Parliament probes how to become more friendly

By Julian Bajkowski

The pugilistic conduct of federal politicians may not be a tourism winner for Canberra, but that hasn’t stopped the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) engaging in a some serious introspection in an attempt elevate the image of the House on the Hill for those visiting the halls of power.

Apparently concerned that the Parliament may have lost some of its previous pulling power, DPS has commissioned an official probe into how it can more effectively lure non-political types up to The Hill who might otherwise bypass the monolith.

According to a DPS tender, those in charge of running The House are seeking consultants to undertake a “Review of the visitor experience at Parliament House” including “identifying best practice visitor and tourism experiences consistent with Parliament House as a symbol of Australian democracy.”

More specifically, the DPS wants to know not only “the strengths and weaknesses of the current visitor experience at Parliament House” for physical visitors – but also “virtual visitors online.”

One well known issue for visitors to Parliament is the challenge of navigating through the various public and non-public areas of the vast complex, including finding key facilities such as cafés and rest rooms.

On some occasions, Members including Queensland’s Bob Katter have been observed to take pity on more elderly lost visitors by making impromptu requisitions of tea, coffee, scones and comfortable seating for them from otherwise private functions.

Although unorthodox, Mr Katter may well be onto something with his personal, country-style welcome.

In its tender, DPS states it is looking for guidance on “identifying short and medium term opportunities to enhance the visitor experience and engagement with the community, including expansion of services.”

Whether or not this extends to the House’s infamously  underwhelming public eateries remains to be seen, however invigorating the wider parliamentary retail experience is clearly on the agenda.

According to the DPS statement of requirements, a specific task is “examining the retail planning and purchasing arrangements for The Parliament Shop” – presumably so that it can diversify its present range of tea towels, snowdomes and postcards.

Parliamentary souvenirs have proven a source of considerable controversy over the last two years after the DPS was publicly keel-hauled through the Senate Estimates process over a fudged heritage assessment concerning the disposal of two billiard tables – that staff later bought.

That imbroglio followed an earlier controversy in 2005 over the installation of retractable security bollards to guard parliamentary car parks – which, to the horror of occupants, sometimes rose unintentionally from underneath authorised vehicles.

Bids to advise on how to improve the Parliamentary experience close on 11th February .

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