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Background to the inquiry
In May 2006, the Joint Committee on Publications presented its report on
the Distribution of the Parliamentary Papers Series.
Chapter four of that report considered the issue of providing the Parliamentary
Papers Series (PPS) in an electronic/digital format.
The committee’s report made 23 recommendations of which recommendations
12 to 20 went directly to matters of electronic publication and options for
developing an electronic PPS. These nine recommendations were broad in scope,
covering matters including policy relating to online publishing and monitoring;
the availability of documents online; and the possible development of an online
digital repository for the PPS. The recommendations included:
- that the Australian National Audit Office regularly monitor the
online availability of government documents, especially those presented to
- that the Australian Government Information Management Office
continue to work with agencies to ensure that all government documents are made
- that the Australian Government Information Management Office take
steps to ensure that documents presented to Parliament are permanently
available online, including encouraging the use of persistent identifiers to
- that any digital versions of the Parliamentary Papers Series
augment the hard copy series;
- that agencies provide a website link, for all documents to be
presented to Parliament, to the Tabling Officer of the Department of Prime
Minister and Cabinet. This link is to be included in the daily list of
documents scheduled for presentation to Parliament, which is circulated to
Members and Senators;
- that the chamber departments investigate providing an online list
of Parliamentary Papers with hyperlinks to those documents on agency websites;
- that the Department of the House of Representatives and the
Department of the Senate, in consultation with the Australian Government
Information Management Office and other stakeholders, investigate and implement
the development of an online digital repository for the Parliamentary Papers
The Presiding Officers responded to the committee’s recommendations in
September 2006 and the government responded in 2006 and 2007. Overall, chapter
four’s recommendations were supported in principle by both Presiding Officers
and the government. However, several administrative and technical issues were
noted as impediments to implementing in full all nine recommendations (the
responses are at appendix 2).
These impediments have prevented the development of an electronic PPS to
On 25 May 2009, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) tabled an
audit report into the online availability of government documents tabled in the
This report indicated that although there had been an increase in the number of
tabled documents made available online since 2000, the proportion of the total
for each calendar year varied, with peaks and troughs experienced from 2002
According to the ANAO, online availability of tabled documents has 'not
exceeded 90 per cent in any year'.
Furthermore, the ANAO report illustrated a correlation between decreases
in online availability of tabled documents and large-scale changes to
administrative arrangements, which occur around the time of general elections.
This issue and its effect on the long-term availability of some electronic
documents is discussed in chapter two.
Technology and its use by the Australian community has evolved rapidly
since 2006. The Commonwealth has been developing a strong web-based presence
providing increasing amounts of information and services to the community via
the internet. Importantly, the Commonwealth has been formulating policy that is
congruent to this overall development, including accessibility requirements,
standards and managing expectations relating to government online content.
Furthermore, demand for online access to government information and services
from the Australian community has steadily increased to a level where the internet
is now the preferred way for many citizens to access this information and
communicate with government at large.
Another development has been the release of the Tabled Papers Register
within ParlInfo Search (the Parliament's main online search resource). The
Department of the Senate and the Department of the House of Representatives
(chamber departments) jointly administer a database that records information on
all documents tabled in the Parliament which is used to produce the Index to
the papers presented to Parliament. Until recently, this valuable resource
was not searchable in electronic form. A recent project undertaken by the
parliamentary departments now allows the metadata from the Papers Database to migrate
into ParlInfo Search, making the information searchable and therefore more
With these things in mind the committee considers that a number of
matters relating to the provision of an electronic or internet-based PPS that
had been examined by the committee in the past now warrant review.
Terms of reference
On 13 May 2010 the committee adopted the following matters for inquiry
and report—To inquire into and report, by 24 June 2010, on the following
matters relating to the development of an electronic Parliamentary Papers
Series (PPS) with particular reference to:
(a) the online availability of documents tabled in the Parliament;
(b) the short and long-term access to documents included in the PPS;
(c) technological barriers;
(d) options for a digital repository and electronic distribution; and
(e) administration of an electronic PPS.
Parliamentary Papers Series
The Parliamentary Papers Series is a vital mechanism for documenting,
disseminating and preserving public information relating to Australia's
parliamentary democracy. In its entirety the PPS is a comprehensive collection
of information that documents public policy formulation and administration of
government since Federation: 'It brings together in one series a wide variety
of reports which provide researchers with a consolidated record of many aspects
of Australian government'.
The PPS is a subset of all documents tabled in the Parliament and is
made up of those of a substantial nature,
including committee reports, annual reports of departments and agencies,
reviews on the operation of Acts, significant policy statements (white papers),
Auditor-General’s reports and reports of royal commissions. On average 430
documents are added to the series each year.
The role of the JCP
A document becomes a parliamentary paper as a result of a motion being agreed
to by either House of Parliament that it 'be printed'or
'made a parliamentary paper'.
That is, the document is made a parliamentary paper and included in the series.
The Joint Committee on Publications is a meeting of the Senate and the
House of Representatives publications committees. The publications committees
of each house make recommendations to their respective chambers on the printing
of documents not previously ordered to be printed by that house. A motion to
adopt those recommendations is then usually agreed to by both chambers,
resulting in the 'printing' of those documents.
Overseeing and setting production standards relating to the procurement
of Commonwealth publications is another role performed by the committee, with
efficient use of taxpayer money being its first principle. The committee has a
long history of inquiring into matters related to the PPS. Moreover, the
committee has championed the value and significance of this series for many
decades and continues to do so.
Up to this time the PPS has been made available only in print copy and,
at present, 51 organisations receive the series.
Documents are individually numbered and indexed into annual series and
distributed (one set each free of charge) to public and university libraries
and state legislatures. Some foreign legislatures also subscribe to the series
for a small fee to cover postage and handling. The chamber departments hold
copies of these documents for parliamentary use and the Parliamentary Library
holds a set within its collection. For a comprehensive discussion on the
distribution arrangements refer to the committee's 2006 report.
This dissemination of public information seeks to assist an informed
citizenry, enabling public discourse and community participation in our
democratic institutions and processes.
Administration and cost
The PPS is a responsibility of the Parliament and only its elected
representatives, with the concurrence of their respective chambers, have the
authority to order that a document be included in the series.
The Presiding Officers administer the PPS and the chamber departments
share the responsibilities and costs associated with preparing documents and
ensuring that they are provided to recipients efficiently. A distribution agent
with the necessary infrastructure to perform large scale distributions performs
the manual handling and storage aspects.
The cost of distributing each year's series can vary depending on the
total number of documents ordered to be printed that year and the costs
associated with reprinting documents. Not including labour costs, the current
average cost of distributing each year's series is $120,000 pa.
However, if the cost of printing the documents borne by author departments and
agencies is taken into account, the real cost of producing the series is much
higher. The committee also notes that the chamber departments, through their
support for the work of parliamentary committees and the hundreds of committee
reports tabled every year, are significant contributors of documents in the
Conduct of the inquiry
In conducting this inquiry the committee wrote to relevant organisations
and stakeholders seeking their comments in relation to the terms of reference.
Much of the subject matter has been covered by the committee in the past and
with this inquiry the committee was seeking to obtain further or updated
comments from key organisations. The short timeframe required to complete the
inquiry did not enable the committee to hold a public hearing.
In total, 56 organisations were contacted, including all recipients of
the current PPS distribution and those organisations that gave evidence in
relation to the committee's 2006 report, electronic distribution of the
Parliamentary Papers Series (chapter four).
The committee resolved that evidence from the past inquiry could be used
to assist with its deliberations here. Therefore, this report should be
considered with the committee's 2006 report which covers these and other
matters relating to the distribution of the PPS.
The terms of reference were published on the committee's web page: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/publ/edpps/tor.htm.
The committee received 12 submissions, which are listed at appendix 1
and are published on the committee's web page. Correspondence was also received
from four organisations.
The committee thanks the organisations who made submissions, provided
correspondence or assistance. Considering the short window of opportunity to do
so, their effort is much appreciated.
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