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Wednesday, 31 May 2000
Page: 16693


Mr SPEAKER (3:36 PM) —On 13 April, the member for the Northern Territory raised a number of matters relating to the reproduction of the Yirrkala bark petitions. The honourable member advised that the Yirrkala community views the clan designs represented on the petitions as indivisible from the people and that they do not believe they have relinquished their rights to them by adding the designs to the petitions. The honourable member also asked whether the parliament was charging a fee in respect of the use of reproductions of the material.

These historic petitions were presented to the House in 1963 and 1968.The bark petitions have a special format and unique significance, but in parliamentary procedural terms they enjoy the same status as other House documents. Under standing order 39, the custody of all documents laid before the House is vested in the Clerk of the House, and the Yirrkala petitions are covered by this.

In addition, standing order 320 authorises the publication of all papers and documents presented to the House. From time to time, requests are received for permission to reproduce one or more of the petitions—for example, in school textbooks, encyclopedias or art books. The House of Representatives has consistently taken a very open policy with such requests and, with the approval of the Speaker or the Clerk, photographic negatives have been readily supplied. I must stress that no fee has been charged by the House of Representatives for the reproduction of this material.

In recent years, some requests for reproduction of the petitions were made directly to the Joint House Department art section, perhaps on the assumption that the petitions were part of the art collection. In his question, the member for the Northern Territory referred to correspondence from the Joint House Department art section. In an attachment to the letter in question there was a reference to a fee for the supply of a transparency and to a reproduction fee. When the Joint House Department supplies such a transparency of an item within the Parliament House art collection such fees are usually charged.

The Yirrkala petitions are not, however, part of the art collection, but most important parts of the original records of the House. I do not believe it appropriate that a fee be charged in relation to the petitions and I will be writing to the member for the Northern Territory, as the parliamentary representative of the Yirrkala community, advising of this. The Department of the House of Representatives will continue to assess requests for reproduction on their merits and to ensure the appropriate use of these images in accordance with the standing orders.

As well as being important and historic House records, I acknowledge that these petitions are of special and intimate significance to members of the Yirrkala community. The House has never delegated to those responsible for the petition of any record the right to approve requests for the use of the record. These petitions are, however, of unique significance. In recognition of this, I have directed that representatives of the community be informed, on a regular basis, of requests received and approvals granted in relation to images of the petitions and any related aspects.

With reference to the issues related to intellectual property and copyright, I have invited the Attorney-General to consider these broader matters and respond to the honourable member as and when appropriate. I thank the honourable member for the Northern Territory for bringing this matter to my attention and for allowing me to clarify the issues.