Analysis: Party leaders kick off 'very untraditional start' to political year

It was a very untraditional start to the political year.

The party leaders had to weave a deadly cyclone into their prepared speeches. There were a few true political moments but the usual interjections and scrapping wouldn't have felt right. It was tricky to balance both. These speeches are a test of performing in the debating chamber and a test of ideas and a case to showcase what you've got to offer.

The speeches gave us a sense of how this year will play out.

Chris Hipkins signed off with the phrase "let's get cracking". Rest assured this will not be the last time you hear the working man's version of "let's do this". It was clear the first part of his speech was rewritten to reflect the sombre and serious nature of the cyclone and the second half of the speech had some half-hearted political jabs.

He wanted to get in a message of hope amid all the chaos and I feel like that's going to be a theme over the next few months.

It is his first set piece speech as prime minister and we didn't get an inspiration slice of political theatre but it was a speech for the time. It's interesting watching Hipkins from the press gallery now because he was one of the most active hecklers. Now he's more prime ministerial — keeping his head down during National leader Christopher Luxon's speech, working on his phone. I understand Hipkins went off script when he shared his personal stories from the cyclone — a nice touch in his speech.

Luxon then had the job of replying to that 20-minute speech with his own 20-minute speech. At times I've seen wonderful quips and clever digs from Opposition speeches but again, today wasn't the day. Hipkins set the tone and the National leader chose to echo it. He read the room and choose to focus on the cyclone with a dash of politics just like the prime minister.

You could see he felt he needed to run down the clock and it felt like a bit of his State of the Nation speech was mixed in there too. He has had two false starts with his State of the Nation speech because of the cyclone so he would have felt like he had a bit to tick off today. What worked well was his stories from being on the ground. Luxon hasn't watched years of speeches from the backbenches and dreamed about how he'd do it, but it was fine.

There's 235 days to go until the election. The first 51 days of the year have been dominated with a new prime minister and a huge natural disaster.

This year already feels like a big year.