The department promotes the work of the House through a range of activities aimed at different sectors of the community. In 2019–20 the budget allocation for this activity was $0.903 million and expenditure was $0.702 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 21).
During 2019–20 the department continued to utilise its communication channels to increase community engagement and improve public knowledge of the work of the House and committees. The seminar program was once again well attended and received positive feedback, with the demand for customised seminars continuing to grow.
The department continued its work to support the school visits program and providing support to the Parliamentary Education Office. The seventh My First Speech competition was held, with 86 entries received from school students across Australia keen to imagine themselves making their first speech as a parliamentarian. The parliamentary internship program continued in 2019–20, with 74 students placed with a member or senator during the period (noting that the format for Semester 1, 2020 was impacted by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Media and publications
The department uses its electronic media distribution channels to expand the reach of parliamentary business and educational information. Its Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn accounts provide valuable information to the general public, and through these platforms the department receives consistently positive feedback. During the reporting period, the department’s Facebook subscriber base increased by 12 per cent (from 7,105 to 7,999 subscribers) and its Twitter following increased by almost 3 per cent, surpassing 47,000 followers. The House’s YouTube account, used for publishing replays of Question Time and an ‘About the House’ series of short videos, grew by 29 per cent in the reporting period, and now has over 8,500 subscribers.
The department also produces the About the House newsletter. This publication aims to promote committee activity, and provide information about the House and its procedures. Launched at the beginning of the Forty-fifth Parliament, the newsletter has over 2,200 subscribers, an increase of 7 per cent over the previous reporting period.
The department has continued to issue a large volume of media releases on behalf of committees, the Speaker and the Clerk of the House. In total, the department issued 222 media releases during the reporting period. In August 2019 , an updated ‘About the House News’ page on aph.gov.au was launched, providing members of the public and other interested stakeholders a more convenient way to access media content published by the House of Representatives. During the reporting period, the ‘About the House News’ page received over 73,000 unique page views.
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 the second half of 2019, seven seminars were held with a total of 173 participants. Across the whole reporting period, this is a 51 per cent decrease in participation from 2018–19; however, no seminars were conducted during the first half of 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Feedback on the seminars held was positive, with 94 per cent of surveyed attendees saying that their objectives were met, and over 98 per cent giving a positive score for the content, detail and presenters.
Towards the end of the reporting period, responsibility for the administration of the department’s seminar program was transferred from Parliamentary and Business Information Services to the Procedure Office.
My First Speech competition
In October 2019, the department held the seventh annual My First Speech competition. The competition is open to Australian secondary students in Years 10 to 12. 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, including the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Finalists were flown to Canberra to receive their awards at a ceremony on 15 October 2019, and were also given a personalised tour of the Australian Parliament.
Parliamentary assistants program
In 2019–20, the parliamentary assistants program, managed by the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office, entered its twentieth 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 71 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 2019, 39 students were placed with a member or senator. In the first semester of 2020, 35 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.
Semester 1, 2020 placements at Parliament House and electorate offices were impacted by restrictions put in place in response to COVID-19, and the Australian National University supported interns to work on their research projects remotely. 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 October 2019, 27 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 delivers parliamentary education services to teachers, students and others across Australia. To date, over two million students have expanded their knowledge of the Australian Parliament through participating in a Parliamentary Education Office program.
In addition to operational management from both departments, the Parliamentary Education Office is guided by an advisory committee, comprising interested members and senators, which meets twice a year and reports to the Presiding Officers.
The full-time equivalent staffing level for the Parliamentary Education Office in 2019–20 was 11.4 (compared to 10.6 in 2018–19). The cost of providing the service of the Parliamentary Education Office in 2019–20 was $1.6 million.
Education programs: on site, outreach and digital
The Parliamentary Education Office delivers education programs on site at Parliament House, in classrooms across Australia and digitally through videoconferencing, and is recognised as a leader in civics and citizenship education in Australia. School visitation to Parliament House has been majorly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic: 61,344 students from 72 schools across Australia participated in 2019–20, a 34 per cent decrease on 2018–19 student participation rates.
In 2019–20, the Parliamentary Education Office delivered outreach to 967 participants in two states: Queensland and Tasmania. Additional outreach planned for the 2020 calendar year was cancelled due to restrictions put in place in response to COVID-19.
The number of students and teachers who take part in the Parliamentary Education Office videoconferencing program continues to increase, with 3,036 participants in 2019–20, an increase of over 200 per cent on 2018–19 participation rates. In response to COVID-19-related restrictions, the Parliamentary Education Office scaled up its delivery of programs via videoconference, and in the last four months of the financial year delivered 72 sessions to 1,893 students.
Content: online and print
The Parliamentary Education Office websites provide information about parliament and curriculum-aligned teaching resources for all Australian teachers and students. In October 2019 the redeveloped main website was launched, and user testing indicates accessibility, navigation and search functionality all work particularly well for the intended audiences. In 2019–20 a total of 916,318 users (representing 2.29 million unique page views) were recorded.
The office also produced and distributed a range of publications during the reporting period, including the redeveloped Parliament in Pictures, and Australia’s Constitution pocket edition produced in partnership with the Australian Government Solicitor.
Services for members and senators
The Parliamentary Education Office provides dedicated support to encourage and assist senators and members to engage with schools and students. Senators and members are offered a complimentary annual allocation of education and information materials for students, teachers and others in their communities. Senators and members can also request a tailored brochure, Representing You, to assist them when explaining their work as an elected representative. In 2019–20, 150 parliamentarians requested their allocation.
Parliamentary Education Office outlook
The Parliamentary Education Office is working towards safely resuming face-to-face programming and preparing for the resumption of school visits to Parliament House from July 2020. It will also continue to promote videoconferencing programs as a method to engage students and teachers who are unable to visit Canberra.
Through the ongoing provision of high-calibre digital and print content for parliamentarians, teachers and students, the Parliamentary Education Office will continue to provide quality parliamentary education services for citizens across the country.
The department will continue to adapt its community relations and awareness activities to reflect the continuing restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As can be seen in the increased growth in the department’s website and video offerings, members of the public remain interested in the work of the House of Representatives and committees.
In the forward period, the department aims to continue to grow its communication channels to best meet our stakeholders’ expectations, and will work with the other parliamentary departments to enhance the Parliament of Australia website to improve accessibility and navigation. A continued focus on analytics across the department’s websites and social media channels will also assist the department to improve the delivery of parliamentary information to the public.
Following the cancellation of several seminars in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in the year ahead the department will improve its capability to deliver seminars online. This will include providing additional tools and training to staff, as well as the development of tailored materials. It is expected that this online capability will complement in-person seminars at Parliament House when they resume.