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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 773

Mr BRIGGS (6:55 PM) —I should perhaps have extended the motion to include the Hobart, Tasmania office. They too are finding themselves with the sword across their neck as we stand here today. It is a purely bureaucratic decision made by bean counters without a genuine appreciation for the important cultural heritage value that the archives has in states like South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. I note that the member for Lyne is speaking on this motion, and I am sure he too will express great disappointment with the decision to shut the Hobart office of the National Archives.

I would like to quote a leading authority on the importance of cultural history in Australia. This is from 5 April 2001 when there was some talk at the time amongst finance bureaucrats under the former government, as I am sure you would remember, Mr Deputy Speaker Bevis, who were looking for savings across the public service. The member for Griffith stood up on this issue and made speeches to both this place and the House of Representatives on the shutting down of the National Archives office in Brisbane. In fact, I think it was something as simple as moving the archives office from a part of his electorate to another electorate in the Brisbane CBD—which I think is probably the deputy speaker’s electorate. He spoke very well, saying that he was deeply concerned that closing this repository would:

… become a pretext for a rapid culling and rationalisation—

of the NAA’s records. He went on to say:

…who knows what documents may be destroyed as a consequence?

I agree fully with the now Prime Minister but then member for Griffith’s view about that—that it is very important that we maintain these offices in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart. These are very important offices for local communities. As we all understand, archives offices today represent important opportunities not only for research academics but also for the general public. They are of particular interest to those researching family histories and the cultural history of their state, particularly in relation to migrant information. Of course, they have had great importance to the stolen generations and I noted with interest some significant comments by those who represent the stolen generations about these bureaucratic penny-pinching decisions to shut down the offices in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart.

The one city that does not get mentioned in that is, of course, Brisbane. It appears that Brisbane has survived any culling of its office at this point for reasons best known, I guess, to the bureaucrats involved. But they do play a very important role in the cultural fabric of our society. The Adelaide office is destined to close, unless the government changes its mind on this decision, on 31 March 2011. The decision was taken in November as part of the mid-year economic review and clearly it was a decision made by penny-pinching bureaucrats who were looking for ways to save money due to the excessive spending of the Rudd government.

They have all had to cut down their spending. They have all been told they have to find savings. The National Archives is no exception to that. We know that is the case with the Australian War Memorial as well—they have had to sell advertising for the last post as part of the budget-saving measures, the efficiency dividends, that have been put across the Public Service. This is another one of those penny-pinching episodes of a government desperate to find money in any hollow log they possibly can. Unfortunately, this hollow log means that the Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin offices of the National Archives will be shut, which I think is a very unfortunate decision, which is why I think that those on both sides of the House will support this motion.

The Archives have been open for over one hundred years and they have played a very large role in the way our cultural history has developed. They store vital information. Interestingly, on one side of my family there is a fellow member of parliament, a state parliamentarian, the Hon. Bob Such. He is related to me through a strange mixing of cousins. He is a third cousin, I think.

Mr Adams —Sounds like Tasmania.

Mr BRIGGS —Well, it is Adelaide. It turns out that the Hon. Bob Such has a link to the Hoods—my nanna was a Hood by birth. He compiled a family history in conjunction with my uncle, Barry Sharman from Mildura, a few years ago. It is a comprehensive history; it goes back to the 1860s, when the Hoods arrived from the UK. They settled in Gumeracha in South Australia, which is now in my electorate. They were the first pioneers who went up to Mildura—with the Chaffey brothers.

Mr Adams —They’re all Labor, aren’t they?

Mr BRIGGS —No, I don’t think Gumeracha has ever been Labor. Gumeracha, of course, was Tom Playford’s seat, Member for Lyons. He was the longest serving Premier in the country’s history.

This information was obtained through things like the archives. Both Barry Sharman and Bob Such were able to get information and research they could not possibly get if these archives were shut and moved to a central location in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne. It is very eastern-states focused, but that is typical when you have Canberra based bureaucrats who are just penny-pinching, looking for any hollow log to make up for the shortfalls that unfortunately the Treasurer has foisted upon these departments with the massive spending spree that he has been on. This is an example of decisions made by the government at national level now affecting communities at the lower level.

There has been a great outcry in Adelaide and South Australia about this decision. It has caused a great deal of resentment, because again it seems that cities like Melbourne and Sydney—and in particular in this case Brisbane—escape the cuts. I remind the House that in 2001 the member for Griffith, the now Prime Minister, spoke very passionately in this place about the need to keep the archives office open in his electorate. It seems a little strange that the government has decided to shut down the archives in Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin but Brisbane has survived. So we are disappointed with this decision and thus I have moved this motion. I am very pleased that the member for Grey has decided to speak in favour of this motion as well. He has obviously had very similar feedback in his electorate in South Australia about the impact this decision will have. I will be interested in the contribution of the member for Lyons; I am sure he will be disappointed with the decision as far as Hobart goes as well. I am sure people in Darwin have had a similar reaction.

We should not forget that archives are a very important part of the cultural fabric of our country. If we do not study our history, we risk forgetting it. One of the great things Australians do is honour the past. We do that through war-time records. We honour people who served our country with great monuments around the country as well. These archives contain information about people’s service, they contain information about migrant records and they have a great deal of the state’s and city’s history contained in them. If you simply up and move them to an eastern state on the basis of bureaucratic penny-pinching—just because they are a hollow log from where the government can steal back money to pay some of the massive debt that this country has built up—then that is a disaster for smaller states like South Australia, like Tasmania and like the Northern Territory. We hope very much that the public outrage, which is clear in South Australia at the moment, is enough to force the Rudd government to reconsider this decision. I know that the Labor members from South Australia are privately disappointed. I hope they are able to bring the same passion to this debate as the member for Griffith did in 2001.