Russell Latham
Publication date: 
Tuesday, 16 September, 2014

In 2013 the National Library of Australia and its participant agencies built the largest collection of online Australian election material to date. The election was notable in a number of ways, the new platforms being used to disseminate a political message, the amount of material that was produced and how much of this we could and could not collect.

The online world changes and evolves in the period between each election. There are new services like Twitter, old services like Myspace, and maturing services like Youtube. Each election more material is produced online than the previous election and the type of material changes. Blogs, video websites and social media have all meant Australians can become more politically involved.

Candidates and political parties have also embraced the online world and used it increasingly used as a means of spreading their campaign message. This election Pandora collected more than it has in any previous election, but content was missed. This was for a variety of reasons, lack of permissions, technical limitations and constrained resources. But what was collected will form the basis upon which future researchers can look back at what drove the election campaign online.


The 2013 election collecting undertaken by the National Library of Australia was the most successful to date with the amount of material collected nearly double that achieved in the previous federal election. Material was collected from a broad range of areas, media, political parties, candidates as well as community and research websites. The material represents a diverse range of opinions and ideas from across the political spectrum. It is also collected from a variety of sources such as blogs, news sites and social media. With this range of material come many issues, securing permissions, locating material and technical problems. Despite the challenges our collecting produced a range of material that will provide valuable resource for future researchers.



The National Library of Australia has a long history of collecting Australian election ephemera. It has material that dates back to the right back to the 1901 election through to the most recent federal election. Ephemera material is unlike normal published material. It is produced to be useful for a short period of time, whether that is a theatre program, a restaurant menu or a how-to-vote card for polling day in a general election.

Since 1996 the National Library of Australia through its Pandora web archive has collected online election material that compliments and builds upon it print collecting. Pandora was established in 1996 by the National Library to collect online published works. A website is registered in our system, selected for inclusion within the archive, permission is sought and an archive copy made. This is called a title and could consist of a whole website or URL, a single html page within a website or a document, such as a PDF file. The permission sought is a license under the Copyright Act 1968 from the publisher to copy, preserve and make publicly accessible the archived material. Pandora uses a web harvesting program called HTTrack that makes an offline copy of the website. This is then hosted in an archival server located at the National Library and made accessible through the Pandora website via a Title Entry Page or TEP page.

Collecting online election material began in the first year of Pandora when five titles were collected for the 1996 federal election campaign. Each election the world wide web developed and matured as more people became connected and more campaign material moved online. Collecting election material is a major project for the web archiving team every three years requiring a significant amount of resources and planning. By 2001 over 130 titles were collected, 370 in 2007 and in 2013 this grew to nearly 600 titles.


Structure of the Federal election collections 2013

 Much of the material we collect in Pandora is collected as a single title. It is registered within the system and metadata is added such as title, format, publisher and subjects. Titles with the same subject are displayed together on the Pandora website. Sometimes we group individual titles into a collection. Most often collections are based on an event, such as the Sydney Olympics[1] or are a topic such as Murray-Darling and its Basin[2]. Collections also have subjects added and displayed under this heading on the Pandora website. For instance all election collections appear under the ‘Election Campaigns’ subject.

Election Campaigns

The 2013 Federal Election material is held in six collections within PANDORA. An additional collection was created for the subsequent 2014 Western Australia Senate election for a total of seven collections. These are listed below (see also Appendix A),

House of Representatives election candidate web sites

Senate election candidate web sites

Electoral study and research web sites

Interest and lobby group web sites

Media, comment, social network and video sites

Political party web sites

Western Australia Senate election 2014

The number of collections needed has increased as more material has been archived for each federal election. In earlier elections (1996, 1998, 2001) there was only one collection, in 2004 there were three and from 2007 the number was increased to six. In 2013 three of the collections are further broken down by State and Territory into sub collections.

We create six separate collections as our delivery system is limited to two hierarchies the collection and one sub collection. As we require three hierarchies we artificially create the first one by making multiple collections to replicate the first tier. This does create a problem as we have no single link that points to the overall 2013 Federal Election collection. Instead you can only point to one of the seven collections by use of a PURL (e.g. and this must be done for each of the seven collections.

Planning the election collection

One of the distinguishing features of the 2013 Federal election was its early announcement. The election date was announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on January 31, 2013 for September 14. The election ended up being held one week earlier on September 7, after a sudden Labor leadership change. Antony Green of the ABC says it was the longest notice of an election date since 1943 or possibly since Federation[3]. This long lead in time meant organisations were producing election content online well before general campaigning began and web archiving staff were identifying and adding this material to the collections as early as June 2013.

Once the collections were created we were able to begin adding material and scheduling harvests. Existing political parties and candidates could be added to their relevant collections and harvests scheduled for just prior to election day. Searches were conducted for election statements produced by peak bodies and lobby groups. One of the main benefits of an early election was the time it gave us to secure new permissions, traditionally one of the more time consuming aspects of web archiving. Though, as we will see below, this was not always successful and this election stands out as one where permissions played an important role in shaping the composition of the collections in this election.

 Below, Figure 1, is a timeline of the key events of both the election (top) and web archiving (bottom)

Timeline of the 2013 Australian Federal Election

  Figure 1.


Broad trends

Numbers of websites collected

The number of websites collected has increased significantly for each Federal election campaign from 1996 to 2013 with the exception of the 2010 campaign (see Figure 2). The 2010 shortfall can be partially explained by the short lead in time of the of the 2010 election which resulted from the unexpected removal of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister and replacement with Julia Gillard in June 2010[4]. The election was called shortly thereafter[5]. In contrast the 20

13 election was announced by Julia Gillard nine months out from the election.

Although it appears the campaign duration has an impact on the amount of election material of greater importance is the long term trends of a maturing world wide web and its ubiquity in all aspects of Australian culture. This is shown clearly in Figure 2 with the amount of material increasing rapidly for each federal election as more organisations, candidates, political parties, media, commentators and the general public move online to distribute, find and discuss election issues and policies.


Figure 2.

Number of titles archived for the Federal Election 1996-2013



All websites in Pandora are archived only after a permission has been received from the publisher. Obtaining permissions is one of the more time consuming part of the web archiving process and, to a large extent, out of our control as we await a publisher’s response to our requests. Permission requests are done via email and the response time can range from minutes to months. If we do not obtain a response we may try again or just mark the title as ‘impossible’. Most failures to obtain a permission are for this reason but we do also receive the odd denial from a publisher. Our success rate is quite high and we receive permissions for around 75% of the requests we send out. The rate of denial is very low, below 1%. The rest are no response.

When we do seek a permission we often seek a broad permission that allows us to archive any publication that agency has produced and published online. This means that for many organisations we can archive material without having to re-contact the publisher. This is especially important for elections where there are time constraints and numerous publishers involved and having existing permissions means we can quickly archive material we identify.

As can be seen in Figure 3 this election was marked by the number of titles identified but not collected. This is mostly due to a lack of permission. It is hard to say exactly why this would be the case. One reason could be that as the number of titles identified for archiving increase so new publishers are involved, new permissions are needed and in the course of five week election campaign cannot always be secured in time. This lack of permissions is typified by the ‘interest and lobby group’ collection. This collection currently has 105 archived titles but our system shows that we identified 145 titles for archiving; a shortfall of one third. This lack of permissions also extends to the new political parties which we will look at later.

 Figure 3.

Titles selected vresus titles archived

The Social Election

The 2007 federal election was notable for the way in which campaigning online moved to the new web 2.0 platforms. Youtube and Myspace were the two main online services used by political parties in 2007[6]. In 2013 Youtube went mainstream and many political parties and even candidates had their own Youtube page. Myspace, however, has been replaced with Facebook and Twitter and in 2013 no Myspace material was collected.

In 2007 and 2010 Pandora web archive collected the Youtube channel webpages and videos of four major political parties, Labor, Liberal, Greens and Nationals. The video content located on Youtube pages is often unique, that is, it was not available on other broadcast mediums, newspapers or television, and therefore unlikely to be picked up by collecting institutions tasked with archiving this type of material.

The popularity of Youtube for political parties is obvious; it is popular with the Australian public with a recent survey showing Youtube had 12.5 million unique visitors in a single month in Australia[7] and once the video is uploaded the party can distribute it amongst its other party websites simply and cheaply. For example the Liberal parties Headless Chooks video is located on the Liberal party TV Youtube channel and then used on the URL of the same name.

Headless chooks

Rather than collect the videos from their individual websites, like the Headless chooks website, we instead made a curatorial decision to collect all the videos from their party’s respective Youtube page. This was a resource decision as it was more efficient to collect four Youtube pages with nearly 1500 videos using automated scripts than it was to collect them individually on numerous websites where a more manual process would be required.

Even using the largely automated collecting process we limited the number of Youtube titles to four  even though numerous other parties and candidates have their own channels.

Examples of parties and candidates with Youtube pages but not collected include the Palmer United Party, Australian Democrats, Democratic Labor Party, Katter’s Australian Party and the Citizens Electoral Party.

Even micro parties such as the Bullet train for Australia, Animal Justice Party and the Stable population party all had Youtube pages. Many candidates also had their own Youtube pages, such as Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Kate Lundy, Joe Hockey, Wayne Swan and Christopher Pyne. There were a many other titles but due to resource constraints these were not pursued.

Facebook pages are very common among both politicians and political parties. During the 2010 election we tried to obtain a permission from Facebook to include content held on their pages into the archive (if we also had the owner’s permission). We were not able to secure a clear permission from them and are therefore unable to include any Facebook content in the archive.

How much content do we miss from this lack of permission? In June 2013 Crikey[8] publisher an article said 62% of MP’s use Facebook. If this is extended to all candidates running in the 2013 election (not a perfect correlation, existing MP’s as opposed to candidates) which had approximately 1700 candidates[9] running in both House of Representative and Senate it would mean there were around 1000 Facebook pages of candidates. Most of the 50 registered parties also had Facebook pages. One party, the First Nations Political Party Australia’s only registered Indigenous Australian party, appeared to have no other online presence other than its Facebook page. This is a significant gap in our collecting as politicking can occur anywhere online including Facebook. A single example illustrates this when Louise Pratt, Labor Senate candidate in the Western Australia Senate re-election used her Facebook page to discuss pre-selection in Labor party after her loss in that election[10].

Twitter has always proven to be a technically difficult site to archive as it is constantly changing its underlying technical infrastructure. In order to archive Twitter web archiving staff need to come up with creative solutions and compromises on archival quality. Currently we archive the mobile version of Twitter as the desktop version uses dynamic loading for content beyond the first page. The first page only loads around 20 tweets (which can be month worth of tweets for some users or only minutes worth, depending on the person). The mobile version uses an older system that has a hyperlinked button to load new content. Our harvesters can follow this link to previous tweets.

Before the election we archived a number of prominent politicians, the Prime Minister, Opposition leader, Treasurer and Shadow Treasurer. For the election we wanted to expand upon this and so we identified 10 new Twitter accounts we could archive as part of our collection. We used a combination of information such as using the ‘MP tweets’ site ( to locate politicians who were active ‘Twitterers’, selecting from a range of politicians (Ministers, Shadow Ministers and backbenchers) and from a range of parties. Our participant agencies undertake their own selection for Twitter. All up this resulted in 47 Twitter accounts archived into the collection. This contrasts with four Twitter accounts archived for the 2010 Federal election. Crikey reported in June 2013 that 59% of Federal members of Parliament are on Twitter. This amounts to a potential total 130 accounts of which our 47 equates to a coverage of around one third of those available.

We currently do not archive any other Twitter feeds for the election such as news media or journalists, many of whom have active Twitter accounts. A reading of the 2011 book The fifth estate by Greg Jericho reveals how important this medium has become in shaping the political process.

Twitter also uses hashtags to allow its users to communicate about a common topic. In this election #auspol and #ausvotes were popular. Archiving hashtags such as these would be a good addition to the current collecting as it would capture the views and discussions by the Australian public at election time. However issues around permissions and privacy would need to be addressed.

Trends per collection


In this election over 165 House of Representatives and 44 Senate candidates websites were added to the collection. This is only a small rise over the numbers in the 2010 election and in fact is comparable with the numbers archived in 2007. One could surmise that with the growth of the online world in the six years between those elections that more candidates would be embracing an online presence to promote themselves during a campaign. This does not appear to be the case. Instead many candidates are instead relying upon other platforms online, mainly social media, rather than the standalone website. In some cases candidates had presences only on their party website (common for Labor and Greens) and used this as a mini-site for their campaign.

By far the most common practise was the use of Facebook. In November 2013 Craig Thomler of eGovAU estimated the number of Members of Parliament using Facebook/Twitter had increased to over 90%[11]. It was estimated that in early 2014 nine million Australians checked their Facebook page daily[12]. This may account for the popularity of this medium as a platform for engaging with voters. However, as mentioned earlier, due to lack of permissions Pandora did not collect any of this material. This included not just politicians websites but also organisational lobby websites and community driven protest websites.

Locating candidate’s websites can be a difficult task. The job of archiving candidate websites is done primarily by each participant agency responsible within a specific jurisdiction. However Pandora staff also takes responsibility for ACT candidates and during the 2013 election they also searched for Northern Territory and Tasmanian candidates.

The main problem is identifying the candidates themselves. The final candidate list, produced by the Australian Electoral Commission, is not released until the last three weeks of the campaign. As the permission process can take months staff try to get a head start on this work by other methods such as, reading news articles, search engine searches and using previous election information. Once the candidate list is released a more thorough check can be undertaken, though this is quite close to the election and operates more as a final check of work already carried out.

Special prominence is given to independent candidates. These candidates are not supported by a party and will have their own unique issues and platforms that often are recorded only on their website. In this election one of the most prominent independents was Cathy McGowan, now the Member for Indi, whose grassroots campaign has featured in many news stories since the election. Her website contains all her press releases and her stance on issues.

Political Party websites

For the 2010 election we had permissions for all political parties registered at the Federal level. Just prior to the 2013 election twenty-six new political parties were registered with the Australian Electoral Commission. Beginning in January of that year with the approval of the Pirate Party and ending in July when the Stop CSG party was approved.

Permissions were sought for these new parties throughout 2013. Permissions were received for the majority of these parties but at the end of the election 11 parties permissions were still outstanding. All of these parties had existing websites that contained some information about their policies or organisation structure (with the exception of Australia’s First Nations, see above).

List of parties for which permissions could not be obtained:

Australian Voice party

Australian Sports party

Bullet train for Australia

Coke in the bubblers

Palmer United party

Stop CSG party

Uniting Australia

Australian First Nations Political parties

Australian Sovereignty party

Building Australia party

Bank Reform party

Once the final results were released, after the Western Australia Senate re-election, one of the parties had members in the House of Representatives and Senate. Also at the writing of this article the Bank Reform Party has ceased and officially (Feb 2014 a name change is recorded with the AEC) changed to the Mutual Party and unofficially (recorded on the party website) the Mutual party has changed to People Power Australia showing the fragility of online material.

The collection also contains attack websites, policy changes and single issue websites produced by political parties to target specific voters.

  • Single issue topics are areas that differentiate a party from its rivals, such as the Australian Greens, ‘Not in my name, not with my vote’, regarding offshore processing of asylum seekers,
  • Policy changes websites that highlight an altered policy decision such as Labor party’s ‘It’s time. Marriage Equality’
  • Attacking areas where they felt their rival was vulnerable, like the Liberal party’s, ’Labor : five long years’,


Interest and Lobby Groups

This is a collection of material produced by organisations and peak bodies that provide information on parties and candidate’s policies or peak bodies that provide information on where they see the important areas for their industry or business.

In most cases the websites are a simple document (pdf) or webpage (html) statement on policy for a particular peak body or organisation. Often they are produced by the same organisation each election. For example the National Farmers Federation has produced an online election statement each election since 1998.

The 2013 election saw more sophisticated online websites being created:

  • The Solar scorecard website, by 100% renewable, produced a website that used infographics to rate candidates and their parties based on their statements on solar energy.
  • The pollute-o-meter produced by the Climate Institute to rate parties on their policies to cut carbon emissions. This site, however, used some complex coding that meant it was unable to be harvested for archiving.


Media, comment, social network and video websites

This is a fairly broad collection of material. It includes copies of mainstream media such as the Sydney Morning Herald, ABC news and The Guardian. It also contains blogs, factcheck websites and voting assist websites, as well as Twitter and other social media material.

During the last two elections Pandora has had permission to archive the Sydney Morning Herald. The website is not archived deeply, that is, we do not capture the entire SMH website but only the homepage and articles that are linked off this page. To offset this lack of depth the site is archived daily, usually in the morning. During the election campaign we continued this daily morning harvest but also ran an additional harvest to capture the mini site the Sydney Morning Herald created for the election called, Australia Decides. This is run in the afternoon (approximately 3.30pm) to capture the afternoon election based headlines.

Sydney Morning Herald collection

Australia Decides (Sydney Morning Herald)

The Guardian newspaper is a new entry to the Australian online news market. It launched four months prior to the election. Like the Sydney Morning Herald it also had a mini site dedicated to election coverage. After some negotiation we were able to obtain permission to archive this mini site and their election coverage. This was archived in the same way to the Sydney Morning Herald coverage, a daily harvest that captures the minisite homepage and the articles that are linked to it.

Australian Election 2013 (Guardian Australia)

Not all media that has content on the election is added to the collection. The collection is reserved for content that deal almost exclusively with the election, hence the mini websites for Sydney Morning Herald and the guardian are included but other websites are not. This other media is still archived during an election but it is not added to the election collection. Some websites that contain election material and archived at the time of election but not added to the collection include the ABC’s The Drum, Crikey, New Matilda and The Conversation.

We archive a number of blogs for the election, most notably Antony Greens ABC election blog and Poll Bludger blog on the Crikey site.

This election is also noted for its introduction of fact checking websites, an idea that has been a part of the United States’ political landscape for several years. The 2013 election had no less than four political fact checking websites start, ABC Fact check, Politifact Australia (a branded model from Politificat US), The Conversation’s Election Factcheck and the Australia’s Institute’s Facts Fight Back. All websites use a similar model and check on a particular piece of information being used in the media or statements made by politicians. We were very pleased to have permission for all websites and so all are archived and preserved. One of these websites, Politifact ceased operation and went offline shortly after the election.

There are also a number of non-partisan voting assist websites that were archived. There are at least two websites that explain the complexity of the voting ‘below the line’ in the senate. Cluey voter gives you the opportunity to select the support you have for candidates or parties, it then gives you a personal voting guide to voting below the line. Although we cannot replicate the functions of the service in our archive copy we can records the homepage with an explanation of how the service worked.  Below the line was a similar website that allowed voters to prepare their voting intentions. It is interesting to speculate how long these websites may be needed with a parliamentary committee recommending changes to Senate voting both above and below the line.

Vote Compass was another innovation at this election. Developed by a non-partisan network of political scientists it was hosted by the ABC and allowed voters to give their response on topical issues and parties policies and receive a personalised analysis. The complexity of the site meant we weren’t able to archive much more than the front page but we took regular snapshots that show by the end of the election 1.4 million Australians had used the site.

Electoral study and research websites

This collection contains psephologists titles and a number of government websites relating to the election.

Although the federal government bureaucracy does not have much involvement in the election process there are a number of websites surrounding the election such as the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook and Australian Electoral Commission. This election we also archived the newly created Parliamentary Budget Office. This office was created to give parties the access to the public resources to allow independent costing of election promises. The site was archived a number of times through the election campaign to show how many parties submitted policies for costing at various stages of the election.

After the election

After the election the work does not stop for the web archiving team. Permissions requests sent out over previous months arrive allowing us to continue archiving election material, media coverage continues in the days and weeks after the election and Ministerial websites for the new government are created.

Throughout an election campaign most government websites go into caretaker mode. During this period websites are not updated. This allows web archiving staff to make a final copy of all ministerial websites that are included in our Australian Federal Minister collection. After the election result and a government was formed new ministerial websites are created and these must be registered and archived for this collection.

Australian Federal Government Ministers

The Western Australia Senate re-election also meant the election lived on months after a government had been formed. Western Australia State Library led on the development of this collection. It consisted mostly of re-archiving candidates websites that were included in the first election and a small number of unique websites were created specifically for the re-election.


The 2013 Australian Federal Election was the largest election collection ever created by Pandora curators. It included the input of staff from all mainland State Libraries and the National Library of Australia. The planning and collecting for the collection took place over nearly a whole year with two months of dedicated collecting to almost the exclusion of all other work.

In the end we collected over 562 titles, nearly double the 2010 number. Material was collected from a broad array of areas, government, media, social media, politicians and political commentators. This material will form the basis of what future researchers will know about the election online. But it will not be the full story, a large amount of amount of Youtube material was not collected with much of it was not even considered for inclusion. The amount of Facebook election material that was not collected can only be guessed at and only a small amount of the Twitter traffic was archived. What we missed may well be shape the way the election is interpreted in the future as much as what was not collected.

While the limitations of the collections are evident we should recognise the value and importance of these collections. They represent a unique and valuable resource for future researchers, and they would not exist unless we were prepared to build a less than perfect collection.

Appendix A

 The collections of the 2013 Australian Federal Election campaign:

 House of Representatives election candidate web sites

 Senate election candidate web sites

 Electoral study and research web sites

 Interest and lobby group web sites

 Media, comment, social network and video sites

 Political party web sites

 WA Senate election 2014


 Coorey, P., ‘Rudd’s leadership hangs by a thread’, in Sydney Morning Herald,, 2010 (accessed May 21 2014).

 Cowling, D., ‘Social Media Statistics in Australia – June 2014’, in, 2014, (accessed 15 July 2014.

 Crook, A., ‘Louise Pratt shafted in WA Labor Senate battle’, in Crikey,, 2014 (accessed July 20 2014)

 Crook, E., ‘2007 Australian Federal Election on the Internet’, in Staff papers and presentation relating to Pandora,, 2007, (accessed 24 May 2014).

 Etherington, K., and Remme, S., ‘Tweet, tweet! A visual representation of MPs’ social media use’, in Crikey., 2013, (accessed May 20 2014).

 Green, A., ‘Record number to candidates to contend 2013 election’, in ABC,, 2013, (accessed May 24 2014).

 Green, A., ‘Federal Election date Announced – 14 September 2013’, ABC elections,, 2013, (accessed 21 May 2014).

 ‘Julia Gillard on the move’, in Sydney Morning Herald,, 2013, (accessed May 23 2014).

 National Library of Australia, ‘Olympics Games - 2000, Sydney’,, 2000, (accessed on May 20).

 National Library of Australia, ‘Murray-Darling and its Basin’,, 2012, (accessed on May 2014).

 Ross, M., ‘Facebook turns 10: the world’s largest social network’, in ABC News., 2014, (accessed May 21 2014).

 Thomler, C., ’90% of Australian federal politicians now user Facebook and/or Twitter’, in eGovAU,, 2013, (accessed May 20 2014).


[1] National Library of Australia, ‘Olympics Games - 2000, Sydney’,, 2000, (accessed on May 20).

[2] National Library of Australia, ‘Murray-Darling and its Basin’,, 2012, (accessed on May 2014).

[3] A. Green, ‘Federal Election date Announced – 14 September 2013’, ABC elections,, 2013, (accessed 21 May 2014).

[4] P. Coorey, ‘Rudd’s leadership hangs by a thread’, in Sydney Morning Herald,, 2010 (accessed May 21 2014).

[5] ‘Julia Gillard on the move’, in Sydney Morning Herald,, 2013, (accessed May 23 2014).

 [6] E. Crook, ‘2007 Australian Federal Election on the Internet’, in Staff papers and presentation relating to Pandora,, 2007, (accessed 24 May 2014).

 [7] Cowling David, ‘Social Media Statistics in Australia – June 2014’, in, 2014, (accessed 15 July 2014.

[8] K. Etherington, and S. Remme, ‘Tweet, tweet! A visual representation of MPs’ social media use’, in Crikey., 2013, (accessed May 20 2014).

[9] A. Green, ‘Record number to candidates to content 2013 election’, in ABC,, 2013, (accessed May 24 2014).

[10] A. Crook, ‘Louise Pratt shafted in WA Senate battle’, in Cirkey,, 2014 (accessed July 20 2014)

[11] C. Thomler, ’90% of Australian federal politicians now user Facebook and/or Twitter’, in eGovAU,, 2013, (accessed May 20 2014).

[12] M. Ross, ‘Facebook turns 10: the world’s largest social network’, in ABC News., 2014, (accessed May 21 2014).