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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 775


Mr ADAMS (7:05 PM) —The honourable member for Mayo has brought forward this motion, and I thank the member for bringing this topic to light because Tasmania is also on the list for closure and that is why I sought to speak on this matter. The member mentions in his motion that ‘archives are important sources of primary information for all researchers, school students and the general public’, and that is always true. In his motion he mentioned the Special Minister of State, whose role as Cabinet Secretary is the important role that he has in relation to archives.

I do not know how much people know about or understand our Archives, but the Commonwealth Archives keep all the documents that relate to the birth of our nation as they have been collected over the years in each state. That is the central repository of Australian Commonwealth government records: it documents the full range of Australian government activities since Federation in 1901. My family goes back a long way too, and a lot of those historical records are there before 1901 and include significant 19th century records dealing with activities that were transferred from the colonies to the Commonwealth. It includes mainly 20th century records created by the federal government since Federation in 1901. We also hold 19th century records that were transferred from the colonies after Federation—for example, records about defence, Customs, patents, lighthouses, naturalisation, shipping and postal and telegraphic services in those early days.

At the moment in Tasmania it includes documents such as railway records, the Australian Antarctic Division, the CSIRO, lighthouse logs, immigration papers, and weather and tidal records among many other things. You will now also be aware that on 2 November the Australian government, as part of the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook—the MYEFO—statement, announced that the National Archives, along with other government agencies, were required to find significant budget savings for the current forward estimates years 2009-10 to 2012-13. The savings were $700,000 in the first year and $1.4 million in each year thereafter.

In order to make savings of this order and to meet current commitments and to move to being a 21st century organisation that can meet future demands, it was thought that there was a need to make fundamental changes to the way the Archives operate. To achieve this as well as reduce service costs in Canberra, a decision was made that the state offices in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart would be closed over the next 2½ years as the buildings’ leases expired. While I understand the need to make changes, I believe closure should be the option of last resort and that the importance of being able to keep federal documents in their states of origin is beyond just money. Many historians around Tasmania have signed a petition by the Australian Society of Archivists to save the Archives.

I have already written to the Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary, Senator Ludwig, to argue the case for the retention of the Tasmanian records in Tasmania. I think the discussion should be based not necessarily on the closure of the federal archives but on whether the Tasmanian collection could be handed over to the state to be included in their collection and to be henceforth managed by the state. I believe the staff looking after the current archives should be transferred too, as they have the experience with the collection that is presently there.

My argument is that Tasmania is beginning to develop a whole new line of research on convict history and early colonial development that requires deeper access to the nation’s archives. I had hoped to use the National Archives as one of the major sources of information for visitors to actually find sourced data in Tasmania. Our state archives are well used and are a direct link, and maybe sharing people and resources might allow for a better economic outcome for the National Archives.

I understand that in the past there has not been a great use of the material there, but in light of these new developments it would make a lot of sense to keep these records in Tasmania. If there was a need to amalgamate some of the resources, could they not be centralised in Tasmania? We have the expertise of researchers there. The University of Tasmania is working on a more community based approach to history development and there are a number of products being developed through all these resources to allow the tourist industry to make use of Tasmania’s rich and varied history, especially a very detailed maritime picture in keeping with the island heritage of our state.

I believe the Tasmanian state government is already negotiating to have the transfer of ownership of the railway records from the Commonwealth to the state. Many of these continue to be used today to resolve day to day engineering problems in Tasmania and it would be really stupid to take them elsewhere. It would be good to see other similar documents, such as those relating to defence, customs, patents, lighthouses, naturalisation, shipping, postal and telegraphic services retained because there is still ongoing use. To my mind, rather than shift all the documents around, it would make sense to integrate it with the local archives and develop an online link between the state and the Commonwealth to ensure that the information is easily available. Many of the documents are very delicate and would need some considerable care to move and store them at this stage. That is a cost that would be additional to the current costs. I believe there is a compromise would save costs but still keep federal archive material in the relevant states.

I would like to thank the honourable member for Mayo for bringing this matter forward. I have had some representations about it, but the honourable member should also realise—I think penny-pinching was the term he used—that the Howard government, as he would no doubt be aware, transferred considerable amounts of the holdings of the Adelaide archive office to Sydney. They basically gutted the Adelaide archive office and moved most of the material to Sydney during his party’s time in government. I understand that there are no plans to close the Brisbane office, which he indicated might be a possibility. From my research, I understand that there is no government policy in that direction at all. So I think the honourable member was using the motion to also play politics and try to make some political points, which is very unusual for the member for Mayo. He is such a straight shooter in many regards.

The archives are so important to us—for example, in relation to lighthouses. Tasmania has a lot of lighthouses. One of my staff grew up in lighthouses, as her father was a lighthouse keeper. So those records have great significance to many, many Tasmanians. This recording of our cultural history will allow us to create tourist products that are based on the proper history from our archives. If we can find a way of keeping this information in Tasmania, it would be great.