Proroguing Parliament

This website usually avoids political issues, there being plenty of other sites devoted to the activities of our politicians both inside and outside the debating chamber.

Nevertheless, the use of the phrase proroguing parliament in a newspaper from 1890 caught my eye recently and led me to discover two issues of the day which have a modern complement.

In the Poverty Bay Herald of Friday 14th March 1890, it was reported: “Per Press Association. Wellington, today. A Gazette probably will be issued to-day further proroguing Parliament for a month, and at the expiration of that term it is expected, as all Ministers will be here, that the date of calling Parliament together for the despatch of business will be decided.”

In those days, our parliament was a somewhat different creature, and it was only a few years earlier that the current formality “lock the doors!” was used in a literal sense to restrain some of the honourable members during a solid bit of “biffo.”

Unfortunately, I discovered that to prorogue in the parliamentary sense did not involve loading the debating chamber with various rogues and vagabonds in the hope of swinging a vote. The trusty Oxford dictionary tells me – prorogue: discontinue the meetings of (a parliament etc.) without dissolving it.

A timely reminder of a cracker term which is no longer in common use. Our contemporary parliament has in fact just been prorogued and is taking a break for two weeks.

Another political issue facing Poverty Bay voters back in March 1890 was the redrawing of electoral boundaries to create the new East Coast electorate encompassing a population of 7943 according to the 1886 census. The bone of contention was that the proposed East Coast electorate would extend into the Bay of Plenty to include Rotorua and Tauranga, whilst Patutahi and Te Arai (close to Gisborne) were carved away into the Hawke’s Bay electorate to the south.

Citing the proposal as “scandalous”, the Poverty Bay Herald editorial went on, “The settlers of the district proposed to be detached from Gisborne in electoral matters have everything in common with their fellow citizens on the plain; practically the whole of their business is conducted in Gisborne. The great majority of them visit here every week of their lives. Gisborne is not only the port for everything they buy and sell, but it is actually the market town. The tradesemen of Gisborne have as close a connection with the residents of Patutahi, Te Arai, and adjoining settlements to the southward, as they have with people living in the next street. To tack them on to Hawke’s Bay would pretty nearly amount to disfranchisement. … As far as the interests of this district are concerned, a spider crawling across a map of the North Island would in all probability locate the boundaries with more satisfactory results.”

The re-drawing of the electorate boundary in 1890 has a modern parallel with the proposed new boundaries for the East Coast electorate. The proposal includes taking the electorate boundary further west into the Bay of Plenty and carving Ngatapa, half of Patutahi, Tiniroto, Waerenga-o-kuri, Hangaroa, Nuhaka, Muriwai, Wharekopae and Rere into the Napier electorate, to the south.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

[newspaper items sourced from the National Library of New Zealand “Papers Past” website.]

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