The Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) will give Australia's federal politicians greater say over the types of devices they get, and will let them try out the devices in the one-stop IT shop that will open in parliament after the September federal election.
Responsibility for IT for the parliamentarians and their electorate offices was handed over to DPS from the Department of Finance last year. CIO Eija Seittenranta told ZDNet in January that as part of this change, DPS would look to be more flexible with what sort of IT the parliamentarians wanted, and would provide support for the devices the MPs choose to use.
In a Budget Estimates hearing today, DPS secretary Carol Mills said that DPS has entered an in-principle agreement with the Department of Finance to take over the last remaining responsibility for electorate office IT equipment, picking up phones and printers from July this year. This, coupled with the finalisation of the parliamentary IT plan, would bring greater flexibility for the devices MPs are able to use, she said.
"We have the ability now to provide a much more comprehensive service for electorate offices," she said.
"The foundations of [the IT plan] is that we will provide appropriate levels of service any time, anywhere, on any device. So the critical things in terms of our delivery, is that we will be infrastructure neutral in the sense that if you have a tablet or a smartphone or a desktop computer, it will be matched to your needs.
"We will provide advice on that, but our role will be to push out the information in a format that can be accepted on any of those items, so we're not restricted in a brand or a particular type of information technology."
Mills said the one-stop shop for members to get IT will be fully implemented after the September 14 federal election, but some services could be offered before then. She said there would be an actual shop set up inside parliament.
"The idea of the one-stop shop is to be physical but also virtual," she said. "We will have a physical place in the building, where people can go and view and try equipment, like a very, very modest version of an Apple store."
Mills said that DPS would also seek the views of MPs on their technology requirements, and determine what needs to be stocked.
But given budgetary constraints, MPs may not get the device they want. Seittenranta said that if a member requests a device, for example an iPad, the department would need to make sure that it fits within the current allowance.
"One of the issues we will have is the transition from the existing equipment to the new equipment, where everybody has equipment allocated to the financial value of that allowance, so we would have to be looking at how we trade in and out of equipment to make space in that allowance," she said.
Mills said that the upgrade of broadband to each MP's office has almost been completed, and said that the department is now looking at options for whether the electorate offices can get Wi-Fi. Seittenranta said the department is determining whether this could be done through the existing contract with Telstra, or whether the department would need to go to market and seek additional funding.
Earlier in the hearing, Mills confirmed that the department tested having Hansard staff transcribe the events in the House and Senate away from the chambers, using the new broadcast system that was deployed on the parliamentary network last year. This was designed to cut down the time needed to walk to and from the chambers, which takes 15 minutes each time.
The Hansard staff who have remained in the chambers have had their desktops replaced with laptops after Liberal Senator Stephen Parry brought up concerns that the large monitors used by Hansard staff were blocking his view of the chamber.