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Parliament (website) for the people

New Parliament website home pageThe Parliament of Australia has just released the new version of its website, and finally access to Parliamentary business and politicians has really opened up online.

‘Punter-centred’ design

Of course we’ve had online access to information about bills, committees and politicians’ speeches and so on for a long time now, through Hansard, XML feeds, and various pages throughout the old website. It’s just that it’s been so hard to find, for your average punter who doesn’t have an ‘inside view’ on how Parliament works.

But now you don’t have to go trawling through loads of search records and acres of text to find what’s actually important to you. The new website has been designed from an ‘outside-in’ approach, i.e. through the eyes and minds of the general public, rather than just those who are ‘on the inside’: politicians and their staff, media, and public service staff who really know their Senate Estimates from their Tariff Proposals.

Opening access to our taxes at work

A big focus of the new design is also about opening up access to politicians and their activities, which demonstrates the sort of mandated responsibility that Parliament has to the public:

  • You can track what your Member of Parliament (and state Senators) is up to, with access to their speeches, and which committees in which they have representation. You can also set email alerts, so you know their latest activities.
  • Don’t know who your Member is? It’s OK, most people don’t, but now it’s much easier to find out, with a handy location-based search.
  • You can easily see what bills are going through Parliament at any given time, and track updates to bills activity with email alerts.
  • A full list of Members or Senators, with their contact details, is only two clicks away from anywhere in the website. Plus each politicians’ profile page has their website links, twitter links, etc

Bringing an experience of the real building online

Love it or hate it, the Parliament House building is a grand statement in the Canberra landscape, and a visit to see the building, to walk its halls, is an experience I think everyone should have. The new website visually threads the presence of the building throughout the website, not only its appearance but the people who use the spaces inside.

The home page creates a dominating centrepiece for the building’s facade, in effect mimicking the experience you have when you first front up to the real thing. The architect Romaldo Giurgola had a finely honed sense of scale and substance for the building, and used surfaces of various types of stone, glass and metal to work with Canberra’s ever-changing light conditions. This is reflected in a little piece of eye-candy for the website: the background image changes depending on the time of day/night.

Other features use the virtual space to welcome people to the physical space:

An experience more than screen-deep

And why am I bothering to write this? I was fortunate enough to be involved in the research, concept and design of the new website, and I’m proud of the efforts of so many people involved in completing such a gargantuan project. It wasn’t the smoothest overhaul by any stretch, but it’s been fulfilling to have worked on something to do proper justice to Parliament and to its elected officials, as well as the building itself.