Community awareness

The department promotes the work of the House through a range of activities aimed at different sectors of the community. Expenditure on these activities in 2017–18 was $0.635 million, which was $0.348 million below the budget allocation of $0.983 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 19).

Performance summary

During 2017–18, the department grew its communications channels to inform the public of the work of the House and committees it supports. The seminar program continued to experience strong participation and positive feedback, with enrolments increasing towards the end of the period.

The department continued its role in supporting school visits and providing background support to the Parliamentary Education Office. The My First Speech competition offered school students the opportunity to imagine themselves making their first speech as a parliamentarian, and hundreds of entries were received from across Australia. The parliamentary internship program continued its success in 2017–18, with 67 students placed with a member or senator during the period.

Media and publications

The department uses its electronic media distribution channels to expand the reach of parliamentary business and educational information. Its Twitter and Facebook handles provide valuable information to subscribers, and through these platforms the department receives consistently positive feedback. During the reporting period, the department’s Facebook subscriber base increased by 11 per cent (from 5,837 to 6,466 subscribers) and its Twitter following increased by 6 per cent, surpassing 42,000 followers.

The department also produces the fortnightly About the House newsletter. This publication aims to promote committee activity, and provide information about the House and its procedures. 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. Launched at the beginning of the Forty-fifth Parliament, the newsletter has 1,840 subscribers, an increase of 71 per cent occurring during the 2017–18 period.

To promote committee inquiries, hearings and reports, the department facilitates the distribution of a large volume of media releases on behalf of committees. During the reporting period, the department transitioned to a new media release distribution platform in order to increase the reach of its media releases, and to target journalists according to specific geographic areas and topics. This transition has led to increased awareness of committee activity by media organisations, and an improved rate of publication of media release information by news outlets.


The department’s seminar program is designed to raise awareness of the work of the House, particularly among employees of government agencies. The program includes a series of seminars covering the parliament, the budget, and the processes relating to legislation and committees, as well as custom seminars for individual departments.

During 2017–18, nine seminars were held with a total of 231 participants. Feedback was positive, with 92 per cent of surveyed attendees agreeing that their objectives were met, and over 97 per cent giving a positive score for the content, detail and presenters.

My First Speech competition

In November 2017, the department held the fifth 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 to write a three-minute speech on issues they are passionate about and record themselves presenting it.

Submissions were reviewed by a panel of members. Finalists were flown to Canberra to receive their awards at a ceremony on 30 November 2017, and were also given a personalised tour of the Australian Parliament.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Parliament House

2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of Parliament House. Throughout 2017–18 the department has been collaborating with parliamentary stakeholders to develop a program of activities to celebrate this milestone. The program will culminate with the Parliament House Open Day scheduled for 6 October 2018.

Parliamentary assistants program

In 2017–18, the parliamentary assistants program, managed by the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office, entered its eighteenth 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 65 for further details.)

Parliamentary internship program

The Australian National Internships Program has operated since 1993 under an agreement between the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University and, under the Commonwealth Parliamentary Internships component of the program, 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.

In the second semester of 2017, 26 students were placed with a member or senator. In the first semester of 2018, 41 students were placed with a member or senator.

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.

The department continued to have a representative on the Australian National Internships Program’s advisory board and parliamentary steering committee.

Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program

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 by members and senators are made through the Assistant Minister for Defence in conjunction with the Department of Defence. In August 2017, 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 program and provide orientation seminars on the work of the chambers and committees.

Parliamentary Education Office

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

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

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: on site, digital and outreach

The PEO delivers education programs on site at Parliament House, in classrooms across Australia through its outreach program Parliament Alive, and digitally through videoconferencing.

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 89,259 students from 1,646 schools across Australia participating in 2017–18. These figures represent a small (one per cent) increase on 2016–17 student participation rates.

The PEO also delivered a number of tailored education programs, including:

  • ‘Rotary Adventure in Citizenship’, a week-long program for 36 Year 11 students from around Australia
  • committee and chamber debate role-play sessions for 400 Year 12 students participating in the 2018 National Youth Science Forum
  • professional development to assist 80 science teachers to incorporate civics and citizenship in their work as part of the Australian Science Teachers Association’s STEM X Academy.

In 2017–18, the PEO delivered outreach to 1,037 students in Queensland. Additional outreach is planned for the 2018 calendar year to New South Wales and Western Australia.

The PEO commenced delivering programs to Australian classrooms via videoconferencing in 2018. This new platform for program delivery allows the PEO to engage with schools across Australia, particularly those in regional and remote areas. In the first six months of operation, 598 students have participated in a videoconference program, paving the way for a substantial increase in the reach of the PEO.

Parliamentary educator Penny Jurkiewicz watches as a Blighty Public School student tries out the Mace. Students from Blighty Public School, Conargo Public School and Mayrung Public School visited Parliament House together in April. Image: Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.

Content: online and print

The PEO’s primary website,, continued to perform strongly. A total of 1,001,776 users (representing 2.47 million unique page views) were recorded over the past year, representing an increase of 4 per cent on 2016–17 traffic. The website and six associated sub-sites provide information about parliament and curriculum-aligned teaching resources for all Australian teachers and students.

To better support civics and citizenship teachers, the PEO introduced Session Notes, an e-newsletter for teachers. Distributed four times per year, Session Notes provides teachers with information about programs and content available to support their classroom practice. The first edition of Session Notes was sent to 370 subscribers in September 2017 and subsequently the number of subscribers more than tripled to 1,235.

The PEO produced and distributed a range of publications during the reporting period, including the Australian Constitution pocket edition, produced in partnership with the Australian Government Solicitor; Get parliament, an easy-to-understand booklet that explores Australia’s system of governance; and Role-play the parliament: a teacher’s guide, a step-by-step guide to conducting immersive parliamentary education in the classroom.

Services for members and senators

The PEO provides dedicated support to encourage and assist members and senators to engage with schools and students. In 2017 an e-newsletter, Click, was introduced to better support member and senator engagement. The newsletter was opened by 73 per cent of recipients, suggesting that it is a valuable resource for members and senators.

Members and senators are offered a complimentary annual allocation of education and information materials for students, teachers and others in their communities. In 2017–18, 123 members and 42 senators requested their allocation, an increase of 27 per cent from 2016–17.

The PEO’s customised materials for members and senators continue to be popular. In 2017–18, personalised versions of Representing you—a tailored brochure outlining the role of a parliamentarian and the issues in their electorate or state or territory—were created for 20 members and eight senators.


The department will continue to raise community awareness of the work of the parliament through a range of activities. In the forward period, it will seek to further grow its communications channels to expand the reach of parliamentary information, and will enhance its website to improve accessibility and navigation. The department also looks forward to celebrating the 30th anniversary Parliament House Open Day, when the community is invited to participate and take a tour of the House of Representatives and Senate chambers.

In early 2019 the renewed PEO website will be launched, along with a redeveloped print resource for teachers, Parliament: a classroom guide. Ongoing support for students and teachers who are unable to visit Canberra will be delivered through the expansion of videoconferencing and through continued delivery of professional learning programs and associated content directed at teachers. Ongoing review and evaluation of programs and content will ensure that the PEO understands and meets the needs of Australian students and teachers.

With advance bookings for learning programs at Parliament House likely to remain high, the PEO will continue to operate at capacity and will explore strategies to effectively meet demand while ensuring program quality in 2018–19.