Parliament is tiptoeing into e-democracy with a pilot project for the electronic filing of submissions on legislation, as well for managing public access to associated documents.
A document management system from Objective, which has been in development for the past two years, will store and distribute all documents relating to the progress of bills electronically, and also publish them online.
Until now, people wishing to inspect submissions and other background papers had to make an appointment to visit the parliamentary library. Writers of submissions have usually had to provide 20 printed copies and deliver them either by snail-mail or personally to Parliament.
“We have [recently] accepted submissions by email,” says project manager Catherine Parkin. “But we [parliamentary staff] had to print them out and copy them ourselves because there was no electronic distribution system.” Under the new system, submissions can be typed (or more likely copied and pasted) into a web form.
Both the Commerce select committee and the Justice and Electoral select committee have been allowed to accept online submissions as part of the pilot project. This means e-submissions can be made on the Copyright (New Technologies and Performers’ Rights) Amendment Bill (which is relevant to the ICT sector), as well as the Criminal Justice Reform and Property Law amendment bills.
Providing electronic document distribution is complex, says Parkin. “[This is] because the documents have to be accessible to MPs and their staff, as well as the public. This means we’ve had to join up three networks.”
The first select committee hearing to take advantage of the electronic system will be on February 15. The pilot will run for six months and will be evaluated before being extended.