Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hansard and OpenAustralia

Wikipedia says William Cobbett [1], a noted radical and publisher, began publishing Parliamentary Debates in 1802. From 1809 Cobbett’s printer was Thomas Curson Hansard [2]. In 1812 Cobbett sold the Debates to Hansard. From 1829 the name Hansard appeared on the title page of each issue. Thus Hansard became the traditional name for the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in all countries with a Westminster system of government [3]. As a lad I subscribed to Hansard for both Australian houses of parliament. It was heavily subsidised – down to maybe A$2 per year. But inevitably, with governments’s love for ‘user pays’, the subsidy vanished. So I cancelled my subscription and lived in ignorance of detailed parliamentary proceedings. Even when parliament became broadcast on radio and then TV, I was too busy to bother. But my interest in parliamentary debates on certain topics (e.g. medical matters, the Middle East), and speeches and question answers by certain members of parliament (e.g. my local MP) continued. So I was pleased when last Friday this Age item [4] led me to OpenAustralia [5, 6]. It’s an open-source website run by a non-partisan charity – the OpenAustralia Foundation [7]. It aims to make it easy for citizens to keep tabs on their parliament. As my Canadian cyberfriend Wordsmith blogged recently [8], I’m interested in open and accountable government – which I reckon’s essential in a true democracy. So I wish OpenAustralia every success. I think Thomas Hansard would too.

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