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Who’s who in Parliament?

Published date: 8 Feb 2018

What’s the difference between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House? Do Whips really carry around whips – and what does a musterer do?

Labelled seats in a wooden room Enlarge image

Seats labelled with the roles of the members' who fill them in the House of Representatives

Source: Office of the Clerk

The many roles in Parliament are a major part of its fascinating tradition. Here’s your definitive guide to who’s who in New Zealand’s Parliament.

Sovereign/Governor-General

The Governor-General is the Sovereign’s (or the Queen’s) representative in New Zealand. They carry out a number of formal duties, including dissolving and opening Parliament, and giving Royal assent to passed bills so they become law.

Fun fact: The Governor-General isn’t allowed to enter the debating chamber, to symbolise the House of Representatives’ independence from the Sovereign. That’s why, after every general election, the Governor-General opens Parliament from the Legislative Council Chamber.

The Governor-General has no part in the daily activities of the House of Representatives.

Learn more about the Governor-General here.

Speaker of the House

Often referred to as Parliament’s ‘referee’, the Speaker chairs meetings of the House. They apply the Standing Orders, or the rules of the House, to ensure meetings run smoothly and fairly.

The Speaker has numerous other roles in addition to keeping order in the House. These include acting as landlord for Parliament’s grounds, representing New Zealand’s Parliament overseas, and communicating with the Sovereign on behalf of the House.

The Speaker is an MP elected to the role by other MPs.

Learn more about the Speaker here.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is the leader of the Government. Within the House, the Prime Minister represents the Government, speaking on behalf of the Government and answering any questions that are directed to the Prime Minister.

Traditionally, on the first sitting day of each calendar year, the Prime Minister makes a statement to the House. This statement reviews current public affairs and outlines the Government’s intentions for the year ahead.

Infographic of the seats of Parliament Enlarge image

Layout of specific roles and where they are seated in the House of Representatives

Source: Office of the Clerk

Leader of the Opposition

The Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the largest political party in Parliament that is not in Government. They are the Opposition’s counterpart to the Prime Minister, representing and speaking for the parties that are outside Government. The Leader of the Opposition takes a leading role in parliamentary debates.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition sit directly opposite each other in the House.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House is a senior Government MP appointed by the Prime Minister. They manage the Government’s business in the House, such as its law-making programme, determining the order of Government business in the House, and moving motions for the Government that relate to the House’s procedures.

The Opposition appoints one of their own members to manage Opposition business in the same way. This member is known as the Shadow Leader of the House.

Ministers

Ministers are MPs in the Executive Government who are responsible for a particular area of public administration and/or policy, such as education, health, and social development. A ministerial portfolio refers to the area(s) for which a minister has responsibility.

A Minister’s role in the House is to introduce bills that relate to their portfolios, lead debates in the House on these bills through its latter stages, and account for Government activity in their portfolios through questions in the House.

Learn more about Ministers here.

Whips and musterers

Each party in Parliament has a whip (the Green Party calls theirs a musterer). Whips are MPs who look after the organisation and administration of their party’s members in the House.

Whips have several duties including preparing lists of members in their party to speak in debates, making sure their members are in the House when needed, casting votes on behalf of their party during a party vote, and negotiating with other whips on House business.

Learn more about whips here.

Clerk of the House

The Clerk of the House acts as an adviser on parliamentary law and procedure. They provide the Speaker and MPs with advice on the rules and practices of the House, record the proceedings and decisions of the House, issue the Order Paper (agenda) for each sitting day, and perform many other administrative duties.

The Clerk of the House is appointed by the Governor-General, and sits in front of the Speaker in the House.

Learn more about the Office of the Clerk here.

Close up photo of the Clerk's table in the debating chamber. Enlarge image

The view from the Clerk’s table in the Debating Chamber.

Source: Office of the Clerk

Serjeant-at-Arms

The Serjeant-at-Arms is responsible for maintaining proper standards of behaviour in the galleries and areas around the Debating Chamber.

At the start of each sitting day you can see the Serjeant-at-Arms, carrying the Mace, precede the Speaker into the Chamber and announce the Speaker’s arrival.

Learn more about the role of the Serjeant-at-arms here.

Usher of the Black Rod

The Usher of the Black Rod is the Governor-General’s messenger to the House on ceremonial occasions, such as the State Opening of Parliament. At this particular ceremony, the Usher of the Black Rod summons MPs from the Debating Chamber to the Legislative Council Chamber, where the Governor-General reads the speech from the throne.

The office of the Usher of the Black Rod dates back to when New Zealand’s Parliament had both an upper and a lower house. Back then, the Usher of the Black Rod played a role in the upper house similar to that of the Serjeant-at-Arms in the lower house.

Learn more about the Usher of the Black Rod here.

Infographic showing steps involved in state opening of Parliament Enlarge image

The roles of the Serjeant-at-Arms and Usher of the Black Rod at the State Opening of Parliament.