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How Hansard replaced the Press

Published date: 25 May 2017

25 May 2017

It’s a true story, a political saga and historical drama, and possibly one of the longest running narratives in the country. Luckily for the reader, you don’t need to know the early volumes in order to pick up the latest chapter. 

Large bound book on top of a pile of folded newspapers Enlarge image

Source: Office of the Clerk

Leading the pack

Our independent transcripts of who said what in Parliament have been going for 150 years and we were one of the earliest countries to get cracking on this important and accountable record. Whilst we took the name ‘Hansard’ from the UK – after Thomas Curson Hansard (1776–1833), the first official printer to the Parliament at Westminster – the practice of recording debates using independent reporters happened here first. An in-house reporting team was established in New Zealand before many other Commonwealth Parliaments, including Westminster. Debates of the New Zealand Parliament were first officially transcribed on 9 July 1867, 42 years before an independent Hansard team was established in the UK Parliament in 1909.

Truth from independence

For 13 years after the establishment of the New Zealand Parliament in Auckland in 1854, newspaper reports were the only record of what was said in Parliament. 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 noted in an article in the Wellington Independent newspaper in 1860:

These reports give you little notion of the reality. Some members … whose speeches are dreary beyond belief, and almost unintelligible as delivered in the House, [become] flowing oratory in the columns of the newspaper.  While others… are shorn of their fair proportions, and their speeches reduced to mere notes… Members who usually talk to empty benches [appear] as prominent as those who electrify the gallery or are the life of the House.

Man sitting in chair Enlarge image

James Edward Fitzgerald, circa 1890

Source: National Library of New Zealand

In 1862 James FitzGerald (MP for Christchurch and owner of The Press) brought a motion to the House, calling on the Government to take steps to secure the publication of "full and accurate reports of the debates in this House.”  Despite the motion being unanimously agreed, no subsequent steps were taken to establish an independent team to report parliamentary debates. However FitzGerald continued to champion the cause and in 1866 a Select Committee, chaired by FitzGerald, was established to “consider and report as to the best manner in which the debates of the General Assembly can be reported and printed.” You can read the committee’s short report here

In 1867 the Colonial Secretary Edward Stafford appointed, as a trial, a team of five reporters, led by Chief Reporter CCN Barron, to record the debates in both the Legislative Council and the House of Representatives. The trial was a success and Barron continued as Chief Reporter for the next 29 years.

Writing history

Hansard editors continue to report the transcripts of debates in the House today, and keep an unbiased, trustworthy record. These are used by historical researchers, lawyers and the courts, political science students, MPs and any member of the public wanting to know more about New Zealand society and the political discussions that have shaped the country.

Whether you want to check up on something that was said in a recent debate or look up a critical piece of New Zealand history, you can read all about it – either online or at Parliament – Hansard belongs to you.