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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2795

Senator ELSTOB —On behalf of the Joint Committee on Publications, I present the report on the review of the cost and distribution of the Parliamentary Papers Series, together with the transcript of evidence.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator ELSTOB —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

One of the major functions of the Joint Committee on Publications is to advise on the administration of the Parliamentary Papers Series. The Series is a collection of the principal papers presented to the Parliament each year. The Series is designed to ensure that adequate copies of parliamentary papers are available for the use of senators and members; that parliamentary papers are available for sale to the public; that each parliamentary paper is available to be bound at the end of the relevant year into a series of volumes and preserved in a convenient and accessible form as a permanent record; and that, in accordance with the Parliamentary Papers Act, persons who publish any paper which has been ordered to be printed are afforded protection against civil or criminal proceedings.

This report is the first major review of the Series conducted by the Joint Committee since its 1977 report. The Committee believes that this review is timely. Although the implementation of the 1977 report's recommendations resulted in major savings in the printing expenditure of the parliamentary departments, the Committee notes that the cost associated with the Series remains high. The Department of the Senate's expenditure on the Series in the past financial year, for example, was $350,400. This expenditure was the largest single component-over 50 per cent-of the Department's total expenditure on printing, which was $617,855.

In resolving to conduct this review in May 1985, the Committee was aware, not only of the costs associated with the Series, but also the increasing number of papers included in the Series and other administrative problems. In conducting the review the Committee examined these issues in the context of the papers included in the Series, the production of pamphlet copies and bound volumes and the distribution of each. The result of this work is a collection of wide- ranging recommendations designed to improve the administration of the Series.

Today, I would like briefly to mention the recommendations relating to two major areas: Annual reports by departments and statutory authorities; and the use of advanced technology in the production of the bound volumes of the Series.

Annual Reports

The Committee has become alarmed in recent years at the increasing number of organisations presenting prestige documents as annual reports. I note from the debates on the Appropriation Bills that this has also concerned some senators. The Committee's previous work in relation to the production of annual reports clearly indicates that a simple, clear format is sufficient to meet the Parliament's needs. This guideline has not been followed and the cost of these publications has added to the cost of the Series.

The Committee considered a number of options to redress this problem and has proposed a package of recommendations. The major thrust of the recommendations is to encourage departments and statutory authorities to print annual reports that meet the Parliament's requirements for information and do so in a modest production style. Thus, the Committee has recommended that the current three class production system operated by the Australian Government Publishing Service be reduced to two by dropping the middle range production standard. The Committee, however, has considered the presentation concerns of some departments and statutory authorities, and has recommended that this reduction in standards be accompanied by the upgrading of cover designs allowable under Class I production. Further, it has recommended that organisations wishing to publish prestige documents annually do so separately to the annual report. The Committee noted that ministerial co-operation would be vital in ensuring that departments and statutory authorities adhere to the production guidelines when printing annual reports. The Committee will seek this co-operation and will continue to monitor the annual reports tabled in parliament.

The final component of the package was to recommend that the Government consider the introduction of an annual reports Act. The Committee believes that this Act should place a legislative requirement on federally funded organisations, not only to report on their activities and account for finances, but also to enforce the production standards I have outlined. The Act would link the current variations in legislative and other arrangements that exist relating to annual reporting requirements without overriding the particular reporting provisions of the other legislation.

Advance Technology in the Production of Bound Volumes

The production of bound volumes is a major component of the costs associated with the Series. Currently, 110 sets of the volumes are prepared annually. The last completed set, for 1981, cost $70,300 for binding alone. The Committee considered four principal options to reduce these costs. These options were:

issue of papers and the relevant indexes to enable recipients to undertake a `self-binding' program;

provisions of bound volumes by subscription in order to recover the cost of production and binding;

cessation of production and distribution of annual bound volumes of the Series; and

issue of microform version of bound volumes.

The Committee finally recommended a reduction in the number of bound volumes prepared annually to 27. This will result in a total cost saving in the order of $98,000 annually. It would, however, still maintain the four principles of the Series. The Committee also recommended that further work be done on the demand for bound volumes in microfiche.

In examining the issue of microfiche, the Committee became aware of exciting new technology offering a range of options to hard copy as a means of conveying information. A substantial amount of evidence was taken on these mediums, including CD ROM-compact disc reader only memory-optical disc and computer technology. Although the evidence indicated that this technology was available in Australia, it is still in its infancy and currently is not a viable option. The Committee will monitor developments in these areas, and may at a later date be able to recommend that one of these methods be used for the Series. The Parliamentary Papers Series, although a costly production, is a vital record of the Parliament. This report seeks to balance the competing concerns of achieving cost efficiency and maintaining the principles of the Series. I commend the report to the Senate.