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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 828


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services) (7:30 PM) —As a representative of part of the Liverpool municipality—and the son of the man who left school at 13 years of age and who educated himself through school of arts libraries, which preceded public libraries, and left state parliament widely regarded as the best-read person in the New South Wales parliament—I very much congratulate my colleague for bringing this resolution forward.

The Australian Library and Information Association has heralded next year as the year of public libraries so it is ironic that this year Liverpool Council—an organisation with 6,000 members which acknowledges that in this country we have 183 million library items, 10 million inquiries a year and 8½ thousand personal computers with internet access at 7,000 libraries—a Liberal controlled council, has moved in this fashion. Like my colleague, I am pleased that they are retracting their position. But it has not been without a very significant public campaign by the minority Labor councillors in that organisation and by the state member for Liverpool, Paul Lynch.

Libraries are indeed of great value to society. The Australian Library and Information Association has cited an international survey of over 27 countries which says that where there is a book in the home there is improved educational outcomes for children, especially among disadvantaged families. As the member for Fowler said, this is an area that does have a degree of public deprivation because of public housing. It is also a high-migration area and these books are not in many homes. People depend, more than in any other area, on access to public libraries.

Libraries are also an outing for many people. They are an area where people can socially interface. They are available for family history searches and for book clubs. On a broader front, they are certainly at the cutting edge, in this day and age, of skills acquisition. They work closely with schools and they are crucial—and this is going to be a focus of next year’s year of public libraries—for family literacy and encouraging entire families to access these facilities. They are also about public spaces—meeting places where organisations that cannot afford to elsewhere can actually get rooms at cheap prices. They are also a refuge from stress for many people.

It is alright for the Liverpool city councillors, driving in their cars, to say that you can have a centralised institution which might be slightly larger, or whatever, than these four public libraries they threaten. But many people in this area do not have car transport and do not have access to public transport. There was an example given of one person who would have to use three forms of public transport to get to this megalith they were going to construct as the municipality’s loan library.

In Britain there has also been a debate about public libraries. There was a threat to 450 of them. The Guardian, the British daily paper, on 11 February this year said, about libraries:

In short, they are civilised, unlike the people who are deciding their fate.

Quite frankly, that is very true of the Liverpool councillors. There is no other place in this country where a council would sit around and come up with this kind of concept. It is the same council, which, alone in this country when everyone else was getting behind the flood effort in Queensland, wanted to play partisan politics about the raising of flood money. It was the only place I know which refused to contribute to the Queensland Premier’s flood appeal because it did not trust the Queensland government. That is the kind of mentality that we have in this council.

So I am pleased that the member for Fowler has brought this forward. It is crucial that libraries are available. I saw a figure quoted by the member for Fowler—other figures have quoted an even higher usage rate—that libraries have 10 million members in this country. Ten million Australians are members of public libraries. It is crucial that the councillors of Liverpool are held to this defeat, this backdown. I understand that they are making it slightly conditional to save themselves some face. They are placing certain conditions—that they will keep these libraries as long as this or that happens. The public has spoken. There has been a broad coalition of people throughout the municipality who have seen a very stark need for this library system and the council must be held to their word in the months ahead.