A politician walks into a bar…

The words, deeds and actions of  Members of Parliament will always come back to haunt them. Television soundbites, press mentions, inappropriate tweets and email exchanges with a constituent can be retrieved, reviewed and rehashed for perpetuity.

Before the electronic age, there was Hansard, an official record of the politician’s speeches and utterances within the legislative chambers. Named after  Thomas Curson Hansard, an early publisher of parliamentary transcripts, it is now produced in most Westminster democracies, including the state and Commonwealth Parliaments in Australia.

It may not have the catchy soundbites of a doorstop interview, but Hansards are useful for tracking down the rationale of legislation through second reading speeches, reviewing the inaugural or maiden speech of a new Member of Parliament, or reviewing circus question time with the likes of Paul Keating, who certainly had a way with words :).

The Australian Commonwealth Parliament has just finished digitising its Hansards and now date back to the first sitting day of 1901. This is certainly a laudable project, to ensure that this body of work is available to the public. The only problem is, is that it’s not exactly easy to find…

Actually I have to rephrase that. It is easy to find from the home page of the Parliament Website, and it is easily browseable, if you know what you are looking for. If you are searching for a speech in Hansard, you have to do this through ParlInfo, and this is not entirely evident from the site, unless you click on a generic ‘find’ link.

Hansard is only a small part of the huge body of information which is generated by the Commonwealth Parliament and form part of a larger database called ParlInfo Search . ParlInfo Search contains over a million records all relating to Parliament business and was launched in 2008 as a federated search facility.

Your advanced search screen looks like this

There is no native Hansard search interface. While the guided search provides a narrower focus and  is more suited to searching Hansard, I found the Advanced Search yielded more results.

The people who use this on a day to day basis are familiar with the interface and embraced it. These users include

Non-profit groups such as Open Australia, Getup, legal firms,accounting firms, educational institutes, libraries and other parliaments…

All aboard ParlInfo Search: the journey towards integrated access to bibliographic and full text information from the Parliament of Australia http://www.vala.org.au/vala2010/papers2010/VALA2010_46_White_Final.pdf Accessed 1 June 2011

However it is through OpenAustralia, that the most usable way to access Hansard has been developed. Their aim is to help people keep tabs on their elected representatives by monitoring what they’re saying in Parliament.

I understand that both sites have different user groups, with OpenAustralia aimed at the more general public, hence the difference in the search interface. However, there is a question which still niggles me- why couldn’t the Australian Parliament have done this in the first place, rather than rely on a third party to filter their info into a useable format?

At any rate, whatever way you wish to view them, those pollies can certainly talk, and talk and talk and talk…


3 thoughts on “A politician walks into a bar…

  1. this is a great blog post – very informatiive. I’m going to try using the digitised Hansard, it should help with client inquiries.

  2. Pingback: Day 3 #blogjune roundup | Libraries Interact

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