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Hansard goes digital to celebrate its 150th anniversary

Published date: 11 Jul 2017

11 July 2017

The entire collection of New Zealand’s Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) has gone online in time to celebrate the establishment of an independent Hansard reporting service 150 years-ago this week.

Laptop on round tabletop Enlarge image

Source: iStock / Office of the Clerk

An international effort

The project was completed by the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives in collaboration with the University of California, the Google Books Library Project and the HathiTrust Digital Library. Current and future generations of Kiwis can now 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.

Uploading the past

Since 9 July 1867, when official Hansard Reporters first started writing down what politicians said in in Parliament’s debating Chamber, close to 500 million words have been recorded. As a result of digitisation it is now possible to search on almost every one of those words, making it much easier for people to carry out research and locate information of historical interest.

Hansard forms an important part of New Zealand’s historical record. You are likely to find within its (now digital) pages a reference to every event of significance to our country over the last 150 years; from world-leading legislation like women’s suffrage to great sporting achievements and natural, man-made and economic disasters.

Pre-Hansard

For 13 years from the establishment of the New Zealand Parliament in Auckland in 1854, newspaper reports were the only record of what was said in Parliament’s debating chambers. The accuracy of these reports often depended on the political leanings of the owners of the newspaper in which they were published. Consistency of reporting was a real problem as newspaper editors could simply choose not to report the speeches of any politicians whose views they didn’t share.

In 1884, 24 year old Maurice FitzGerald, son of politician and Auditor General James FitzGerald, was engaged to compile, from newspaper reports, speeches made in Parliament between 1854 and 1867. Maurice was suffering from advanced tuberculosis and carried out this painstaking task from home. He completed the work in 1885 but unfortunately died before seeing the last of his five volume compilation printed. However his legacy now lives on in cyberspace as part of the digital record of Parliamentary debates.