Moving Auckland Forward
Moving Auckland Forward
150th Anniversary of the Opening of Parliament in Auckland Parliament Street, Auckland City Speech Notes: Hon John Banks QSO 9.00am, Monday 24th May 2004
The Right Honourable Jonathan Hunt
Ministers of the Crown
Members of Parliament
On this day 150 years ago a group of colonial gentlemen came together for the first meeting of New Zealand’s first national parliament.
The 10,000 citizens of Auckland were in a jubilant mood. All the ships in the harbour were decorated and a 21-gun salute was fired at Fort Britomart.
It was no mean feat getting the country’s first parliamentarians to the newly formed capital a century and a half ago.
Collecting them for the first session in Auckland, the Members of Parliament travelled the length of the small south Pacific colony on the steamer, Nelson. En-route it ran aground on Fifeshire Island, in the Marlborough Sounds.
The day before the first General Assembly met, and after negotiating the treacherous Manukau bar, the parliamentarians took off their shoes and stockings and waded ashore at Onehunga – near where Ngati Whatua chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi some 14 years earlier.
The country had elected 37 Members of Parliament, representing 24 electorates.
Here on the corner of Parliament Street and Anzac Avenue, the upper and lower houses of parliament met in a new two-storey unadorned wooden building.
Over the past few weeks, the footprint of that historic building has been laid out in basalt… possibly the very same stone that came out of Albert Park when the barracks were demolished. These two magnificent Pohutakawa, which date back to that time, still proudly stand.
The Upper House – or Legislative Council – should have been upstairs. Instead it sat on the ground floor with the Commons above… in a room Canterbury politician Henry Sewell described as “of moderate size, plan and with no architectural pretension whatever.”
Governor of the day, Sir George Grey, was overseas so top military officer Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Wynyard arrived some days later, accompanied by troops and a brass band to formally open parliament.
He said “it will rest with the General Assembly of these islands whether New Zealand shall become one great nation exercising a commanding influence in the southern seas, or a collection of insignificant, divided and powerless petty states.”
Members of Parliament would stay at the Royal Hotel and walk to sessions at the General Assembly. Overlooking Albert Barracks in Princes Street the Royal Hotel, the largest and most handsome hotel in the city at the time, later became the Northern Club.
Across the road the original old Government House had burned down in 1848, with the present Kauri house rebuilt and completed in 1856. The Supreme Court next door was built in 1867.
Two years earlier Parliament had moved to Wellington following advice from Australian commissioners brought in to resolve a growing argument about where parliament should be.
Following the Central Otago gold rush and significant pastoral developments, it was believed the weight of development had shifted south and the site of parliament should reflect this.
At the time it was recorded that the decision to move the capital to Wellington disgusted every Auckland citizen. The 1854 parliament had an initial budget of 30,000 pounds from taxes on the provinces, to pay for a supreme court, banking, marriage registration, a post office and other departments. Three thousand pounds was budgeted to run parliament itself. There were no salaries for the parliamentarians.
The first session of parliament here was described as “all chaos”.
Henry Sewell wrote “between the House of Representatives and the Government there is absolutely no medium of communication, and both are quite in the dark as to each other’s meanings. We are like two strange cats in the garret.”
Mr Speaker, I warmly welcome you to the former capital this morning. It is with great delight that Auckland City has partnered with Parliamentary Services to unveil the commemorative plaque which marks the old entrance, reconstruct the building’s footprint, and host today’s celebrations.
Members of Parliament also gathered in Auckland for the centennial celebrations some 50 years ago. It was the first time many had visited Auckland. At that celebration a previous plaque was unveiled by the Speaker of the day, Sir Matthew Henry Oram.
Times have indeed changed but the significance of this site and the 24th of May 1854 remains. It is indeed an historic day.