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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7084

Senator TIERNEY (11:56 PM) —I rise tonight to bring to the attention of the Senate the role of a great Australian cultural institution: the National Library of Australia. On 22 October the Senate considered the annual report of the NLA. As I had an opportunity to speak only briefly on that occasion and my time expired before I could conclude, I wish now to continue those remarks. Previously I highlighted how the technological revolution—in particular, digitisation and the Internet—now provides us with the means of creating access to a treasure trove of information. Through satellite, optic fibre and new wireless technology, we can now deliver to individual homes or to local libraries for those who cannot afford the technology. The potential now exists to break down the urban-rural divide and the rich-poor divide in terms of access to information technology.

When I came to this parliament in the early nineties, IT was an area of great interest to me. At that time you could see that Australia was on the developing edge of what the US Vice-President Al Gore called `the information superhighway'. A person who influenced me greatly at that time was Eric Wainwright, the Deputy Director-General at the National Library of Australia. He gave me a lot of guidance for a study leave program in 1994. I went to the United States to look at the emerging information age. It was an eye-opening experience, particularly going to companies like Hewlett Packard, AT&T, the Bells, and a whole range of other top information providers, as well as sitting in on a number of think tanks in Washington.

When I came back to Australia, the Internet was very much in its early stages. People who were involved in the Internet at that time were basically academics, people at the top of business and also people in government. The Internet was not operating very much out in the community at all. At that time I made a series of Senate speeches on the coming information age. That was eight years ago. It is just amazing what changes have occurred in society in that time. In 1994 people would ask me what the Internet was and now people give us their home page or their web site. The revolution in eight years is quite dramatic. It is terrific to have been involved with the National Library through that period of very rapidly changing technology. What I love about the National Library is that in this information age there is such a broad range of possibilities in which to connect the fountainheads of knowledge to the community. Doing that more effectively is the real challenge before our nation. It is a challenge for government and it is a challenge for the National Library of Australia.

The way they are developing IT at the NLA is marvellous. We are progressively moving to a point where people, no matter what their level of income or their location, through a computer at home or at a public facility, can easily access information. Access to knowledge is a great protector of our democracy and our way of life. Ignorance and prejudice are its enemies. The more we accept developing access the more we have the opportunity of developing a fair and just society. The National Library has played a critical role as the primary source of information for this development. Now, with new technologies being able to link people to this great range of information, the portents for the future are that much better. One thing that has really enhanced the reputation of the National Library is the way in which it has spread not only print information but also cultural information. Finally, I would like to pay special tribute to the very highly professional staff at the National Library.

Senate adjourned at 12 a.m.