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PIAA fights for printed government documents

Wednesday, 21 June 2017
By Graham Osborne
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The PIAA has told a federal committee that is considering phasing out printed parliamentary documents that online publishing is ‘superficially attractive’ but cannot match print in terms of value for money.

The Joint Committee on Publications will hold a public hearing in Canberra on Thursday for its Inquiry into printing standards for documents presented to Parliament.

 The federal government launched the inquiry last year into “the need for printed parliamentary documents in an increasingly digital environment” as part of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s digital transformation policy.

The committee is considering shifting printed parliamentary papers to an online-only format from 2017. Committee chairman, Queensland LNP MP George Christensen, says that since the last review of printing standards in 2007, “the costs associated with printing had changed significantly.”

'Printing parliamentary documents delivers value for money': Mary Jo Fisher, PIAA

In a submission to the committee, Mary Jo Fisher, the PIAA’s director of government relations, disputes claims by editing and design company Biotech that ‘the hard copy requirement’ costs the Australia Government at least $14 million every year.

“The current total spend per annum on printed tabled documents is about $3 million per annum,” says Fisher. “Publishing parliamentary documents on-line seems superficially attractive but needs significant improvement and advances before it will deliver the same value for money as does print.”

Fisher, who will appear before the committee on Thursday, says it’s an issue that goes beyond the printing of federal parliamentary documents. “It is very important because what happens federally flows on to state and local governments. There’s a sense out there that you can save money on printing if you go online but the fact is that you can’t and you don’t.”

In addressing the terms of reference, Fisher points to Canberra-based printer CanPrint Communications, which currently has about 50% of the market share for producing documents to be tabled in Federal Parliament.

In the experience of CanPrint, the real cost of producing (for example) printed Annual Reports is not in the printing of them. In the majority of cases, the print element accounts for 20% or less of the total cost, with the conversion of the original Word version of a document to an accessible HTML version costing more than print.

In other words, doing all the preparation of material to be published online costs more than both preparing a document to be printed (some but not all of which overlaps with the preparation for online) and then actually printing it.

Fisher says the PIAA recognises that the volume of printed documents to be tabled in parliament has clearly declined and continues to do so. “This is in line with the move to online publishing. We also accept that there are some parliamentary documents for which an online version, backed up by a printed summary, would suffice. However, Printing Industries believes that in a range of situations, printing parliamentary documents delivers value for money.”

Government printing contracts are a cornerstone of the industry and there are fears the inquiry is the thin edge of the wedge. Over the past year, Spicers, Konica Minolta, Bluestar, CanPrint, Fuji Xerox, Union Offset, Bauer Media, Ricoh, Lane Laser Printers, Adamson Printing, the Camerons Group, Roden Print & Packaging, Big Sky Publishing, The Printing Factory Group, New Millennium Print, Prominent Press, National Mailing & Marketing and many others have won printing contracts with federal agencies and departments.

The Joint Committee on Publications will hold its public hearing in Canberra on Thursday, 22 June 2017 at 8:05am – 9:30am, Committee Room 2R1, Parliament House.

Audio of the hearing will be broadcast live at








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