Carter was emphatic: "It is my job here to interpret whether ministers have satisfactorily answered the questions."

Education Minister Hekia Parata was the next to be made an example of. She was questioned by Labour's Chris Hipkins about whether she had read all the Cabinet papers before signing off on the new Novopay payroll system.

The ones prepared for her last year, she said.

Trevor Mallard, a former education minister, wanted a bigger pay-off than that. He wanted her to admit she had not read the ones going back as far as 2005 when Labour was in office.

In contrast to Russel Norman, who didn't want Carter to emulate Smith, Mallard invited Carter to "do a Lockwood Smith" and tell the House she was saying "No," she hadn't read all the papers. Carter said he wouldn't, but then did exactly that.

Carter: "No, I do not want to do a Dr Smith, but I think, on listening to the question - and we are all able to listen to the question and then the answer - by implication it is fairly clear to me that the minister has not read all of the Cabinet papers dating back to 2005."

Carter has kept some other Lockwood Smith innovations such as the procession from the Speaker's office to the chair, but with less pomp.

He has dispensed with the flowing gown and instead will wear a kind of garland of albatross feathers around his shoulders, made for him by Rose White-Tahuaparae, a Te Atiawa elder based at Parliament.

Peters asked Carter to explain the background to the regalia he was wearing and Carter said it symbolised in Maoridom "goodwill, honour and peace to the House".

"For how long?" someone called from the backbenches.