In its 2006 and 2010 reports on the distribution of the PPS and the development of an ePPS, the Committee noted that internet use was entrenched and that digital delivery of and access to documents is largely the preferred way for people to interact and communicate with government. Those reports noted that the ePPS could provide the following benefits:
more immediate access to the series, overcoming delays relating to print copy distribution;
wider access to the community via any device with internet functionality;
a central and powerful search facility capable of searching information across the breadth of data contained within the series; and
long-term cost effectiveness thereby sustaining the series' future.
In April 2016, the Presiding Officers authorised the full transition of the PPS from a printed to an exclusively electronic series, the ePPS, commencing in 2017. The ePPS had been running in conjunction with the PPS since 2013.
In shifting from the printed PPS to ePPS, the State Library of South Australia commented that they would be affected positively by saving on storage space and binding costs; and negatively in “that unless access to online copies is simplified and search capability improved, the general public will have much difficulty in locating what they want”.
The State Library of South Australia’s concerns in relation to accessing the ePPS were broadly supported. Others indicated that accessing electronic copies of tabled documents through the current interface—the Tabled Papers Register, which houses the ePPS, on the Australian Parliament House (APH) website—is challenging. Specifically, the Tabled Papers Register is difficult to locate and once located, the interface is limited in its useability.
The Business Case for the ePPS formulated by the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate advocated a four stage process for the development of the ePPS, that being:
Stage 1 – inclusion of PPS documents into the Tabled Papers Register within ParlInfo Search, and hyperlinked numeric PPS lists on the APH website. (N.B: This stage was intended as a short-term solution to provide the ePPS with a greater online presence and was to be further developed and automated with the implementation of stage 2.)
Stage 2 – development of a webpage interface to enable visibility and searchability of the PPS as an entity.
Stage 3 (optional) – investigate the addition of other tabled papers into the ePPS.
Stage 4 (optional) – progressive back-capture of earlier PPS documents into the system.
The Parliamentary Library is currently in the latter stages of a three-year project of digitising the pre-digital PPS, that is, from 1901 to 2012 (stage 4 of the Business Case). Each document in the historic series is digitised individually as a single file in PDF/A format and will be full-text searchable. The project will enhance access to the historic papers series and make them more easily discoverable.
The Parliamentary Library has also expressed interest in extending the digitisation of tabled documents beyond the historic PPS to include the full set of tabled papers being made available electronically (stage 3 of the Business Case). The benefits of which would be twofold for the Library:
a reduction in linear shelving required; and
more sophisticated searching of the material being made available.
What was initially a short-term solution (stage 1 of the Business Case) remains the principal repository of the ePPS while stage 2 is yet to commence. The Department of Parliamentary Services has undertaken to include stage 2 in its capital works plan for 2017-18 however, the move from printed PPS to exclusively ePPS makes the development of a dedicated, searchable ePPS web interface more urgent.
The following figures illustrate some of the shortcomings currently experienced with the existing interface:
Figure 3.1: Location of the Tabled Papers Register on the APH website
The Tabled Papers Register is hidden within the “Parliamentary business” section of the website, under “Chamber documents” and is difficult to locate.
Figure 3.2: Location of the Tabled Papers Register on ParlInfo Search
The ParlInfo Search version of the Table Papers Register is even harder to locate.
Figure 3.3: Proposed improved location of the Tabled Papers Register on the APH website
Giving the Tabled Papers Register its own entry within the “Parliamentary business” section of the website would improve visibility and make it easier to locate.
Figure 3.4: Current layout of the Tabled Papers Register on the APH website
Layout of the Tabled Papers Register is not user-friendly.
The Tabled Papers Register is hidden, difficult to locate, not user-friendly and the search facility is limited and produces incorrect results when searching.
Improvements to the system could include the Tabled Papers Register having its own dedicated webpage with search facilities improved to include broader search fields and have full-text searchable documents.
Figure 3.5: Hyperlinked lists of PPS
PPS lists of individual, hyper-linked, documents are limited in their useability (only lists from 2013 onwards are hyperlinked).
The National Library of Australia suggested that the indexes for the PPS be published online in HTML format and not as a PDF file.
That the Department of Parliamentary Services works with the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate to develop a dedicated web interface with appropriate functionality for locating and accessing tabled documents and in particular the Parliamentary Papers Series.
Provision of printed hard copies of documents
In addition to the provision of documents in electronic format, PM&C’s Guidelines on the Presentation of Documents to the Parliament specify that an additional number of printed copies of tabled documents must be provided for distribution amongst certain stakeholders.
Thirty copies are provided to each of the chamber departments and are held as stock copies for the use of Members and Senators in discharging their parliamentary duties, including examining government departments during estimates hearings; conducting inquiries into reports of the Auditor-General; and the annual reports of government entities.
Other recipients of additional hard copies include: the parliamentary press gallery; the Parliamentary Library as well as institutions registered with the Commonwealth Library Deposit and Free Issue Schemes (LDS).
The PM&C guidelines are regularly reviewed and the required numbers are often revised. The most recent revision occurred as a result of the Committee recommending to the Presiding Officers in the previous Parliament that the 2016 PPS be the last series provided in hardcopy, thereby reducing the number of print copies required from 171 copies to 141.
Improved accessibility and functionality to the Tabled Papers Register web interface has the potential to further reduce the number of printed hard copies provided across the board. If, for example, the capacity for all Members and Senators to print documents to a minimum standard was supported, including printing in colour where it enhances the reader’s understanding, significant reductions could be made to the number of stock copies held for parliamentarians.
If tabled documents are easily located and accessible in digital format and all parliamentarians are equipped with the resources to print and collate those documents to a minimum standard, the Committee could consider recommending the removal of the requirement to provide printed stock of documents to parliamentarians.
For the interim period, and for as long as hardcopy remains a preferable format for Members and Senators, the Table Offices of the two chamber departments will continue to periodically monitor, review and balance the required number of hardcopies against the probable increasing use of digital documents.
That the Department of Parliamentary Services ensure that all Members and Senators are provided with the facility to print and collate documents to the minimum standard, including printing in colour where it enhances the reader’s understanding.