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Activities and achievements

In 2020–21 DPS delivered a range of activities to support the work of the Parliament, parliamentarians and the maintenance of Australian Parliament House. The following achievements are tied to the strategic themes and intended results or deliverables articulated in our 2020–21 Corporate Plan.

Strategic theme 1 – Respond to the changing needs of the Parliament

Intended results: Implement efficient and effective infrastructure, systems and services to respond to the changing needs of the Parliament and our parliamentarians.

  • The transition of systems to a secure cloud platform which has provided enhanced and more secure email accessibility.
  • The installation of a new Parliamentary Information Management System (PIMS) business platform to underpin the next generation of Hansard services. This is one of the first major enhancements deployed to the cloud environment that meets the new security accreditation framework. PIMS leverages and builds upon a common code base with the parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory. Additional PIMS-enabled services and capabilities will be launched in 2021–22, including live transcript presentation to clients and major workflow improvements for the Hansard team.

 Hansard transcribed 3156 hours of committee hearings held compared with 1075 hours in the previous year.

  • The Parliamentary Audio Visual Services (Broadcasting) team provided and integrated a videoconferencing platform into the existing broadcasting infrastructure in response to the impact of COVID-19 on the conduct of parliamentary proceedings. This solution supported the ongoing work of the Parliament, enabling both chamber proceedings and committee hearings to proceed uninterrupted. To enable seamless participation, parliamentarians who participated remotely from their electoral offices were provided one-on-one training in the new system via videoconference links into the chambers.
  • The Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10 rollout continued in 2020-21 for parliamentarians and the parliamentary departments. Microsoft Office 365 improves mobility, enhances collaboration and provides remote access to information.
  • Significant electorate office network upgrade program commenced to improve network and internet speed and reliability. Several electorate offices piloted the upgrades to facilitate a smooth transition to the new service.
  • An Enhanced Video Conferencing project commenced to expand secure and reliable videoconferencing facilities across Parliament House, including to most committee rooms. The new facilities are scheduled to go live in 2022.

Intended results: Explore, develop and implement innovative technology and systems for the delivery of timely and secure information and services to the Parliament.

  • The Senate Division Recording System was implemented to facilitate the electronic recording of divisions within the chamber.
  • All Parliamentary Computer Network users were given access to Microsoft Office 365 applications on a range of devices, including smartphones and tablets.
     In 2020-21 ISD enrolled 1900 smart phones and tablets and upgraded 3,943 mailboxes to Microsoft Office 365.
  • The Cyber Security Branch continued to deter and respond to issues in the evolving threat environment by implementing effective risk management and threat assessment techniques. Several cybersecurity projects were implemented that support the continuing maturation, capability and resilience of our department.

Intended results: Retain the Parliamentary Library’s position as our clients’ preferred and trusted source of high-quality information, analysis and advice.

  • The client evaluation of Library Services for the 46th Parliament found satisfaction with the Library’s services remained very high (94 per cent). Responsiveness, professionalism and high-quality research were all cited as reasons for this outcome.
     Parliamentary Library services achieved 94% satisfaction rating from parliamentarians and their staff.
  • The percentage of parliamentarians and their staff who would recommend the Library stands at 100 per cent. There is a high level of trust in the Library as a source of information and high regard for the standards of scholarship and expertise.
  • Library services are used by all parliamentarians and their staff as well as parliamentary committee staff.
  • A client service evaluation found COVID-19 has had little impact on perceived quality of services.

Case Study: COVID-19 – new ways to do business as usual

The department’s response to COVID-19 continued to evolve during 2020–21 with changes in Commonwealth health advice, various state and territory border restrictions and health directions within the ACT. Border closures or quarantine restrictions between borders meant many parliamentarians were hindered from travelling to Canberra to attend Parliament during sitting periods.

In a first for the Australian Parliament, our IT team developed tools to facilitate remote participation by parliamentarians in chamber proceedings. Remote participation supported many aspects of chamber and committee activity, including participation in debates on bills that were critical to Australia’s management of the pandemic.

Our Broadcasting team coordinated the participation and education of users in collaboration with the Presiding Officers and staff from the House departments. Our teams established secure video links between electorate offices and the chambers and committee hearings as required. They also broadcast press conferences of national significance where the Prime Minister, the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer provided critical health advice to the Australian public. The team integrated Auslan interpretation into the broadcast press conferences to improve accessibility.

The Hansard team continued their work to record proceedings while implementing significant change in their own recording practices. Hansard staff could no longer log proceedings from within chambers or committee hearings due to physical distancing requirements. Up to 50 per cent of Hansard editors were working remotely on real-time transcription tasks for the chambers and committees.

Adaptations to address hurdles presented by COVID-19 has meant our workforce is now more responsive and resilient. Our teams demonstrated their commitment to service excellence and innovative problem-solving, to enable the Australian Parliament to continue to function effectively.

Strategic theme 2 – Enhance the Parliament’s engagement with the community

Intended results: Enhance our visitor experience and community engagement including the use of social media and emerging technologies.

  • The Parliament commemorated the centenary of the death of Australia’s first Prime Minister with an exhibition on the life and times of Sir Edmund Barton. The exhibition ran in the Presiding Officers’ Exhibition Area in Parliament House from November 2020 to May 2021.
  • In May, an exhibition celebrating new acquisitions for the Parliament House Art Collections opened in the Presiding Officers’ Exhibition Area—it was the first time new works in the collection have been displayed to the public since 2016.
  • Parliament also hosted an exhibition to mark 50 years since Neville Bonner AO became the first recorded Indigenous Australian to enter the Federal Parliament. The exhibition was timed to coincide with National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week.
  • To mark NAIDOC Week, the Parliamentary Library hosted a conversation on Indigenous knowledge and perspectives by Craig Ritchie, CEO of Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Studies (AIATSIS), and Professor Lynette Russell of Monash University.
  • ‘Relics’ from the House of Commons, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace featured in an exhibition at Parliament House to mark the 80th anniversary of the worst bombing raid of the London Blitz.
  • Despite the impacts of COVID-19, Art Collections maintained an active loans program, enhancing community engagement with those unable to travel to Canberra. As well as facilitating existing long-term loans to institutions and individuals, the team provided loans to institutions in four states: Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
  • A Total Lunar Eclipse viewing event was held on the Parliament House Forecourt, delivered in partnership with the Australian National University. The event was delivered in a COVID-Safe manner and maintained public engagement at a time where only reduced visitor numbers could enter Parliament House. The informative, family-friendly event was safely attended by over 350 people.
  • Marketing activities recommenced to promote events at Parliament House, including co-hosting a group of 30 local event planners with the Canberra Convention Bureau.
    The re-opening of our newly refurbished catering outlets introduced upgraded dining facilities and the release of an enhanced customer offering.
  • The Queen’s Terrace Café and Staff Dining Room were refurbished in 2020–21, providing an opportunity to enhance the offering to customers, including through a new range of take-home meals, juices and freshly made sandwiches. The menus for all outlets are rotated regularly to give customers a fresh dining experience. This received positive customer feedback.
  • With the re-opening of the Queen’s Terrace Café, weekend high tea experiences were reinstated to strong reviews. These were promoted for events, including the ACT Enlighten Festival and Mother’s Day, and were very well attended.
  • The Enlighten degustation dinner was held during the ACT Enlighten Festival. The first event sold out in three days and a second night was added, also selling out.
  • Barton’s Federation degustation dinner was delivered as a gala event (it was also sold out and an additional night added). Guests commenced their evening with a visit to the Barton art exhibition, followed by a modern take on a state dinner hosted by Barton in 1901. Music was provided by the Band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.
  • The recipients of the Giving Tree program this reporting period were Friends with Dignity (assisting survivors of domestic violence) and Community First Development (a First Nations community development organisation). The Giving Tree was launched by the Presiding Officers on 2 December 2020.
  • Although there were significant changes to the usual offering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Visitor Engagement was able to deliver a series of daily tours upon the re-opening of the building. These included the Yeribee Indigenous Experiences Tour, the Art and Furniture Tour and the Architecture Tour. All three tours operated daily, providing an interpretation of different aspects of Parliament House.
  • Entry to the building was offered pre-booked, online tickets with timed entry allowing a 90-minute self-guided tour of the building’s public areas.
  • Question Time Tours were introduced to maximise visits to the chambers during sitting times and provide opportunities to watch Parliament at work.
  • Specialised tours increased as the ACT re-opened its borders to interstate travellers. The More than Politics experience allowed a tailored tour and dining package to be developed for individuals and small to larger groups, such as tourists from the Great Southern Railway.
     Architecture and art as well as furniture collections.

Intended results: Enhance electronic access to parliamentary information for the community to engage easily with the parliamentary process.

  • The video-on-demand project commenced in 2020–21 to replace the ParlView system that underpins recording and archival of parliamentary proceedings and other events associated with the Parliament. The new system will improve accessibility to parliamentary proceedings, both near-live and on-demand. This project is scheduled to go-live in early 2022.

CASE STUDY: Edmund Barton – Australia’s first Prime Minister

To commemorate the centenary of the death of Australia’s first Prime Minister, Parliament House hosted an exhibition on the life and times of Sir Edmund Barton GCMG PC KC. The exhibition ran from November 2020 to May 2021.

The exhibition delivered on the department’s strategic theme ‘enhance Parliament’s engagement with the community’. A degustation dinner was hosted as part of a public program to promote the exhibition. Executive Chef David Learmonth drew on Edmund Barton’s love of fine food and the campaign dinners he held seeking support for Federation. Tickets to two dinners were sold out.

Telling the story of Australia’s democracy in new and interesting ways is part of the department’s strategy to improve parliamentary engagement with the community. Degustation guests were invited to explore the exhibition as part of their pre-dinner experience. More than 130 people arrived early to ensure they could take part.

The exhibition drew on a range of sources and materials to present Edmund Barton’s story. A lecture by Canberra historian Dr David Headon, hosted by the Parliamentary Library, contributed as part of the ‘First Eight’ project on Australia’s early Prime Ministers.

The exhibition included a review of the first Prime Minister’s political progress as illustrated by Bulletin cartoonists, and a composite photographic portrait of each member of the first Commonwealth Parliament. This large work has rarely been on display and provided a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of our most significant participants in establishing our federation.

Strategic theme 3 – Effective stewardship of Australian Parliament House

Intended results: Ensure adaptations of the building’s uses are strategic, appropriate and reference design integrity principles and the Central Reference Document.

  • The DPS Framework for the Maintenance of Design Integrity of Parliament House, launched in April 2019, has enabled DPS to work effectively across a diverse range of issues affecting the operation of Parliament House, from helping to ensure a COVID-safe workplace through implementing measures, including temporary perspex hygiene shields and hand sanitizer stands, to major refurbishments of our kitchens and dining facilities. The framework ensures the design team members and moral rights administrators are included at appropriate times while also providing clarity and practical assistance to our staff managing maintenance and capital works projects.
  • A major review of all 40 chapters of the of the Architects’ Design Intent for Parliament House, Canberra: Central Reference Document (the CRD) has been completed. The focus will now shift to consolidating the CRD for publication as a series of ebooks.

Intended results: Ensure a secure environment while maintaining public accessibility.

  • Following practical completion of the physical security upgrade works, the remaining minor modification works were completed in December 2020.
  • In June 2021, the maintenance of the electronic security system was fully transitioned to DPS.
  • The upgrades ensure that the building is secure for the long term without affecting ease of access to the public areas.

Intended results: Effectively manage all assets within Parliament House including collections

  • In response to COVID-19 restrictions, our exhibition program was enriched with the creation of online material to complement the physical displays. Of particular note was an online digital experience developed for the Sir Joseph Banks’ Florilegium exhibition, which enabled close study of the relationships between the Florilegium, the Parliament House foyer marquetry designed by Tony Bishop and fabricated by Michael Retter OAM and the original specimens from the Endeavour’s voyage. Online content was also produced for exhibitions commemorating Sir Edmund Barton and Neville Bonner
  • We produced a series of short curator interviews responding to specific displays and public programs. The short interviews were filmed by Parliamentary Broadcasting and distributed via social media channels.
  • The Special Collections team took advantage of COVID-19 remote working arrangements to focus on the AUSPIC Collection, processing 122,246 photographic images throughout the year.
     Special Collections processed 122,246 AUSPIC photographic images.
  • COVID-19 created a lot of uncertainty for events. Our APH Catering and Events section worked closely with event organisers, maintaining a flexible approach to support and deliver future events.
  • We also adopted a new COVID-safe event plan, focused on customer and staff safety, which gave event organisers added confidence to retain their business at Parliament House.
  • Staff have been trained in new booking and arrival processes in line with the ACT Government’s COVID-19 protocols.
  • Budget week saw a return to large scale events, which were delivered to the satisfaction of clients and in a safe manner.
  • Asset management in Parliament House was improved by:
    • digitising the Landscape Condition Rating – all three condition ratings, Landscape, Building and Engineering are now contained in SAP PM, DPS’ electronic asset management system, and
    • enhancing the Engineering Systems Condition Rating data collection capability, which enables a more targeted and data-driven approach to maintenance and asset management.
  • Refurbishment and conservation of Parliament House furniture this year included:
    • procuring 2,080 metres of fabric and leather for upholstery
    • refurbishing 816 furniture items to extend asset life, and
    • condition inspection of more than 5,000 furniture items throughout Parliament House.
       maintenance team replaced 3.4 kilometres of expansion joiners in the forecourt.

Intended results: Maintain Parliament House and its precinct as befits its status as an iconic building and location of national significance.

  • The building’s maintenance services team provided ongoing assistance to the Parliament House response to COVID-19, including cleaning and signage.
  • The maintenance services team delivered a minor project works package that addressed a range of issues across the building. These included:
    • refurbishing plumbing services for the level one east and west Great Hall public bathrooms
    • repainting line marking in the main public car park and Parliamentary Drive
    • replacing 3.4km of silicone expansion joiners in the forecourt
    • replacing lights in the House of Representatives carpark, Senate carpark and main public carpark
    • replacing old high intensity discharge lighting with new energy-efficient LED fittings on Parliament Drive
    • rectifying the level of two Mural Hall timber panelling
    • improving the main forecourt and Queen's Terrace by:
      • cleaning façade and water feature
      • maintaining garden
      • re-grouting of cobblestones
  • removing and replacing nine Gleditsia trees in the gym courtyard, and
  • rectifying tree planter boxes and replanting trees outside of the Senate entry.

CASE STUDY: Department of Parliamentary Services Apprenticeship Program 2020-21

The department’s commitment to providing an inclusive, supportive and professional training environment was acknowledged at the 2020 ACT Training Awards, when our apprenticeship program was awarded runner up in the large employer of the year category.

The apprenticeship program provides a genuine pathway into a range of unique careers and attracts apprentices from diverse backgrounds. In 2021 we continued the program, welcoming three new apprentices.

The department offers apprenticeships in a range of vocations and trades, including stonemasonry, electrical, horticulture and commercial cookery, to ensure we continue to support the effective stewardship of Parliament House.

Our electrical apprentices participated in a major overhaul of the electrical systems in Parliament House, ensuring the ongoing safety of systems which are over 30 years old. Apprentices worked on the replacement of the electrical distribution boards and mechanical services switchboards, as well as the replacement of the auxiliary power diesel generator system.

Our landscaping apprentices experience an array of horticultural training environments. Our apprentices study Turf Management and Horticulture while developing skills in our formal gardens, private courtyards, turf areas and public gardens. During the year, the department won a tender to provide landscaping services to the Prime Minister’s official residence, The Lodge, which has expanded the range of opportunities available to our team.

The construction of Parliament House advanced a number of trades and industries that were formative and rare in Australia at that time. Our apprenticeship program provides an important pathway for the generational transfer of knowledge from tradespeople who have worked in the building for many years, and some since 1988. This program demonstrates our commitment to developing highly skilled tradespeople to work in the unique Parliament House environment.

Strategic theme 4 – Effective delivery of the Parliament House works program

Intended results: Capital works activity functions effectively to deliver a safe and accessible workplace.

  • The capital works program is delivering better infrastructure and safety across Parliament House.
     Maintenance team refurbished and upgraded 42 lifts as well as replacing 326 electrical distribution boards and 33 mechanical service switchboards.
    Key achievements in 2020–21 included:
    • completing work to refurbish and upgrade the 42 lifts across the building
    • upgrading handrails and balustrades in the Marble Foyer, Great Hall and Member's Hall to improve safety for occupants and visitors
    • refurbishing the Staff Dining Room and the Queen’s Terrace Café including comprehensive updating and upgrading of the commercial kitchen and dining facilities
    • upgrading the catering facilities within the Schools Hospitality area to a commercial kitchen standard
    • replacing 326 electrical distribution boards
    • replacing 33 mechanical services switchboards, and
    • completing the installation of the physical infrastructure of the new auxiliary power network with only commissioning activities remaining.

CASE STUDY: Redevelopment of the Queen’s Terrace Café and Staff Dining Room

The reopening of the Staff Dining Room in September 2020 and the Queen’s Terrace Café in October 2020 signalled a significant milestone achievement for the DPS capital works program. The project delivered the first comprehensive upgrade to the service kitchens since the opening of Australian Parliament House in 1988.

This project continued throughout the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact the pandemic enabled work to progress ahead of schedule while there was a limited number of people in the building.

During the works, building occupants and visitors were provided with alternative dining service options. A take-away only service for staff using the Private Dining Rooms as a temporary cafeteria and the Queen’s Terrace Gallery area was transformed into a café and coffee hub for the public and building occupants.

To celebrate the reopening of the Queen’s Terrace Café, the department hosted a public open day featuring live music, a gourmet barbeque and our ever-popular high tea.

In upgrading both facilities, DPS achieved not only enhanced food safety control, work, health and safety compliance and building code compliance, but also restored the original design intent in the design and construction process.

The next phase of the project is completion of refurbishment of the Members and Guests Dining Room kitchen (COVID-permitting) before the end of the 2021 calendar year.