Transcripts of parliamentary proceedings (Hansard) have been available on line for some time, but OpenAustralia takes the same content and gives it a Web 2.0 work-over. Searching is far easier than on the parliamentary website. You can enter your postcode, find your local member and then search for particular words or phrases in her speech (in my case Tanya Plibersek) and you can even subscribe to an email alert which lets you know whenever she says something in parliament. You are also able to post comments on individual speeches. This feature provides a intriguing forum for community debate of political issues without the filter of media decisions as to what is or is not newsworthy. I will be very interested to see how these discussions evolve.
So far OpenAustralia only covers the proceedings of the House of Representative, but in time they aim to include the Senate and committees. You can keep an eye on progress on their news page and their blog.
Speaking of their blog, I was fascinated by a post about the Register of Member’s Interests. The Register details investments, directorships and other interests that provide important indications of potential conflicts of interest. OpenAustralia team was keen to make this information available on their site, but it turns out that there is no electronic record of the Register. While State Governments such as the Parliament of South Australia have managed to make their Register available online, the Federal Register comprises seven A4 binds with around 1500 pages of hand-written entries. To me this seems like an excellent opportunity to crowdsource the problem. If the Registrar, Bernard Wright, could be persuaded to allow the Register to be scanned, it could be circulated to a few hundred volunteers (and I would put up my hand to help) who could transcribe a few pages each and there we’d have an electronic version in no time at all! Of course, some decent OCR software could do the job as well, but that wouldn’t be nearly as democratic (or as much fun).
(Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pipstar/85073334/)