This week, Hansard turns 150 years old and for the first time all 723 volumes of its parliamentary transcripts will be accessible and searchable online.
The anniversary was announced today in Parliament by The Speaker of the House, Rt Hon David Carter: “Members, this month marks 150 years since the establishment of the New Zealand Hansard, the record of parliamentary debates. As one of the earliest parliaments to establish a Hansard service independent of the executive, New Zealand has a longstanding tradition of providing a transparent record of parliamentary proceedings. This plays a valuable role in making the work of this House accessible to all New Zealanders. I note that 2017 is also the 20th anniversary of the Hansard including speeches delivered in Te Reo Māori, along with their translations. I am sure members would wish to acknowledge this occasion”.
The millions of words spoken by MPs in the Chamber – dating all the way back to 1867 – have always been available as books at Parliament and in some libraries, and whilst a good number of them, particularly recent transcripts, were available online, there were big gaps from the past.
The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives worked with the University of California, Google Books Library Project and the HathiTrust to find the gaps and make the entire record of New Zealand’s Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) available online. This means that current and future generations of Kiwis can easily access information about important events in their history and see the basis for decisions made by their Parliament.
As Colonial Secretary Edward Stafford said when he established the first team of Hansard Reporters in 1867: “The first essence of responsible government is that the country should know what its Government does, and that it should know the reasons which influence Honourable Members in any decision they may arrive at, either for or in opposition to a proposition.”
David Wilson, Clerk of the House of Representatives, is responsible for the work of the Hansard team and was delighted the project reached completion in time for the 150th anniversary. “This is an epic milestone for our written transcripts,” said Wilson. “It is exciting to see Hansard – an age-old service in our Parliament – going completely digital. A thriving democracy relies on Parliament’s work being accessible, transparent and accountable, and Hansard is central to this. Hansard has never been more available to the public and for a 150-year-old institution, that is quite a feat,” Wilson concluded.
To celebrate 150 years of Hansard, The Office of the Clerk has organised a couple of free public events. An exhibition of Hansard cartoons, memorabilia and poignant quotes from iconic debates will run throughout July at Parliament’s Exhibition Space in Bowen House and on Parliament’s website. There is also a special free public debate happening on Wednesday 26th July at Parliament where people can request tickets to see journalists and MPs argue for and against the moot: “An era of alternative facts threatens the truth of the written record”.