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Thursday, 14 October 1971
Page: 2358

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr ERWIN - The report which I have just tabled represents a landmark in the parliamentary oversight of Government publishing operations. This is the first Report of the Joint Committee on Publications operating under the powers granted to it by Senate standing order 36 and House standing order 28 which came into force last year.

The subject matter of the inquiry was referred to the Committee by the then Treasurer, Mr Bury, on 5th March 1971 when he wrote asking the Committee to inquire into the whole question of the pricing of parliamentary publications and the associated financial arrangements. Parliamentary publications include Hansard, the Notice Papers, Votes and Proceedings and Journals of the 2 Houses, the Parliamentary Handbook, the various pamphlets and lists published by the parliamentary departments and the Parliamentary Papers series - which comprises some 250 papers which the Houses order to be printed during each year. This category does not include Government departmental publications which are circulated in the Parliament but not ordered to be printed as parliamentary papers, nor does it include Acts of Parliament although Bills and tariff proposals do fall into the category. In essence parliamentary publications are those for which parliamentary departments pay for the printing and distribution.

Most honourable members of this House tend to take for granted the . supply of information papers and Hansards which are produced by the various parliamentary departments. This is, however, an area of considerable importance involving the expenditure of at least $lm per annum. The present arrangements for the supply of parliamentary publications to universities, libraries and the public, etc., stem mainly from edicts of the Presiding Officers at the beginning of the century and, apart from their consideration by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Hansard in 1954 and the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Government Publications in 1964, very little attention has been given to these matters.

One of the reasons for the then Treasurer requesting the Committee to conduct an inquiry into the distribution and pricing of parliamentary publications was the short-fall experienced by. the Australian

Government Publishing Service Distribution Section Trust Fund from which funds are provided to distribute such publications as Hansards, Bills, parliamentary papers, etc. The then Treasurer suggested that the arrangements, whereby the Trust Fund was reimbursed to the extent of 25 per cent of revenue raised by subscriptions to these publications, were not very reasonable as the expenses incurred by the publishing service were in some cases some thousands per cent greater than income earned.

During the course of the inquiry, the Committee established that there had been no real attempts to rationalise free distribution and paying subscriber arrangements for these publications, and that the criteria of eligibility for free receipt of parliamentary publications had not been challenged or varied for many years. The Committee found that a large proportion of these publications were issued free, the cost of production being met by the Parliament and the cost of distribution being met by the Publishing Service and that in the case of most publications there were few subscribers to parliamentary publications. In the case of publications to which there were a relatively large number of subscribers, for example Hansard with 1,400 subscribers and Parliamentary Papers and Bills with between 100 and 200 subscribers, the subscription charges levied were totally unrelated to the cost of production and distribution and did not even cover postage costs.

The Committee also considered the publication of Hansard, taking a special interest in the nature of the daily and weekly Hansards. The Committee heard evidence and received submissions pointing out that the Select Committee on Hansard of 1954 and the Joint Select Committee of 1964 both recommended that the daily Hansard be made a 'for sale' item which would be publicly available on the day after the debates which it reported. The Committee agreed that this seemed an excellent idea but established that the current work load of the Government Printer prohibited such a step being taken in the near future. However, the Committee has recommended that as soon as the Government Printer is able to produce daily Hansards with sufficient speed and in sufficient quantity, arrangements be made to sell the daily and io decrease the extent of the publication of the weekly Hansard. This will not only change the nature of the Hansard from that of a reference document to a news item, but should also enable it to be produced somewhat more economically as revenue from sales should offset production costs to a greater extent than at present.

The Committee has made several recommendations concerning the free distribution of parliamentary publications to educational institutions, such as universities, colleges, of advanced education, institutes of technology, teachers colleges and secondary schools and believes that one of the most important functions of the Parliament is to inform the rising generation of Australians about its operations. The Committee can see no reason for charging institutions such as these for parliamentary publications and has made similar recommendations concerning State and municipal libraries.

However, the Committee has also recommended that certain classes of persons and organisations be deleted from the free distribution lists and required to pay subscriptions for parliamentary publications. In the main these are trade, business, employer, employee, professional, commercial and similar organisations (excluding newspapers and the Parliamentary Press Gallery). The Committee can find no justification for such organisations not contributing to the costs of production and distribution of the publications which they wish to receive. At present the subscription rates for parliamentary publications are substantial the same as they were several decades ago and the Committee has recommended that the subscription rates be increased. The Committee has had to bear in mind 2 conflicting factors in arriving at this decision. The Committee is well . aware of the necessity for providing deserving organisations .arid persons with inexpensive access to parliamentary publications and believes that it has done so by recommending that persons and organisations falling into this category be eligible for free receipt.

At the same time the Committee has borne in mind that persons and organisations capable of .paying a fair price for parliamentary publications have obtained them very cheaply in the past. So cheaply, in fact, that the cost of an annual subscription to parliamentary papers or Hansard can be less than the production cost of a single issue of such publications. As a result the Committee has recommended that a person subscribing to Hansard, parliamentary papers, or Bills, etc., be required to pay a subscription fee which approximates to the run-on production costs plus postage, labour and overhead costs. This will represent a change in the subscription to the parliamentary papers from $5 per annum to $85 per annum, a change in the annual subscription to Hansard of the 2 Houses from $1.20 per annum to approximately $27 per annum and a change in the subscription price of Bills from $3.50 per annum to about $33.

The Committee is aware that, in percentage terms, these increases are considerable but points out to the House that the present subscription rates are totally unrealistic in the light of the present costs, that deserving persons and organisations have been recommended to be eligible for free issue of publications and that the trust fund of the Sales and Distribution Branch of the Publishing Service from which funds are made available to extend the operations of that Branch and publicise parliamentary and government publications will be boosted by this added revenue (or, at least, the extra revenue will enable the Trust Fund to remain liquid).

The Committee has made one other recommendation apart from those relating to the cost of subscription to parliamentary publications, the extent of the free distributions lists and the selling of the daily Hansard. This relates to the equipment currently used by the Government Printer. In evidence to the Committee and in letters to the Committee and the Principal Parliamentary Reporter, the Government Printer has indicated that for several years he has been attempting to obtain new equipment which would enable him to use computercontrolled type-setting processes that would vastly increase his printing capacity and decrease his printing costs. The Printer advised the Committee that this equipment, which would cost some $755,000, would enable him to make a saving of about $200,000 per annum in the production of

Hansard, that is about 50 per cent, and similar savings on other major items such as electoral rolls. I know that Mr Speaker has himself made inquiries concerning these costs and that he is aware of the fact that the Government Printer is serving under such wretched circumstances. Mr Speaker is fully aware of the problems here. The Committee is unable to see the logic of the Government in rejecting the Printer's request for funds for this equipment and strongly recommends that the Government reconsider this matter.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the other members of the Committee for the work they have put into this inquiry and also I would like to thank the Clerk to the Committee, Mr Grahame Horsfield, for his invaluable assistance during the inquiry. .1 would like to remind the House, that the present Joint Publications Committee, as it is currently constituted, is a direct result of the report of the Joint Select Committee, on Parliamentary and Government Publications of 1964 and the actions of the Government and the Parliament in accepting the recommendations of that report. To a certain extent this Committee replaces a since disbanded committee of the Department of the Treasury - a welcome change with Parliament taking over some of the functions of the Executive rather than vice-versa. This is the first report produced by the Publications . Committee, constituted in such a manner. I trust that our next investigations, which will concern overseas exchange arrangements for government publications and the publishing activities of a number of government departments will prove as interesting to the Committee and as fruitful as I would hope that this report will be. Mr Deputy Speaker, I move:

That the report be printed.

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