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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 778

Mr ZAPPIA (7:20 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion moved by the member for Mayo in respect of the National Archives office in Adelaide. I note that other speakers have also referred to the closure of offices in other capital cities. In recent months I, too, have been contacted by many people concerned about the impending closure of the Adelaide office of the National Archives. As a result of those representations, I have in turn written to the Special Minister of State, the Hon Joe Ludwig, raising my concerns about the closure and the concerns that were raised with me by those people who contacted my office.

The Adelaide office is expected to close on 31 March 2011 when the current lease on its premises expires. The office employs six staff and I am advised that, in the year 2008-09, there were 720 visits to the Adelaide reading room. I am also advised that those six staff will be assisted in their transition to other forms of employment within the public service. Those 720 visits compare with 22,290 visits nationally. I am also advised that the Adelaide office holds 0.9 per cent of National Archives of Australia’s total record holdings and I understand that, overwhelmingly, public access to National Archives’ services is from online users. In 2008-09, 1.9 million records were accessed online compared to 57,000 records accessed in all National Archives of Australia offices around the country.

Importantly, I am advised that the closure of the Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart offices will not adversely affect the storage of records and no archives will be destroyed as part of these changes. Neither will the office closures change existing access arrangements for records relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The closures will not affect the government’s undertakings to assist individuals in their search for information about themselves, their families and their country. The National Archives holds many records that contain information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their history, as other members have previously said. These records are held in National Archives repositories around the country.

In response to the recommendations of the Bringing them home report, the National Archives created an index of names of Aboriginal people who appear in archive records known to contain information about Aboriginal people. As determined in consultation with Aboriginal communities in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Victoria, the index can only be accessed on behalf of Aboriginal people by National Archives reference staff or by Link-Up staff with password protected access. There is currently no direct client access to the index in National Archives offices and access requests are managed by the office holding the records. Copies of relevant information are then sent to the applicant free of charge. National Archives officers will continue to provide this service to Aboriginal Australians, regardless of the location of their records.

Having outlined the facts relating to the Adelaide office, I nevertheless urge the minister to consider the matters raised by those people and organisations who have raised concerns about the closure of the office with me. Not all people have access to, or are fluent in the use of, online services. Furthermore, National Archives staff provide invaluable guidance with research. Again, that is simply not available in a personal way with online research.

I take a moment to refer briefly to some of the representations I have received on this issue. Associate Professor Susan Schech wrote to me on behalf of all researchers and staff of the Migration and Refugee Research Cluster at Flinders University. The cluster is a leader in research into Australia’s migration history and the ability to personally access the National Archives office contributes to the work they do. The researchers at Flinders University feel that their work would be made more difficult, more expensive and less productive by the closure of the Adelaide office. Individuals and genealogists researching family trees find it much easier to do so if they able to attend the National Archives office at Adelaide in person.

I have also been contacted by several local historians and researchers, as I understand have many other federal parliamentary colleagues from South Australia. These researchers, most of them volunteers, attend the Adelaide office of the National Archives in the course of their work researching the history of their local communities or their own families. It is my view that the importance of a service should be measured not simply by the number of users of the service but rather by the contribution the service makes to the broader community. In that regard, I believe the Adelaide office of the National Archives provides an important service which should not be lost to the people of Adelaide.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr MJ Washer)—The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.