On Tuesday 9 May 2023, the latest session of Australia’s oldest Parliament was officially opened by the Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales, His Excellency the Honourable Andrew Bell.

In this first edition of The House in Review for the year, we take a look at the day’s ceremonial proceedings with His Excellency and representatives from the Aboriginal community, as well as what happened during the sitting of the Council…

The morning Opening by commission

A new Parliament commences with an official Opening. Openings generally take place in the presence of the Governor of New South Wales or commissioners, who are senior ministers appointed by the Governor to open the Parliament. This year, commissioners opened Parliament during morning proceedings, while later in the day the Lieutenant-Governor delivered the official speech on the Opening of Parliament.

The three commissions appointed to open the Parliament were the Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council, the Honourable Penny Sharpe, Deputy Leader the Honourable John Graham, and Treasurer the Honourable Daniel Mookhey.

Watch the commission Opening:

Gathering in the Legislative Council chamber

For the morning Opening – and the afternoon speech by His Excellency – members from both Houses of Parliament gathered in the Legislative Council chamber.

Why this particular spot?

By convention, the monarch or their representative (such as the Governor) never enters the Legislative Assembly chamber. This goes back to 1642 in England, when King Charles I entered the House of Commons and attempted to arrest five members – an action that saw the Lower House’s doors barred to the monarchy then, and ever since.

So, for members to come together for the Opening, the Council’s Usher of the Black Rod was directed to summon members of the Assembly to the Council chamber. The summoning itself was a tradition-filled process, with the Assembly’s door being symbolically and literally shut in the Black Rod’s face! The Black Rod was then required to deliver three sharp knocks to the door, before she was permitted entrance to deliver her message and escort members across.

The sitting of the Legislative Council

Members sworn in

During the morning Opening, both Houses were asked to proceed to electing a new President of the Legislative Council and the new Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, in their respective chambers.

Before this could happen, new and re-elected members of the Council were first sworn in, taking either the Pledge of Loyalty or Oath of Allegiance and signing the official Roll of the House.

The 11 new members of the House included: the Honourable Cameron Murphy (Labor); the Honourable Emily Suvaal (Labor); the Honourable Susan Carter (Liberal); the Honourable Bob Nanva (Labor); the Honourable Jacqui Munro (Liberal); the Honourable Stephen Lawrence (Labor); the Honourable Sarah Kaine (Labor); Dr Amanda Cohn (The Greens); the Honourable Jeremy Buckingham (Legalise Cannabis); the Honourable John Ruddick (Liberal Democratic Party); and the Honourable Rachel Merton (Liberal).

The 10 re-elected members of the House included: the Honourable Courtney Houssos (Labor); the Honourable Natasha Maclaren-Jones (Liberal); Ms Cate Faehrmann (The Greens); the Honourable Mark Latham (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation); the Honourable Rose Jackson (Labor); the Honourable Bronnie Taylor (Nationals); the Honourable Chris Rath (Liberal); the Honourable John Graham (Labor); the Honourable Ben Franklin (Nationals); and the Honourable Robert Borsak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers).

Election of the President, Deputy President and Assistant President

During proceedings to elect the new President of the Council, a large number of nominations were made across the chamber. With all but one nomination swiftly declined, the Honourable Ben Franklin was ultimately declared elected as President.

In taking the Chair, President Franklin acknowledged the House and its choosing of him as its independent and impartial Presiding Officer.

Shortly after, the Honourable Rod Roberts (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) was elected Deputy President, and the Honourable Peter Primrose (Labor) was elected Acting President.

The full record of the election proceedings can be found in the Hansard record here.

Initial business

In the chamber, President Franklin made a statement acknowledging the strength and importance of Aboriginal cultures and heritage. This was the second time a new Parliament of New South Wales commenced with such an acknowledgement, following an earlier recommendation from a Council committee inquiry into reparations for members of the Stolen Generations. The full statement can be read here.

After a number of announcements were made regarding ministerial arrangements and party representation within the Council (found in the Hansard here), another tradition-steeped moment occurred: the introduction of the Law of Evidence Bill by the Leader of the Government in the Council, the Honourable Penny Sharpe.

This bill is always the first to be introduced at the start of a new session of the Parliament – but it’s not listed on any business or notice paper, and isn’t intended to be passed! Instead, its introduction is a statement of the Parliament’s independence from the Crown, with the Parliament effectively choosing its own item of business before turning to any matters raised by the Governor.

Ceremonial proceedings with His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor

The House then rose on a long bell (a temporary adjournment) to participate in ceremonial proceedings on the Parliament’s Rooftop Garden.

When His Excellency arrived, he received the Royal Salute and inspected an honour guard formed by Ambulance NSW. Ambulance NSW had been selected to form the guard in recognition of the recent loss of a paramedic, who was killed while on duty. The NSW Police Band was also in attendance.

A Welcome to Country was then delivered by Yvonne Weldon, Deputy Chair of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, alongside a traditional Aboriginal Smoking Ceremony. For the first time, all members of Parliament were invited to participate in the Smoking Ceremony – a cultural practice for purification and cleansing. Smouldering native plants were used to produce smoke considered to cleanse the area and ward off bad spirits from the people and the land.

Watch the Rooftop Garden proceedings:

Afterwards, both Houses of Parliament in turn formally presented their Presiding Officer and all members to His Excellency in the historic Jubilee Room. During this moment, on behalf of all members, President Franklin claimed all rights and privileges of the House, including to freedom of speech in debate and to free access to Her Excellency the Governor when occasion should require.

The official speech on the Opening of Parliament

In the afternoon, all members assembled once again for a key moment in the Opening of the 58th Parliament: the official Opening of Parliament speech, delivered by His Excellency.

An Opening of Parliament speech traditionally declares the causes of calling Parliament together, reviews current policy issues, and considers the government’s broad legislative agenda for the upcoming session.  For the first time, the speech was accompanied by live Auslan interpretation following a recommendation by the Procedure Committee arising out of an inquiry into Auslan last year.

Before His Excellency’s speech, Ray Ingrey spoke to members in the Dharawal language. Mr Ingrey is a Dharawal person from the La Perouse Aboriginal Community, Chairperson of the Gujaga Foundation and member of the NSW Aboriginal Languages Trust. After his remarks, he handed the Aboriginal Message Stick to the Usher of the Black Rod, to be placed on the dais at the front of the chamber as a reminder of the two-way, ongoing dialogue between the Aboriginal community and Parliament. This particular Message Stick was first presented to the Parliament in 2017 during a ceremony to mark the introduction of the Aboriginal Languages Bill.

Watch the full speech proceedings below, or find the Hansard record here.

And with that, the 58th Parliament of New South Wales was opened!

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