Community awareness

The department promotes the work of the House through a range of activities aimed at different sectors of the community.

In 2016–17 the budget allocation for the activity was $0.835 million and expenditure was $0.601 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 16); staff levels are shown in Appendix 1.

Performance summary

In 2016–17, we continued to expand our electronic media offerings to provide general information about the House and its committees in an accessible format, and launched a new About the House e-newsletter. Our engagement with public sector organisations continued through the face-to-face seminar program and the parliamentary internship program, both of which grew in popularity.

The department continued its role in supporting school visits and providing background support to the Parliamentary Education Office. The parliamentary internship program continued its success in 2017, with the reinvigoration of an advisory board to guide the future direction of the program.

Electronic media

The department uses its electronic media distribution channels to expand the reach of parliamentary business and educational information. Our Twitter and Facebook handles provide valuable information to their subscriber bases and receive consistently positive feedback. During the reporting period, our Facebook subscriber base increased by 21 per cent on the previous year (from 4,600 to 5,837 subscribers). Our Twitter following increased by 7.5 per cent and recently reached the milestone of 40,000 followers.
The department launched an electronic newsletter to coincide with the start of the Forty-fifth Parliament. This fortnightly publication aims to promote committee activity and provide information about the House and its procedure, educating subscribers and drawing them to related information on the Parliament of Australia website. It also enables the public to engage with the House through a regular ‘Ask us anything’ segment, which provides a channel for interested members of the community to have their questions answered.


The department’s seminar program is designed to raise awareness of the work of the House, particularly among employees of government departments. The program includes a series of seminars covering the parliament, the budget, the processing of legislation and committees, as well as custom seminars for individual departments.
During 2016–17, we held nine seminars for a total of 252 participants, an increase of 14.5 per cent on the previous year. Feedback was very positive, with 100 per cent of surveyed attendees agreeing that their objectives were met.

My First Speech competition

In November 2016, the department held the fourth annual My First Speech competition. The competition is open to Australian school students in Year 10. Entrants are asked to imagine themselves as a newly elected member of the House of Representatives and write a three-minute speech on issues they are passionate about and record themselves presenting it. Submissions were reviewed by a panel of members and the finalists were flown to Canberra to receive their awards at a ceremony on 1 December 2016. Finalists were also given a personalised tour of the Australian Parliament.

Parliamentary assistants program

In 2016–17, the parliamentary assistants program, run by the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office, entered its seventeenth year. The program offers university students part-time employment in the House of Representatives to promote understanding of, and engagement with, the work of the parliament. (See page 64 for further details.)

Parliamentary internship program

The Australian National Internship Program has operated since 1993 under an agreement between the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University and the Australian Parliament’s Presiding Officers. Australian and international students enrolled at the university under the program undertake an internship placement as part of their formal course of undergraduate study.

Due to the federal election, no students were placed with a member or senator in the second semester of 2016. In the first semester of 2017, 39 students were placed with a member or senator, which is one of the largest cohorts in the program’s history.

During their placement, each student completes a research project on a subject agreed to by their host. The report is assessed by the university and counts towards the student’s degree.
In 2016–17, an advisory board was established for the program and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Internship Program Steering Committee, which had not been active for some years, was reconstituted. The objectives of the advisory board are to provide expert guidance on the strategic direction of the program as it expands to meet the needs of the parliament and the university through national and international recruitment and placements.

Parliamentary exchange program for the Australian Defence Force

Each year, a small number of Australian Defence Force representatives spend a week at Parliament House, hosted by a member or senator. Arrangements for participation are made by members and senators through the Minister for Defence Personnel in conjunction with the Department of Defence. In August 2016, 16 Defence Force representatives were hosted by senators and members through the program. The departments of the House of Representatives and the Senate collaborate to support the exchange program and provide orientation seminars on the work of the chambers and committees.

Parliamentary Education Office

Jointly funded by the Department of the Senate and the Department of the House of Representatives, the Parliamentary Education Office (PEO) delivers parliamentary education services to teachers, students and other learners across Australia through:

  • experiential learning programs that enable students and teachers to understand and engage with the work of the parliament
  • comprehensive websites covering fundamental concepts such as representation, law-making, the separation of powers and responsible government
  • teaching resources aligned to the Australian civics and citizenship curriculum.

To date, almost 2.3 million students have expanded their knowledge of the role, function and value of the Australian Parliament through participating in a PEO program.
In addition to operational management from both departments, the PEO is guided by the PEO Advisory Committee. Co-chaired by the Deputy Speaker of the House and the Deputy President of the Senate, the committee offers advice on the strategic direction of the PEO, and forms an additional conduit between the PEO and parliamentarians. The committee reports to the Presiding Officers and meets twice a year, with the Clerk Assistant (Procedure) attending as an observer.

Education programs at Parliament House

The PEO’s immersive learning program at Parliament House is regarded as a highly effective method of parliamentary education. The program continued to run at capacity, with 88,169 students from 1,621 schools across Australia participating in 2016–17.

While these figures represent a small (1 per cent) decrease on 2015–16, student participation rates at Parliament House remain ahead of most other national institutions in Canberra and parliaments in a number of significantly larger countries.

Outreach, online and classroom resources

The PEO offers several options for students and teachers who are unable to travel to Canberra, including outreach, a comprehensive web presence and video conferencing.
In 2016–17, the PEO delivered three weeks of outreach to 3,585 students in 64 schools across six electorates in Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
The PEO’s primary website,, continued to perform strongly. A total of 1.35 million visitor sessions (representing 3.06 million page views) were recorded over the past year.

Reflecting the increasing use of technology in the classroom, the PEO completed the installation of video conferencing facilities to allow engagement with schools across Australia, particularly those in regional and remote areas.

Services for members and senators

The PEO provides dedicated support to encourage and assist members and senators to engage with schools and students.
Members and senators are offered a complimentary annual allocation of education and information materials for students, teachers and others in their communities. In 2016–17, 116 members and 35 senators requested their allocation, an increase of 25 per cent from 2015–16.

The PEO’s customised materials for members and senators continue to be popular. In 2016–17, personalised versions of Representing You—a tailored brochure outlining the role of a parliamentarian and the issues in their electorate, state or territory—were created for 46 members and 13 senators.

During sitting periods, members and senators are encouraged to meet school groups from their state, territory or electorate visiting Parliament House. Over the past
12 months, 99 members and five senators met with school groups during PEO programs.

Printed products and additional materials

The PEO produced and distributed a range of publications during the reporting period, including:

  • 11,049 copies of the Australian Constitution Pocket Edition, which is produced in partnership with the Australian Government Solicitor
  • 6,864 copies of Get Parliament, an easy-to-understand booklet that explores Australia’s system of government
  • 3,386 copies of Role-play the Parliament: a Teacher’s Guide, a step-by-step guide to conducting immersive parliamentary education in the classroom.
  • Additional products—including materials for younger learners—are available through the PEO website.

Joint ventures and partnerships

In 2016–17, the PEO delivered several tailored education programs, including:

  • ‘Rotary Adventure in Citizenship’, a week-long program for 25 Year 11 students from around Australia
  • committee and chamber debate role-play sessions for over 400 Year 12 students participating in the 2017 National Youth Science Forum
  • professional development to assist 40 science teachers to incorporate civics and citizenship in their work as part of the Australian Science Teachers Association’s
    STEM X Academy.
  • ‘The Outrigger—Navigating Gender Equality through Pacific Parliaments’, a three-day training workshop on gender equality for parliamentary clerks and senior officers from 13 nations around the Pacific. The PEO facilitated the workshop in conjunction with the Parliamentary Skills Centre.

Case Study: Documentary shows a different side to parliamentary debate

In February 2017, more than 50 students visiting Parliament House from Beechworth Public School got an extra degree of realism when a film crew from the ABC recorded their debate on the issue of an eight-hour school day.

Recording footage for ABC TV’s The House—a six-part documentary on the day-to-day operation of Parliament House—the crew joined students as they considered a bill for an Act to make the school day longer.

PEO Education Manager Angela Casey said the documentary demonstrated the benefits of the immersive learning approaches used in parliamentary education.

‘Often, the views young people have about parliament are formed by the noisy highlights of question time’, she said. ‘PEO teaching programs show a different perspective to parliament, and the work of it. This includes allowing students to explore an issue from all sides, and better understand the relevance the parliament has in their communities and personal lives.’


Parliamentary educator Marissa Beard (right) talks to presenter Annabel Crabb during filming for the ABC TV documentary The House. Photo: Tim Grainger, PEO.


The department will continue to raise community awareness of the work of the parliament through a variety of activities. It will conduct an audience analysis to develop a better understanding of the expectations and interests of its digital and face-to-face audiences. The analysis, along with improved evaluation and reporting systems, will assist the department to more effectively target its publishing efforts. The department will contribute to enhancements to the parliament’s website, to improve accessibility and navigation on mobile devices.

Given the ongoing demand for learning programs at Parliament House, the department will continue to work with the PEO to identify strategies to meet this—and ensure program quality—in 2017–18. In particular, the PEO expects to increase options for students and teachers who are unable to travel to Canberra, including a greater use of video conferencing and digital technology, to extend and enhance access and to help teachers deliver parliamentary education in their own classrooms.

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