Over the last couple of years you have read about the change from the THOMAS legislative information website to Congress.gov, and the many enhancements that have occurred along the way. While not as significant as this migration to a completely new website, both the Australian and New Zealand parliamentary websites have undergone makeovers this year. They each have a new look as well as a few new features.
Australian Parliament website
I previously wrote about the launch of the Australian Parliament’s new website back in 2012. Recently, the website has been redesigned, although the overall structure of the information remains the same. The home page has bold new boxes for key information, including links for “Visit” and “Engage.” The large “Watch, Read, Listen” box takes you directly to live videos of the House of Representatives, Senate, and the Federation Chamber (when each is sitting). A few weeks ago, on the first day of the new 45th Parliament, the (quite entertaining and informative) House and Senate Twitter accounts tweeted about the improved live webcast that allows access via computers, phones, and tablets. I tried it out on my phone and it works great. In fact, the whole site works well on smartphones due to its use of responsive design, much like Congress.gov.
In addition, ParlView is a relatively new service that “allows you to watch, replay, pause and download broadcasts of the Senate and House of Representatives, Parliamentary committee hearings, other events and press conferences.” In addition to viewing live video streams of Parliament, you can search for older videos to watch on demand or download clips.
The redesigned site also includes changes to the My Parliament feature, which was originally launched with the 2012 release. This feature now not only allows you to register to track senators and members and bills, but also includes the ability to track committees and committee inquiries and receive notifications of any updates.
Thanks to the beauty of web archiving, it is possible to see how the old website looked and compare it to the latest version. Pandora is the National Library of Australia’s web archive and was actually started way back in 1996. There is now also a dedicated interface for Australian government websites. Searching for http://www.aph.gov.au/ using this interface lets you see how the Parliament website looked in January and December 1997 and many other dates over the following nearly twenty years. Above, you can see an image of the current home page, with the June 2016 version, prior to the redesign, to the right. Quite a big change!
New Zealand Parliament website
Like the Australian website, the New Zealand Parliament website has undergone changes over the years, including getting “a fresh new look and enhanced search functionality” back in 2009. In the last couple of months, in addition to an even fresher new look, there have been five main improvements made to the site:
- A new calendar feature shows what is happening in Parliament, including committee hearings, events, and parliamentary sitting days. Calendar entries can be exported to a user’s personal calendar.
- There is an increased focus on public engagement, with a prominent “Have Your Say” box on the home page that also links to a page where you can easily find information on making submissions on matters before select committees, how to contact members of Parliament, as well as starting a petition, seeking a referendum, and challenging a regulation. In addition, there’s now a box on the home page showing the most recent tweets from @NZParliament.
- Improvements have been made to search functionality, which will lead to better search results as more people use the search feature over time.
- New main menu tabs appear on the top of each page. These organize the content into four key areas: Parliamentary Business (this is where you would go to view bills, records of debates, select committee information, etc.), MPs and Electorates, Get Involved, and Visit and Learn. The large drop-down menus that appear when you put your cursor over each of them make it easy to get to where you want to go.
- On the home page there’s also a revised Quick Links box, which lists items such as the most recent order paper and daily progress document.
Using the National Library of New Zealand website, I located archived versions of the Parliament home page. The most recent one available, from April 2015, is shown below. The current version is displayed to the right. As with the new Australian page, you’ll notice blocks of color, a simplified layout, and a lot less text.
Responsibilities related to the Australian and New Zealand parliamentary websites lie with staff of the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Parliamentary Service, respectively. The Australian website received more than 3.979 million visitors during the 2014-15 fiscal year. There was a “52 per cent growth in traffic from smartphones and a 21 per cent growth in traffic from tablets” that year, compared to the previous year.
In May 2015, the New Zealand Parliamentary Service launched the Virtual House app for smartphones and tablets. The app includes information from the website, including “when the House of Representatives is sitting, contact details for members of Parliament and live web-streaming of Parliament TV.” New features as well as an Android version were included in a November 2015 update.
It’s interesting to see the various developments in these websites, including their design, features, accessibility, and content. Both sites offer legal researchers, whether domestic or international, a wealth of material on the lawmaking processes and legal developments of each country.