Legislative Council Chamber, Parliament House, Wellington
11.00m, Monday 27 November 2006
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
(Greetings, greetings and greetings to you all)
As Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives, it is my very real pleasure to welcome members of the Association of Parliamentary Librarians of Asia and the Pacific to New Zealand and to Wellington in particular.
I’d like to acknowledge Roslynn Membrey, Acting APLAP President, and members of the committee. I also acknowledge Joel George, General Manager of the Parliamentary Service
The Association was established in 1990 to encourage understanding of, and cooperation between Parliamentary libraries and research and information services attached to the national and state or provincial legislatures in the region.
The conference theme ‘Parliamentary libraries working together to support Parliamentary democracy’ underpins one of the challenges facing Parliamentary democracy throughout the world.
The inter-change of views that will occur in the formal and informal sessions at this conference will be important. It is also something to be treasured. As recent world events graphically illustrate, Parliamentary democracy is a fragile concept and we must continue to pursue and promote its positive ideals.
But we are here today to talk about Parliamentary libraries and how they can support Parliamentary democracy. Some may question the juxtaposition, but for me it is not hard to draw a link between Parliamentary democracy and the provision of accurate and timely information.
If knowledge is power, and who am I to argue when Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and Winston Churchill, all say it is, then that knowledge is under-pinned by information and the provision of it in an accurate, timely and neutral fashion.
Here in New Zealand, we very early on recognised the need for politicians to be well supported by good quality information. Our Parliamentary Library was founded when the Parliament was just four years old. It is housed in the oldest building in the complex, one which was designed for that purpose. One hundred and forty eight years and two fires later, it is still in the same building – one of the most beautiful you will see anywhere,
This, the 9th biennial Association conference, is one of the largest in its history – there are 43 delegates from 19 countries. It is a particular pleasure for us that we have an almost equal balance of Pacific and Asian countries represented. We are also delighted that Fiji has agreed to host the next conference.
The New Zealand Parliament has always had a strong interest in the Pacific and has supported Pacific Parliaments in a variety of ways over the years. For example, the NZ Parliamentary Library worked with the Legislative Assembly of the Kingdom
of Tonga to set up a Parliamentary library there and this led to other opportunities for collaboration in the Pacific.
Politicians put a lot of value on information and the Parliamentary library is a key source for much of that information. Our library is used by all eight political parties in our Parliament. We all rely on it to give us accurate, timely information focussed on the issues or questions we need answers to.
One of the key differentiators is that information from a Parliamentary library does not try to persuade us towards a particular point of view. It is as close as possible to neutral.
Our Parliament has evolved a great deal over our 150 years of Parliamentary history. For example, this room, the Legislative Council Chamber, housed the Upper House till it was abolished in 1950.
But probably the biggest change came with the introduction of a system of Mixed Member Proportional voting with the 1996 election. I’ll leave that topic to Mary Harris, Acting Clerk of the House of Representatives, who will speak to you shortly.
As Parliament evolved, so too has the work of the Parliamentary library. We do still deal with books, but these days the majority of our work takes place in a virtual world. Politicians contact the library mainly by phone and email. They can be anywhere – out and about talking to groups, working somewhere in the Parliamentary complex, in their electorates or on the other side of the world.
The library answers our questions and provides our staff with information to use in debates, speeches and press releases parliamentary committee work and in meetings with lobby groups and constituents. As well, there is a wide range of research tools available for politicians and their staff to undertake their own research and to help them keep up-to-date.
The library has taken a lead role in the development of our much acclaimed new website www.parliament.nz A recent addition of NZ Lawyer – a magazine for lawyers, called the new Parliament website one of the most impressive New Zealand websites. The magazine went on to say the website ‘offers a wonderfully coherent view of the work and workings of Parliament. The release of information such as links to the entire legislative history of an Act or Bill to the legal profession and to the public is a huge constitutional step forward.’
Traditionally Parliamentary libraries have been responsible for content on the Intranet. Our Library has moved beyond that to a leadership role in the development of Parliament’s website as well as the information on the Intranet that is restricted to those of us working within Parliament.
I don’t underestimate the amount of work that has gone into developing and creating these sites.
The amount of content that has been written, translated, checked and posted - for example, we add about 500 documents each week, making Parliament one of the largest publishers in New Zealand. Seven different publishing systems feed into the 250 sections on the website.
Our democracy relies on people being able to participate and using the Internet is an obvious tool to make this happen.
Another non-traditional area of the library’s work is its leadership of our history and heritage programme. The Parliamentary Historian is a member of the library staff and is part of a group of outreach activities aimed at encouraging New Zealanders to understand our system of Parliamentary democracy and to engage with it.
As Speaker, I’m very proud of the service and facilities we have developed as part of the Parliamentary library and its wider functions. It is a pleasure to welcome you here on behalf of the New Zealand Parliament. We are pleased to have the opportunity to share it with you and we look forward to learning from the experiences of your Parliaments.