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The 48th Parliament formally opened

Published: 3:20PM Monday November 07, 2005 Source: RNZ

Parliament has been formally opened with the swearing in of MPs and the election of the speaker. 

The ceremony was overshadowed by the death of Greens co-leader Rod Donald and his seat in parliament remained empty while 120 MPs were sworn in.

The 48th Parliament was declared officially open by three Commissioners appointed by the Governor General, who made the traditional march onto the grounds from the High Court across the road.

Chief Commissioner, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, read a statement from the Governor General and then informed MPs they needed to elect a speaker.  Margaret Wilson was elected unopposed.

Twelve of the MPs made their oaths or affirmations in Maori and in a low-key protest the four Maori Party MPs attempted to include a reference to the Treaty of Waitangi in their affirmations. They were told to repeat the statement, sticking to the original text.

The Maori Party held a special welcome outside parliament for its new MP Hone Harawira and about 30 of his supporters. 

The group travelled from the Far North to be with Harawira when he was sworn in. Harawira says he is committed to raising the standard of debate and behaviour in the house and to using te reo Maori at every opportunity in parliamentary proceedings.

Parliament observed a minute of silence to mark the sudden passing of the Greens co-leader. Margaret Wilson noted Donald's tragic death and paid tribute to him as a parliamentarian.

His Green Party colleagues had placed Donald's possum fur seat cover and a framed photo of him on his normal seat and there was also a candle burning. As they filed out of the chamber MPs from other parties placed flowers at his seat and paid their respects to the Green MPs.

On Tuesday the Governor General will give a speech from the Throne setting out the government's programme for the term ahead.

Deputy prime minister Michael Cullen has signalled parliament will sit less often next year and the government will look to make fewer changes through legislation. 

Cullen says parliament is likely to sit for 28 or 29 weeks next year, compared with 33 weeks during the current year. 

He says legislation will be needed before Christmas to implement Labour's interest free student loans policy and to extend the Working for Families package. 

A motion will also be moved carrying over all unfinished legislation from the last term of parliament.

The official State opening of Parliament will be held on Tuesday after which the deputy and assistant speakers will be chosen.