Wellington has three parliament buildings, from the relatively modern beehive to the older Victorian style council chambers. They offer free tours from 10am to 5pm daily, except for civic holidays. Tours depart each hour and require visitors to pass through a metal detector, as well as to leave all bags, phones, and cameras behind.
The tour started with a brief video that explained how New Zealand’s parliament operates. It is very similar to Canada’s parliament, with a few exceptions. There is no Upper House, or Senate, in New Zealand. They also use a different voting system, called MMP, or Mixed Member Proportional, in which a party is allotted seats based upon which proportion of the voters voted for them.
I was quite impressed by the transparency of the parliamentary process. Even in the debate chamber there are chairs for the public to come and watch the parliamentary process nearly any day that the parliament is in session. They offer many different options for the public other than simply visiting. The public is able to watch live streams online, tune into ‘house tv’, or listen to radio broadcasts of the House in session.
The tour took us through all three parliament buildings. The House wasn’t in session when we visited, so we were able to see everything. It was interesting to note that the carpet in the House is a different colour; the Governor general (or the Queen if she visits) is not permitted to step onto the green carpet so that she cannot interfere with the free and elected government. They do still have links to the sovereign though, much like Canada.
The tour also took us into the basement, where we could see the same rubber and lead blocks that are used in the Te Papa museum for earthquake protection. For the parliament buildings it was a little bit more complicated since they actually had to cut out the foundation to install the base isolators.
Seeing the three different architectural styles was quite interesting. Although there isn’t much to say other than it was a tour of parliament and I learned a lot, it was interesting to do and worth seeing. I just wish cameras had been allowed inside, although the reason for no photos makes perfect sense.