Hansard—the official report of what is said in Parliament – is 150 years old in New Zealand. This is a remarkable milestone for a written record, particularly when set against the technologically advanced age we now live in. Video and audio recordings capture the atmosphere of Parliament, creating a sense of immediacy to events in the Chamber. So, how has Hansard’s written transcript of parliamentary debate endured?
Unbiased and trustworthy reporting is crucial. This was felt keenly during the early days of our Parliament, when MPs were unhappy with what they saw as the media’s inaccurate reporting of their speeches. Ongoing dissatisfaction led to the creation of an independent team of reporters—otherwise known as Hansard. Today, MPs continue to value the written record of what they and their colleagues have said in debates.
Equally important is Hansard’s lasting value to the public. In our parliamentary democracy it is essential to be able to hold our elected representatives to account. Hansard captures every word spoken and every vote cast. This allows the public to judge their elected representatives not only for what they’ve said, but for their policies, and for their decision-making.
For a place as busy and dynamic as Parliament, a written report greatly helps us make sense of what happens in the House and as of this month, the entire record is available online and is fully searchable – all the way back to 1867.
The honest and consistent delivery by Hansard is tried and true and has stood the test of time. It is a national taonga. As we move through today’s world of alternative facts and fake news, Hansard will continue to accurately and impartially report what is said in Parliament.
And, in another 150 years a future public will look back on the Hansard transcripts of our time and be able to determine, with the luxury of hindsight, whether New Zealand society came out on the right side of history in handling the issues of the day.
To mark the 150th anniversary of Hansard, an exhibition of Hansard cartoons and memorabilia opens this week at the Parliament Exhibition Space on the mezzanine of Bowen House in Wellington and online on Parliament’s website and the Office of the Clerk is hosting a free public debate on 26th July, where MPs and Journalists will argue whether an era of alternative facts threatens the truth of the written record. See more in the related links below.