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FINANCE AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 02/12/1994 - DEPARTMENT OF THE SENATE - Program 3--Procedure Office

Senator KEMP --I strongly welcome the exhibition `A Nation at Last' which has been put together so well on the first floor of Parliament House. How long is it proposed to keep the exhibition there? Is there any proposal to have it taken to the various state parliament houses so that, when it is finished here, it can travel elsewhere?

Mr Evans --It is hoped that the exhibition will remain in place for the rest of this decade. The plan is to change the material in the exhibition and the presentation of the exhibition at regular intervals over that period, emphasising different aspects of the federation movement of the 1890s, and to keep it in place until the centenary comes around.

Senator KEMP --In that case, is the parliament making any move to upgrade the education kits which are available to schools so that they can be better informed about the federation movement?

Mr Evans --I neglected to answer Senator Kemp's other question about sending the exhibition around. There is a proposal to have a travelling version of the exhibition available to other parliaments and other institutions in the states. A travelling version of the `Women in Parliament' exhibition is already doing the rounds, and it is proposed to have a travelling version in some form of the current federation exhibition. I will ask Mr O'Keeffe to respond to the question on the schools kit.

Mr O'Keeffe --The Parliamentary Education Office is responding to the general community interest in the approach of the centenary. They are in consultation and negotiation, I think you could describe it as, with the Constitutional Centenary Foundation for the production of joint materials about the constitution and the development of federation. They are also in consultation and negotiation with state education departments to enhance curriculum materials in the states. The office is also producing its own materials for schools on the constitution.

Senator KEMP --Is the very large kit that was produced some years ago still available? Can schools obtain that? There was quite a large kit with a variety of pamphlets.

Mr O'Keeffe --They were the parliament packs. There are still copies of those around. All primary and secondary schools were provided with the respective copies of those. With experience we have found that the packs of that size and that dimension are not as effective as smaller components that fit more directly into existing curricula. The Parliamentary Education Office's curriculum focus is directed more to filling slots. There are very few courses in schools for the majority of students which directly address politics, the constitution or whatever. The strategy of the office is to try to complement existing courses with illustrative materials which bring in the constitution and federation.

Senator KEMP --Does the material that you are putting out make it very clear that the constitution was written in Australia and was voted on by the Australian people? Even quite senior people have made quite serious errors in this issue recently.

Mr O'Keeffe --Yes, very much so. The emphasis in the materials is that it is an Australian constitution, and perhaps even more particularly--and this is demonstrated in the exhibition--that it was probably only the second constitution in the world at that time which had been voted on by its own people. Those elements are very strongly demonstrated and argued for by the Parliamentary Education Office.

Senator KEMP --What was the other one that was voted on by the people?

Mr O'Keeffe --I believe it was Switzerland.

Senator KEMP --At that time we were only the second one that had been in fact endorsed by the people, as distinct from the American constitution, for example?

Mr O'Keeffe --The American constitution was adopted by a convention. My understanding is that the Swiss were the first to adopt their own constitution by a plebiscite and Australia was the second.

Senator KEMP --I think that is quite a fascinating fact, Mr President. I wonder whether it would be possible to bring that fact to the attention of Mr Keating?

Senator MINCHIN --I wrote to Senator Sibraa when he was President about the embarrassment I felt--and I know that many others feel--at rushing from all parts of this building to participate in divisions or whatever and not having any idea what item of business is being dealt with, what legislation it is or where it is at. I suggested that the display that is put up on our television screens indicating the item of business and what stage it is at could quite simply be electronically displayed in the chamber. I would have thought that would not only assist the senators but also would be of considerable assistance to the people in the galleries whom we are here to serve.

The response I received was a bit vague. It said that there might be a possibility of putting something above the doors as we come in. I cannot see why you could not do something in the chamber that would be of considerable assistance to everybody. I would have thought it would be fairly cheap and easy to do, given that someone is there tapping it in and monitoring it anyway for it to go on the television screens.

The PRESIDENT --That service does already exist on the television monitors, of course. You are aware of that?

Senator MINCHIN --That is what I am referring to. As it is being done for the television monitors, why could you not simply allow that to be displayed on some kind of strip display in the chamber itself--for example, just under the press gallery?

Mr Evans --The proposal to put screens in the galleries was looked at. The television monitors were put outside the galleries so that people going into the galleries could see what was going on, or have some idea of what was going on. But the proposition to put them in the galleries, I think, met with some resistance.

Senator MINCHIN --I do not mean a television picture of what is going on. I mean the words that are displayed on the television screen simply being put on an electronic display, which need not be very big--simply that the wording that you are already putting on the screen be displayed in the chamber so that everyone would know.

Mr Evans --That is certainly possible. When it was looked at before, I think there was objection on the part of the previous President and some senators to having the screens in the galleries. But there is no reason why it cannot be done if the Senate wants it done.

The PRESIDENT --Let us have a look at that.

[9.16 a.m.]