DPS, where the bloody hell are you?

A fairly typical email exchange with the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS), the administrators for the aph.gov.au website, goes something like this:

from: Matthew Landauer
to: webmanager@aph.gov.au
date: Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 11:39 AM
subject: Hansard 23 September 2008 probably error in division

According to the Hansard, Mark Vaile voted in a division on 23 September 2008. See
http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F2008-09-23%2F0060%22

However, according to his biography he resigned several months earlier on 30 July 2008. See
http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22handbook%2Fallmps%2FSU5%22

There appears to be an inconsistency between these two facts. I would guess that the Hansard is probably mistaken. Is that correct? If so, it would be great if it could be fixed.

Many thanks!

All the best,
Matthew Landauer
Founder
http://www.openaustralia.org/

It’s looking good. I receive this very quick response.

from : Web, Manager (DPS)
to: Matthew Landauer
date: Thu, Apr 2, 2009 at 12:47 PM
subject: RE: Hansard 23 September 2008 probably error in division

Thanks for your email Matthew

I will get this discrepancy checked and get back to you as soon as possible.

Kind regards
Margaret

Margaret Cazabon
Parliamentary Web Manager
Department of Parliamentary Services
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

I reply a few hours later thanking her.

More than a week passes with no further news. Hmmm… Naively I would expect that they would take this issue fairly seriously. It appears from the official Hansard record that someone has voted who wasn’t even a member of parliament at the time.

Anyway, I send the following email to follow up:

from: Matthew Landauer
to: webmanager@aph.gov.au
date: Sat, Apr 11, 2009 at 1:13 PM

Any news on this?

Any possibility that OpenAustralia.org could be assigned a technical contact for the Hansard? Our software does lots of cross-checking of
the Hansard XML data and regularly finds spelling mistakes, formatting errors, logical inconsistencies and the like which I’m sure you would
like us to alert you to. However, this is currently very difficult as we have no technical contact.

It would also lighten your load as a go-between.

All the best,
Matthew

I’ve asked for an ongoing contact for OpenAustralia at the Department of Parliamentary Services before but those emails were never replied to. I wonder if I’ll hear any more this time.

Stony silence.

from: Matthew Landauer
to: webmanager@aph.gov.au
date: Mon, Apr 20, 2009 at 12:37 PM

Hello, is anybody there??

So, it’s been two weeks and I’ve heard nothing more.

In the greater scheme of things it’s no big deal that a couple of emails from openaustralia.org are left unanswered. Hell, we’ve been known to not reply to all the emails we get.

The unfortunate things is this email exchange is fairly typical of all our dealings with the DPS over the last year. We’ll report a problem. If it’s something really glaring (like today’s Hansard is missing!) it will get fixed in half a day or so and I’ll receive a response to my email. If it’s something more subtle but just as important, I’ll sometimes get a response saying they’ll look into it but then I’ll never hear anything again.

Does it get relegated to the “too hard” basket?

There should be two-way communication between DPS and OpenAustralia. The DPS is providing a service to the general public by publishing the Hansard. We’re finding faults with this vital document of national importance and we don’t expect our reports of errors to be ignored.

We’re also providing a public service (entirely run by volunteers) and we have a responsibility to make it as good as it can be.

We’re providing all the results of our work (our software, our data) for free for anyone to use. We have software that we’ve written in the course of building OpenAustralia that finds many problems in the Hansard completely automatically. This software we’ve made freely available to everyone (including the DPS). However, they are apparently not interested in hearing from us.

DPS, where the bloody hell are you? We can help you. Ask us how.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted April 20, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Get an MP to ask the question, and you’ll be amazed by the flurry of activity that results…

    Pia Waugh now works for Kate Lundy. You’ll likely get a favorable reception there.

  2. Posted April 20, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Add a “DPS” JIRA component and start reporting bugs on it. Assign them to their webmanager email address until they give you a more specific one to work with. :)

  3. Posted April 23, 2009 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Send out a press release to all the IT sections of the newspapers. They go for this sort of stuff — small geeks showing up the experts.

    Use better title, eg: “Parliament lists non-members as having voted”.

    Is there a business contract with a company and DPS to supply the service? Obtain it by FOI. Does it have performance measures in it, and a House committee that keeps it up to standard? Find that out and cc everything to them. (You won’t be surprised if DPS doesn’t tell you about this.)

  4. Posted April 23, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    The page here is what you want. Review all the documents, and then start using the email at the bottom.

    http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/publ/index_jcp.htm

    I don’t suppose it’s got a lot of traffic, so you should expect a reply. If that doesn’t work, start going through the members on the committee.

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