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now we are six: the Houses & Motions review

16 November, 2012
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As each 16 November comes along, the realisation that we’ve been running Houses & Motions for yet another year becomes ever more ridiculous. It’s now been six years – six! – since we started this silly site, and to be honest stopping is not the intention at the moment. We don’t deny that we place too much value in the trivial, the distractions, the filibusters, the sideshows to the substance of the debates taking place in Parliament. However, keeping this site going is also enjoyable on a personal level, not just because this is a habit that has managed to last when so many others have not, but also because it provides the excuse to engage with the ongoing political discussions, in particular around WA state politics. While we focus on the oddities and the kind-of humorous interactions, these are found by reading through the daily Hansard transcripts rather than searching for specific terms – often, while skimming through in search of material for the blog, I’ll get distracted by the longer, serious debates around specific legislation. It certainly wasn’t the initial aim of the site, but reading through Hansard for so long has given me a much greater appreciation of how Parliament works, what happens there, and a great deal of respect for everyone who works there (beyond the politicians themselves – their staff and advisors, the Clerks, and, most importantly for what we do here, the Hansard reporters).

On the occasion of our sixth birthday, then, this retrospective is not going to talk about how we started this (see our previous posts on this topic instead!). Instead, I want to provide a short overview of what’s happened over the last year, which has been quite a significant one for the site, and also some brief statistics on what we’ve posted since 2006.

Houses & Motions in 2012

Two major events have taken place since the start of 2012 which have provided additional impetus for us to continue doing what we do. These are not entirely unrelated, and from the outset I do not claim direct responsibility for them (despite my professional connection, more on which later).

At the end of January this year, we received an email from the National Library of Australia asking about adding Houses and Motions to the PANDORA digital archive. We were both honoured and surprised at the request (since, as noted above, this is a particularly frivolous blog), and as a result, as of February 2012 Houses and Motions is now archived by the NLA alongside many sites which (in our view at least) are more worthy of this honour!

Since our blog is not the most visible node within the Australian (political) blogosphere, quite how the NLA found us would be a mystery, were it not for the second event. In December 2011, Greg Jericho, the blogger behind Grog’s Gamut published a post requesting additions to his own list of known Australian political blogs, which was part of his work on a book in progress about social media and politics. Surprisingly again, we were already on the list, and even more amazingly, we remained on the list throughout revisions of both blog post and, later, book. A few months ago, Scribe published Jericho’s book The Rise of the Fifth Estate: Social media and blogging in Australian politics (which is an entertaining read well-illustrated with examples of blog and Twitter discussions in particular); at the end of the book, in the list of Australian political blogs, we appear (in print!) alongside luminaries of Australian blogging:

Detail from Rise of the Fifth Estate (Jericho, 2012) - thanks to Jarrad for the image
(Thanks to Jarrad for the image)

At this point, I need to note that I was put in contact with Greg Jericho (in my professional guise as an internet studies/media and communication researcher) after his initial list was posted to provide details of additional blogs that had been identified as part of previous studies which I had been involved in, and some of these suggestions were added to the list. However, the presence of Houses & Motions in print was not my doing; instead, I believe that the responsibility for that can be tracked to friend of the site Hourann, who back in the early days of the site successfully suggested that we be added to the blogroll of the now-defunct Larvatus Prodeo. The blogrolls for the highest-profile Australian political blogs were used as a starting point for Jericho’s list, so I would argue that we are indebted to Hourann for both our first appearance in print, and even more tangentially for our addition to the NLA digital archive (here, I’m assuming that Jericho’s blog post was used by NLA staff to identify new sites to archive). Thank you very much!

That is the limit of our published mentions to this point, I think – to the best of my knowledge we haven’t been mentioned in Hansard, for instance, and that isn’t the aim of this site. We don’t really go seeking additional promotion, although we have been more active on Twitter this year. We have also been in contact with a few active politicians. Last month, we contacted – and received a response from – Hon Lynn MacLaren about references to Bob the Builder in a speech. Earlier this year, we also wrote to the Speaker, Hon Grant Woodhams, to clarify the standing orders regarding our use of images (screenshots from the Parliamentary broadcast) within posts to illustrate comments with a visual angle (e.g. charts, posters, fashion). While we don’t have a large audience for what we do, we do at least want to make sure we do it right!

Statistics

On that note, we’ll finish up this post with a few statistics about popular posts and frequently contributors to the quotes featured here. Since 16 November 2006, we’ve published about 830 posts quoting Hansard, mostly from Western Australia (751) with some Queensland content (66) from when I was based in Brisbane – I say this every year, but one day I will get back to Hansard from beyond WA! There have been breaks from posting over this period because of personal commitments (finishing a thesis, for instance) and travel, but we do eventually come back. This year (since 16 November 2011) we’ve published 208 posts, and gone past 10,000 visits since we set up the WordPress site (so not the entire six year period, but a fair chunk of it).

While we all have our own individual favourite posts or preferred types of quote (the witty one-liner, the song parody, the original insult, for example), it’s interesting seeing which posts actually get hits. Now, the WordPress stats aren’t entirely accurate, as they only count post hits for the actual post page itself – if you read all the posts on the main page, for example, then that does not count towards the individual post views. However, if you found and opened a particular post by googling keywords, then that will count. Which explains some of the posts in the following list:

1. ‘the crust of the matter‘ (2009) – bad wordplay on our part, but a frequently searched-for term
2. ‘come, come, Mr. Bond, you get just as much pleasure from naming cats as I do‘ (2011) – a reference not so much to James Bond as to the impressions by Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in The Trip; ‘come come Mr Bond’ is also a frequent search term, but we hope they’re also searching for material about The Trip.
3. ‘off the rails‘ (2012) – somehow got linked to on Reddit
4. ‘you don’t send me‘ (2010) – the classic where Hon Paul Llewellyn attempted to table a fax machine (and our 400th post!). Deserving of so many more hits.
5. ‘you wanted a hit‘ (2011) – well, yes, we did, it turns out. So far the only time we’ve posted a quote mentioning Rick Astley.

As for the politicians who are most quoted, the following members have all registered at least a half-century:

Rob Johnson (145) – although he’s been very quiet since moving to the backbench, as he reached his century back in 2010.
Mark McGowan (103)
Grant Woodhams (90)
Troy Buswell (81)
David Templeman (75)
Colin Barnett (74)
Simon O’Brien (68) – leading the numbers from the Upper House
Peter Watson (67)
Ken Travers (67)
Ljiljanna Ravlich (64)
Norman Moore (55)
Margaret Quirk (50)

With the Legislative Assembly now adjourned for 2012, and an election coming in March 2013, some of these politicians won’t appear in new Hansard transcripts next year – however, they may still feature here from time to time as we dive back into the archives, especially over summer.

What’s next for Houses & Motions? Plenty! Over summer, in addition to the archival posts, we’ll revisit the debates around individual pieces of legislation, as we did last year with the CHOGM, Cat, and Franchising Bills. We’ll also try and put together some posts for the retiring members ahead of the election, and some more contemporary coverage for the election itself, although at the moment we’re not sure what form that will take. Who knows, maybe we’ll finally get around to fixing up the ‘Starring’ page as we often promise. (Probably not).

Most importantly, though, we’ve now gone through the proofs from the Legislative Assembly yesterday – I actually went up to Parliament and sat in the public gallery for a few hours in preparation for the adjournment, but unfortunately the proceedings overran a little and I did not stay for the entire afternoon/evening session (Thursdays have an intendedclose of 5pm; yesterday the House adjourned at 12:19am). Despite not being there in person, though, reading the proofs has at least confirmed that early next week, we will have one final Woodhams special to add to the collection, finishing his valedictory speech with flair.

That’s next week, though. For now, all that remains is for me to thank the following people for their contributions during the last six years (despite the use of ‘we’ in this post, this has been a solo endeavour for a long time):

Cameron and Trent, the original co-authors who have long since moved to wiser and more productive uses of their time; Dave and Hourann, who were there early on and encouraged and promoted the site; Liz, for her encouragement and patience; Sky, for doing a far greater job at promoting our posts than we have; and Jarrad, for much useful information about the workings of WA politics, photos, and, most importantly, for the Parlia-mints.

And now to continue for four six more years! Maybe.

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