JRE visits the Parliament of Victoria

The Victorian Parliament House held its Open Day today. I hopped on the tram to Spring Street, digital camera in hand, on a mission to document the innards of that big brown building that overlooks Melbourne from its perch at the top of Bourke Street.

As I was queuing up for the security scan, a herd of protesters came marching up Bourke Street toward the steps of Parliament. They were chanting: “John Howard, what do you say?” “Welfare Mothers Go Away!” – so I can only assume they were protesting against welfare mothers and declaring their support for John Howard. This seemed slightly odd, but who am I to argue with eighty protesters? In the Great Hall hang portraits of all of the past Premiers of Victoria, from Jeff Kennett right back to whoever the first guy was. Most of them are terribly dignified portraits of men standing up straight, looking Very Important. The only exception is the portrait of Joan Kirner, first woman Premier, and famous for appearing on The Late Show, in a leather jacket and chains, belting out Joan Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll. In her portrait, the fiftysomething Kirner leans forward in her chair, chin in one hand, wearing a bright red coat and with a come-hither half-smile on her face. It is incredibly, unspeakably wrong. Off to the left, past the disturbing portrait of Joan Kirner, is the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly is more commonly known as the Lower House, despite being at exactly the same height as the Upper House. And a very nice house it is – the chairs are comfortable green leather, with armrests on most of the seats, and bright, TV-friendly lighting. The entire chamber was opened to the public, so JRE spent a few minutes in one of the back-bench seats – which, from its location, would probably belong to a junior Liberal Party member. Your correspondent considered fulfilling his back-bench duties by shouting a few Dorothy Dixers to the people sitting on the front bench. Interesting point – all of the seats in the Legislative Assembly have power points and network jacks. However, despite the network connectivity in the chamber, we have yet to see any MLAs blogging from the floor. Through the Parliamentary Library is the Legislative Council chamber (or the Upper House). The Legislative Council is referred to in some scurrilous publications as Losers’ Lounge – and when you consider the standard to which the chambers are built, this isn’t an unfair slur. The Lower House seats are upholstered in soft leather, with plenty of padding; the Upper House seats are saggy velvet which would be more at home in an old cinema. The lighting in the Lower House chamber is bright and clear; the Upper House is lit in a dim orange that makes it look like a dingy bar. And worst of all, there are no network jacks in the Upper House. Along the route that was roped out for the self-guided tour, some Government offices and agencies had set up booths with information about their line of work. The Auditor-General’s Office resorted to bribing people with chocolate coins to make them stop and look. The Parliament Law Reform Committee had a table piled high with reports from various commissions – and, amusingly, a sign saying “Please Take A Report”, as if this were the only way they could get rid of them. I took a half-inch-thick report entitled “The Powers of Entry, Search, Seizure and Questioning by Authorised Persons”. It turned out to be one of the hidden gems of the day, mostly for its chapter on the powers of public transport inspectors. This is always a hot-button issue in Victoria, and the findings are worth a read if you ever come across a copy. There was a desultory Parliamentary IT display, which consisted of a little moving display showing the numbers of service calls currently outstanding and the numbers of service personnel currently on call. That’s all well and good – but this isn’t what we want to see from Parliamentary IT. In keeping with the day’s theme of openness about the Parliamentary process, we want details! What sort of servers are hidden in the building’s server rooms? How much inbound bandwidth does Parliament have? Are there WAPs as well as wired networks in the chambers? And have any of our elected representatives been busted downloading porn? Inquiring minds want to know! Downstairs and to the left, we pass the offices of some of the representatives. The offices of some of the most powerful ministers in the Bracks Government – Mary Delahunty, Andre Haermeyer, John Pandazopolous – are down in the basement, with exposed pipes running across the roof and apocalyptic orange lighting. The offices resemble nothing so much as the Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue that serves as Ainsley Hayes’ office in The West Wing. One more corner, and there’s sunlight. With my report on “The Powers of Entry, Search, Seizure and Questioning by Authorised Persons”, a chocolate two-euro coin from the Auditor-General’s Office, and an Electoral Commission pen, I’m suddenly standing on Spring Street, down the bottom of the stairs where I entered. Up there, people are working all day on making Victoria a great place to live – and you know, they’re not doing a bad job of it. Or perhaps that’s just the chocolate making me feel better.