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The Parliament Stack

David Arnold
Parliamentary Education Office

James Steele
Interactive Multimedia Pty Ltd

The Parliamentary Education Office in Canberra is involved in the development of a number of innovative educational packages to support parliamentary and citizenship education across a broad range of curriculum areas covering the primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors. One package which has been developed over a period of more than two years is The Parliament Stack, a comprehensive computer based collection of readily accessible information about Senators, Members of the House of Representatives and Members' electorates.

What is The Parliament Stack ?

Challenging students to find out more about their political system and encouraging them to play an active role in it has long been a daunting prospect for teachers. Often the difficulty has been the lack of stimulating resources which might enthuse students and teachers alike to inquire into the political scene. The Parliament Stack is an attempt to bring together information about Senators and Members, their electorates, the latest federal election results, social-demographic information for each electorate from census data and much more. Students enjoy using computers to investigate and solve problems. The Parliament Stack taps into students' interest in computers and at the same time encourages them to examine interesting graphical and textual information about the political system.

The presentation-quality graphical material in The Parliament Stack is instantly available at the click of a button. Even teachers with little or no computer experience will enjoy the user friendliness of this program! These materials can be used by students and teachers in any number of ways, spending as little or as much time as is required to suit the classroom needs of a particular investigation. Senior secondary classes can be taken through more specific data allowing detailed comparisons between electorates based on a wide range of socio-economic indicators, or analysing the latest election results in comparison with other electorates around the state and throughout the country. On the other hand, The Parliament Stack can be used as a five minute stimulus only to introduce a particular political, social, demographic or geographical concept. The flexibility of the program is one of its greatest assets. The user can move through the program in almost any way. Unlike more traditional data bases the data does not hold the user captive!

Figure 1

Figure 1: The Stack Map or map of The Parliament Stack. Each box is a button and will take you to the appropriate section of The Parliament Stack.

In politics where the only constant is change, the computer based materials can be readily updated whenever circumstances change. The information in the Stack is as up to date as it can be, unlike printed materials where information can be up to three years old before a revised version is available (and even then it is usually out of date by the time it is circulated). With The Parliament Stack it is possible to make the changes as soon as any information is confirmed, such as after a Ministry reshuffle or an election.

Never before has such a range of information about Parliament been available in such a compact and easily accessible form, and interest in the product has come from a number of sources outside the classroom - journalists, lobbyists and Parliamentarians themselves are particularly keen to use the Stack in their work.

Using the materials is simplicity itself - using a mouse, and occasionally the keyboard, a user can access the information in a number of ways: graphically (by pointing and clicking at a particular point on a map) or textually (by searching for text typed in through the keyboard). Information in the Stack can also be accessed through the use of icons, small graphics representing particular functions or routines used to link the different sorts of data together simply but in meaningful ways. Additional information about a particular aspect is often available through popup menus, which are also occasionally used to provide different representations of data (transforming tables of figures into graphs, for example) where alternative methods of displaying data are appropriate for clarifying certain concepts with different audiences.

Using The Parliament Stack

A typical session using the Stack opens with a map of Australia showing the level of representation of either Members of the House of Representatives or Senators from each state or territory. Additional information relating to such things as previous election results (going back to 1949) and the state of the parties after the last two general elections is available through a popup menu. How much use is made of the additional information available through the popup menu (as is the case with all the popup menus used throughout the Stack) is up to the user - in other words the use of the Stack can be easily modified to suit the audience.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Map of Australia showing state and territory representation for the House of Representatives. The More Info... popup menu is showing

Often, students will be unable to name either their local Member or electorate. To find out the name of the local electorate, the user has three choices - using the map, searching by locality or suburb name or searching by postcode.

By clicking on the map, the user can "zoom" into larger scale maps of the particular area where they clicked. Using this technique, the user can go down from the map of Australia through a number of intermediate stages at a state or regional level to a scale where the audience can see individual metropolitan electorates clearly distinguished. At any of these levels, clicking on the names of individual electorates will take the user to detailed information about that particular electorate.

In addition to the basic information contained on the map, a popup menu leads the user to additional information (see Figure 4). For example, selecting the Election Results option leads to the presentation of information about the 1990 elections, 1987 elections and any by-elections held in the particular electoral division since 1987. Supplementary information about the swings required for a sitting Member to lose his or her seat is also available from the Election Results screen.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Typical Electorate Map. Statements relating to the marginality or otherwise of seats are judgements made statistically by the Australian Electoral Commission on the basis of the vote at the previous election.

Figure 4

Figure 4: Popup menu from the Electorate Map showing the options available for finding out further information about a particular electorate.

One other option of particular note in this popup menu is the Census Characteristics option. Selecting this option takes the user to a screen where they can access census information relating to the electorate based on 51 different socio-economic indicators derived from data collected during the 1986 census (soon to be updated to 1991 census data) and mapped onto electoral boundaries by the Statistics group of the Parliamentary Library. The Parliamentary Education Office has taken this data further by graphing the indicators relative to all other electorates so that clear comparisons can be made between electorates (see Figures 5 and 6).

Figure 5

Figure 5: Census characteristics available from The Parliament Stack

Figure 6

Figure 6: One of the 51 graphs showing the rank order and level of census data for a particular electorate

Of perhaps greatest importance in the materials is the information about Senators and Members themselves. Each Senator or Member has a screen containing basic information about them - name, party affiliation, the electorate they represent (if a Member) and the state or territory they represent. There is also a photograph of the Member or Senator on the screen.

The Resume contains further, more detailed information about a Senator's or Member's activities before and since entering Parliament. The popup menu contains the headings available where further information is available for the particular Senator or Member concerned - a dimmed heading means that there is no further information under that heading (see Figure 8).

Figure 7

Figure 7: Card showing basic details about a Member of the House of Representatives.

Figure 8

Figure 8: Popup Resume menu from Members Card. Dimmed items indicate there is no information under that heading for this Member.

The Parliament Stack across the curriculum

Although The Parliament Stack contains information about Australia's political system, it was never intended that the Stack be used only in politics classes. Its statistics can be used in Mathematics classes; Geography teachers are particularly interested in the demographic details and the electorate profiles; Australian Studies teachers have found the products and industries information for each electorate and the census data particularly useful; Computer Studies teachers can explore the design and scripting elements of the Stack with their students. The Stack is also used in primary classrooms where students are asked to research various topics or prepare for an interview with their local Member or Senator.

Technical Information

The Parliament Stack is currently available on the Apple Macintosh or Windows 3.0 platforms. There is also a Macintosh CD-ROM version.

Availability of The Parliament Stack

Editorial note added 22 Nov 2005: The information below, appearing in the original publication of Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, is out of date. The Parliament Stack package is not available. However, newer resources are available at the Parliamentary Education Office's website,

The Parliamentary Education Office distributes The Parliament Stack to schools for $85 plus $5 postage. The Parliament Stack package contains a set of disks or a CD-ROM, a comprehensive user's guide and a teacher's guide. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Parliament Stack please contact the Parliamentary Education Office and ask for a brochure.

Parliamentary Education Office
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone (06) 277 3058
Fax (06) 277 5775

Please cite as: Arnold, D. and Steele, J. (1992). The Parliament Stack. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 53-59. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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