Liberal MP Jamie Briggs has one. Labor MP Ed Husic read his maiden speech from his. And Malcolm Turnbull is famous for using his all the time. But officials in Federal Parliament are only gradually beginning to concede that it might be OK for Apple-obsessed politicians to connect their iDevices to the parliamentary Wi-Fi network.
In a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra on Monday (first reported by ZDNet.com.au), the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services Alan Thompson revealed his department, which runs Federal Parliament, supporting politicians and their staff as well as government bureaucrats, had conducted a limited trial of iPad use within the parliament.
The trial has been fuelled by interest from politicians, as well as the long-awaited rollout of the parliamentary Wi-Fi network, which will finally stop what Thompson described as “the dreaded blue cables” of Ethernet connections snaking all over the facility.
Thompson concluded that the iPad trial — which had seen about ten of the devices used by a range of staff — was largely successful. “We had about 10 of our officers at a range of levels using iPads,” he said. “They were hooked into a range of the parliamentary computing network services.”
The bureaucrat faced several detailed questions from Senators in the session who acknowledged that they could already use external 3G services to access online services through their iPads, but wanted to know when it would be possible to connect their iPads to the faster in-house Wi-Fi.
Thompson acknowledged it was a something the parliament was looking into, but stopped short of committing to allowing the connections.
“The conclusion of our trial was that there can be significant productivity benefits to all building occupants, but there is then a logistical thing, which we are close to finalising, and hopefully we can commit to a service,” he said. “We are very close to being able to provide a service.”
Apple devices have a problematic history when it comes to use by members of the Federal Parliament and Government. Despite the popularity of devices like the iPhone, the Defence Signals Directorate has not certified them to any security level as being safe for use by government workers. The agency’s Evaluated Products List — which aids in government purchasing of devices — lists only the Windows Mobile and BlackBerry operating systems as being certified for use.
Because of this, many parliamentarians currently carry two mobile phones — a BlackBerry, and an iPhone or other device.
With respect to the Wi-Fi service currently being rolled out in parliament, it has taken the department several years to get it operational, despite strong interest from parliamentarians, who, along with their staff, are strong users of laptops. Thompson said the expansion of the Wi-Fi service to the public areas of the Parliament had been done and the rollout to the offices of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives was “almost complete”. A wider network refurbishment project is also taking place.
In addition, the Parliament has also been expanding its use of technology in other areas.
“The Parliamentary Library is now busy creating eBooks — the very first was the Anzac Day kit for 2011 — and now the various budget briefs are being produced in eBook format,” said Thompson.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull