There are various ways the public can learn about the work of Parliament and make their views known to MPs.
People can view proceedings in the debating chamber from the public gallery. Until 1945 there was a separate ladies’ gallery. In the 1990s it became common for Māori visitors to sing waiata from the gallery on occasions of significance.
Historically, most people learned about parliamentary matters through newspaper reports. These were written by journalists who viewed proceedings from the press gallery in the chamber. Press gallery journalists still play an important role in reporting on and analysing politicians’ performance.
Listening to radio
Because the Labour Party was concerned that major newspapers opposed the party politically, on becoming the government it introduced radio broadcasts of debates in 1936. New Zealand was the first Parliament in the world to provide regular radio coverage. It became a key way for politicians to promote their policies and themselves to the public.
In 1962 the opening of Parliament was televised for the first time, and in 1991 Ruth Richardson’s ‘Mother of all Budgets’ was broadcast live. From 2007 Parliament provided live television coverage of all proceedings in the chamber. This service now includes the simultaneous translation of Māori-language speeches into English.
The Parliament website provides access to parliamentary business including the order paper, questions, Journals, Hansard, select committees, parliamentary papers and live TV coverage. It also provides information about MPs and how Parliament works.
The right to petition Parliament over grievances dates back to medieval Britain, when parliaments petitioned the king on injustices they wanted to correct. Over time, instead of sending petitions, they sent ‘bills’, and from this practice the legislative process developed.
Citizens have the right to petition Parliament on any subject. Petitions were particularly numerous in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 21st century petitions are still presented, but it is expected that the Ombudsman and legal remedies for grievances will be tried first. Petitions are referred to a select committee for consideration. The committee may hear submissions and make recommendations to the government on a petition.
Select committees usually advertise for submissions from the public on bills and other matters they consider. Members of the public with views on proposed legislation can make their case in writing or verbally. Committees hear the submissions in public.
Many people and interest groups lobby MPs, trying to persuade them to share their viewpoint. Electorate MPs will often raise local concerns at a national level as well as assisting their constituents with problems. List MPs may perform this function in electorates that the party does not otherwise represent. Some MPs serve a broader constituency such as an ethnic group.