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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 777

Mr RAMSEY (7:15 PM) —It gives me great pleasure to support this excellent private members’ motion from the member for Mayo. I welcome the support also from the member for Lyne and I suspect also the member for Makin.

Mr Adams —Lyons.

Mr RAMSEY —Yes. I support this motion that recognises the importance of the national archives and their value to the community, and asks that the Special Minister of State reverse the decision to close the South Australian National Archives Office. This attack on the archives is a further example, if any is needed, that this Rudd Labor government is totally eastern seaboard focused. In fact, the plan to relocate the records to Sydney and Brisbane surely is a sick joke. What is the point of preserving history if you are going to park it where, for all intents and purposes, no-one can access it? Sometimes you will hear people joke about how well schools run in the weeks when there are no children there. We all remember the episode of Yes, Minister which featured a hospital with no patients because it ran much more efficiently. It would seem that the bean counters in this case that the member for Mayo has identified have realised just how much more efficient this service would be if no-one accessed it. Sure, the department would save money because the numbers of South Australians—and Tasmanians and Northern Territorians, for they too are affected by the decision—accessing the service would drop.

Residents of South Australia are sick of being treated as second-class citizens. I have been contacted by a number of constituents in the last few weeks who are appalled by the closure of the office—from Kadina, Georgetown, Jamestown, Lock, Yacka and Yongala. The nearest constituent in my electorate of Grey is more than an hour’s travel by car from Adelaide and the furthest is 15 hours. Clearly, just getting to Adelaide is an enormous impost for many; travelling to Brisbane would be ridiculous.

Just what are the records held in these offices that the government is so keen to relocate to Brisbane and Sydney? The offices in Adelaide contain immigration records dating back to 1848, just 12 years after the establishment of the colony. There are records for almost all families who immigrated to the state prior to 1980. Not only is this a treasure-trove for family historians; it also assists on many occasions to provide relevant information for Centrelink applications and passports. There are records pertaining to our Indigenous population and employment records, and pension numbers that are vital for those of the stolen generation who are trying to reconnect with their families. How appalling to see that the government is preening itself on its apology to the stolen generation while it strips away access to research tools for the affected people to try to relocate their families.

The national archives contain other diverse records which for individual groups are of great importance—records of the British atomic tests at Maralinga, invaluable for the servicemen and their families who were stationed there at the time; rafts of information about buildings and defence fortifications; records from the two world wars; and records from the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody—which, incidentally, were promised would remain in Adelaide. Family historians throughout South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are appalled by this.

It is common for researchers to be senior Australians; after all, retirement is a period of their lives when they have time to concentrate on those questions and look through records of family history that were so difficult to access during their working lives. By their very nature, this group does not find it easy to travel interstate and for those who live in my electorate and face the challenge of getting to Adelaide—let alone even contemplating how they would get to Sydney or Brisbane—relocation will severely limit access to one of their most valuable resources. Electronic searches are regarded as second-best, expensive and often incomplete. This work by its very nature requires poring over the records.

This penny-pinching assault on the national archives is an almost inevitable result of Labor’s profligacy since the last election. There has been an explosion of debt since the election. They have been intransigent on considering the possibility of winding back their stimulus spending, even as they claim we are through the worst of the economic challenges. This ill-considered move plans to save $3 million to underwrite a $150 billion debt.

I bring to the attention of the House a speech, which the member for Mayo also cited, given in this place in 2001 by the member for Griffith, now the Prime Minister. He condemned the moves not to close the Brisbane and Adelaide offices of the national authority, but to relocate them within their own cities. He asserted that the movement of a few kilometres would threaten the integrity of the collection. He questioned what would become of the staff and he suggested the anticipated savings were not real. I suggest the Special Minister of State contact the Prime Minister for support in reversing this appalling decision.