Since Parliament had its very first debate in the mid-19th century, MPs have uttered about 500 million words in the debating chamber.

Nearly every one of those words has been transcribed verbatim and bound into volumes called Hansard, after Thomas Curson Hansard, the first official printer in the UK Parliament.

And this week, as Hansard celebrates its 150th anniversary, they will be published online in their entirety.

The occasion will also be marked by an exhibition of Hansard's great moments, a public debate, and a tribute in the House.

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Ahead of the anniversary, the Clerk of the House David Wilson began investigating the possibility of a complete digital record of the debates.

In an extraordinary stroke of luck, much of the work had already been done without him knowing. The University of California digitised every Hansard volume from 1867 to 1985, as part of Google's ambitious attempt to scan every book in the world.

This included the painstaking task of manually scanning every page of the volumes. Because many of the older volumes are fragile, it was done with a high-definition camera while a Google employee carefully turned the pages.

One of the Hansard project's co-ordinators, Peter Riches, said that was a huge relief.

"It was 723 volumes at about 1000 pages each, so it's quite a big project, and quite expensive. And someone has to physically do it."

Hansard staff were left to fill in the gaps in the record. The debates from 1987 were scraped from word processing files and Parliament's website.

More difficult was finding an accurate account of the debates between 1854 and 1867, before Hansard was created. During this period the only record was provided by the press, and reporting was politicised and patchy.

"If the newspaper didn't like the members, they just didn't report them," Riches said.

Nevertheless, five volumes of Hansard have been patched together from newspaper reports over these 13 years.

Riches said that the full, digitised Hansard was, in a way, an oral history of New Zealand. It traced the country through women's suffrage, the Great Depression, world wars, homosexual law reform, anti-nuclear protest, and natural disasters.

"It's hard to imagine any event in New Zealand's history of any significance that hasn't been discussed in some way in the House," Riches said.

"So it's quite a good record of what's happening at any point in time over the course of our history, or at least since Parliament first sat."

It also captures some of the lowlights - all of the insults flung across the Chamber and ruled as "unparliamentary" by the Speaker.

Among those insults, now enshrined online for all time, are "retardate worm", "hypnotised rabbit" and "His brains could revolve inside a peanut shell for a thousand years without touching the sides".

Hansard today

Seventeen Hansard reporters and editors based at Parliament capture the debates during a sitting week.

In the past, staff used to write down every word in shorthand, before transcribing them.

These days the transcribing is done via audio recording. But staff still need to be in the debating chamber to capture the interjections not captured by the microphones.

Each staff member has a 10-minute turn in the debating chamber, after which they transcribe the debates and insert any interjections in the right places.

A draft transcript goes online within 90 minutes to two hours, and is published in hard copy within about a month.

BY THE NUMBERS
• 163 years of Parliamentary debates
• 150 years of official transcripts
• 723 volumes
• 750,000 pages
• 500,000,000 words

HIGHLIGHTS

"Now, Sir, I should like to say a word to those who oppose women's suffrage. I have never deviated from the opinion that this great privilege should be conferred on woman. I have always held the view that woman, as well as man, should be entitled to the fullest political liberty... I advocate it not because it would help any particular party or line of politics, not because it would help to build up a feeling of conservatism in this country, but simply on the ground of women's rights. There is no doubt about the magnitude of the question: its magnitude is undeniable. The political privilege we propose to confer on women is the basis of all social rights and of religious freedom..."
-Liberal MP for Masterton, Alexander Hogg, July 28, 1893, on giving women the right to vote.

"Social security is a collective responsibility on the part of organised society for the many individual mishaps and hazards that litter the path of life. In other words it is the levelling out of the good and bad luck of every citizen compelled to work for a living. Owing to the extraordinary changes that are taking place in life throughout the world - from cradle to grave - it is apparent that some form of social security is essential if we are to preserve our civilisation."
-Labour MP for Invercargill William Denham, August 24, 1938, on law changes to establish New Zealand's social security system.

"We have arrived at a very serious crisis not only in the history of this country, but in the history of the Empire. We are all anxious for peace. We all detest war; but we do not want peace unconditionally. We do not want peace at any price; we want peace with honour; and I hope and believe that the war which has just broken out will not last long, and I hope and believe that within a comparatively few months - to say weeks would be too much to expect - within a very few months the Imperial authorities will be able to announce to us that peace with honour has come for the British Empire."
-Prime Minister William Massey, August 5, 1914, on the outbreak of World War I.

"This Bill and the one following it which we shall be asked to pass today establish in the eyes of the world the absolute sovereignty of New Zealand as a nation. So long as this country did not have within itself power to alter its own Constitution it could not be said to be an absolutely sovereign State. We are declaring ourselves to be independent today. This passage of our declaration of independence arises not from misunderstandings and conflict, but from understanding and friendship, and it is in that spirit, the spirit of understanding and friendship, that the nations constituting the British Commonwealth of Nations must continue to live together."
-Legislative Councillor Thomas Bloodworth, November 21, 1947, on New Zealand becoming fully independent from the UK.

"To the Maori people, landholdings do not perish with the people, but stand for generations. When it can be shown that a group of people had their land unjustly taken from them by confiscation or any other means, they should be compensated. No one says that that will be simple. No one says that it will not cost money. No one says that it will not be difficult, but the Government is determined to try to clarify those injustices and do its best to compensate the victims."
-Labour MP for Eastern Maori Peter Tapsell, August 6, 1985, on empowering the Waitangi Tribunal to investigate claims back to 1840.

"Gay people are not gay by choice, and, even if they were, the House has no right to deny them that choice of sexuality. Gay people are gay, just as heterosexuals are heterosexual. We, as individual members of the New Zealand Parliament, have no right to say to people that they must not practice their sexuality, which is an integral part of their being. During the campaign I had contact with parents of gay children who had committed suicide. I had contact with many sad families of gay people who said they wished they had known before it was too late. I ask the House tonight not to make it too late, and to vote for the third reading."
-Labour MP for Wellington Central Fran Wilde, July 2, 1986, on homosexual law reform.

"The exclusion of nuclear weapons from New Zealand has made it plain that New Zealand does not ask to be defended by nuclear weapons. It does not ask any nuclear power to threaten the use of nuclear weapons in the defence of New Zealand. We have accepted that nuclear weapons can provide no real defence for New Zealand. We accept that their presence in any strategy for the defence of New Zealand is utterly destabilising."
-Prime Minister David Lange, February 12, 1987, on NZ becoming nuclear-free.

"Nā reira koutou mā, tēnei mātou e mihi atu ki a koutou. Ko te tūmanako kia manaaki koutou i a koutou. Kimihia ō koutou whānau, ō koutou hoa me te manaaki, tiaki hoki i a rātou i roto i tēnei wā pōuri. Nā reira, mā te Atua koutou e manaaki, e tiaki kia mutu ai tēnei āhuatanga. Ngā mihi ki a koutou, tēnā koutou."

"[So our thoughts are with you. We hope that you look after each other. Seek out your families and friends; comfort and shelter them in this moment of darkness. May God protect and watch over you so this tragedy has an ending. Our sympathies and thoughts are with you.]"
-Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples, February 22, 2011, on the Canterbury earthquakes.