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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 827

Mr HUNT (7:24 PM) —I rise to support the general tenor of this motion in relation to the role of public libraries in Australia, without having the specific knowledge to comment on the matters within the city of Liverpool. I thank the member for Fowler for his contribution to that broad space. I want to make two points in relation to libraries in Australia. The first is about the role of the library in the modern age. The traditional role as simply a conservator and lender of books remains, but in the digital age there is a dramatically different role, task, function and facility. I know this firsthand, having witnessed my young daughter at the library. She is now a prep year student, having begun primary school this year, but she had a lot of education, along with children throughout the Mornington Peninsula, in early reading and gaining a love for reading in the local library. This is not something that you would imagine or expect as a nonparent. It is something that is exceptionally important and of real value. It is about creating a culture and an environment in which children can learn to love books, to love reading and to love the world of imagination and ideas. That is fundamental to a lifetime of literacy, which is undoubtedly an almost indispensable prerequisite for comfort and achievement in modern society.

Many people have overcome the barrier of illiteracy, but it is a huge barrier. It is one of the great untold barriers. Libraries are bulwarks against illiteracy. They are a safe place where many of those who are underprivileged have a real chance to learn in an environment which is not going to be judgmental. The workplace can be frightening for people who get to adulthood and do not have literacy skills. It remains an ongoing challenge. One of the great roles of public libraries going forward is not just as a place for young people, although that is indispensable, not just as a repository for books but as a front line in the war against illiteracy for adults. It is a great social challenge.

The second element of public libraries which I want to address is in relation to one very specific issue, and that is autism. Over the course of the last few years, through people such as Helen Lloyd, a mother in my electorate who worked to provide services and raise funds for her son Jordan, I have become more engaged—as every member in this place would—with the problem of autism. I have increasingly become engaged with Autism Victoria. They service over 30,000 Victorians. There are many more whom they do not service. We know that, depending on where the definition of autism starts and ends, around 200,000 people in Australia suffer from autism. It can be deeply debilitating or it can be something that can be addressed at an early age through very targeted early intervention.

Last week, late in the week, I went to Abacus Learning Centre in Hastings, in my electorate. I worked with Michael Moore and others who are part of Abacus. They are part of the process of providing early literacy skills, early adaptation skills for preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. Part of the challenge is to ensure that there is adequate literature tailored specifically to these children and to the parents of these children. In that respect, Autism Victoria is putting together the 1000 Books Campaign. It is a campaign which I have become involved in in a very modest way. There are many others who are doing much more. This campaign is about a recognition that parents of children with autism are hungry for knowledge about something which is confronting and challenging. It can cause them to doubt their skills as parents. It can cause them to worry about the future facing their children. The 1000 Books Campaign is not about a mass of money. It is about developing a resource. We will work with the Victorian government and also with the Commonwealth government. It will be one of the two destinations for any funds that we raise in a 500-kilometre walk for autism that I am doing around the electorate later this year. Abacus will be the other recipient. Public libraries are vital in the battle against illiteracy, but the specific public library campaign in relation to autism, the 1000 Books Campaign, will be fundamental going forward.