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Thursday, 5 April 2001
Page: 26626

Mr RUDD (5:50 PM) —It is with some irony that I rise in the House this evening in this year of the centenary of our Federation, a year in which we are celebrating the history of our Federation, after I have discovered that in my own electorate of Griffith the repository of the National Archives of Australia located at Cannon Hill is in the process of being sold. This is of great concern to the residents of my electorate and also to those interested in the history of the state of Queensland and in its role in the Federation compact. The collection at Cannon Hill comprises a rich and varied source of documents on Queensland's participation in the Federation. It also provides a rich resource for those interested in family histories to make use of in compiling their family genealogies.

On our side we are concerned about two or three things. The first is this: simply the economics of the proposition which is before us. When we look at the proposed rental costs of the replacement facility, which will be a much smaller facility, located as a shopfront within Brisbane's CBD, we are concerned that within a matter of simply five, six or seven years whatever savings may be gained through the sale of this facility at Cannon Hill will be lost in terms of the rental payments which will be made over the same period of time.

Our second concern of course relates to staff, who have been through a period, I think, of considerable duress as a result of this decision to sell the Cannon Hill repository for the National Archives, though I have received some assurances from the local manager of the National Archives of Australia that no staff member will lose their job. I will wait and see if that in fact is honoured.

However, our third and primary concern is this: the actual integrity of the collection. I have specifically sought assurances from the relevant minister and from his department that not a single document will be destroyed as a consequence of this move. I have received a curious undertaking from the relevant officer of National Archives in response to the question which I have put to the minister, along the lines that no records are being destroyed as a result of the sale of the Cannon Hill repository. Records are not being destroyed as a result of the Archives vacating the repository. The assessment and `subsequent disposal' of the collection flows from the responsibility of the National Archives to identify and dispose of records of no continuing historical and administrative value. I am deeply concerned that the decision to sell the repository at Cannon Hill may become a pretext for a rapid culling and rationalisation of the existing holdings—and who knows what documents may be destroyed as a consequence of that?

As I said before, local residents are deeply concerned about this, as are residents from right across the City of Brisbane and beyond who make regular use of this facility for a whole host of research related purposes. Because of this and because of widespread community concern, the auction for the sale of this facility, which was scheduled for late March, has now mysteriously been postponed to 10 April. The stated reason for this is that those auctioning this piece of Commonwealth government property on behalf of the Commonwealth are concerned that people who are concerned about any loss of documents may show up and disrupt the auction. I would have thought that was people's democratic right in the first place—to express their point of view. Now we are told that DOFA, the department responsible, is going to conduct the sale of this asset in private at a local hotel away from the site so that media attention, presumably, will be minimised. I do not think that is the right way to go and I am quite disappointed that that decision has been taken.

We also have a precedent for this, Mr Speaker, in your own state of South Australia. The National Archives repository there was also sold, and I understand that there was a rationalisation of the shelf space from some 29 shelf kilometres of files to 3.5 shelf kilometres of files when that facility was relocated from Collinswood to a smaller building in Angus Street in the City of Adelaide. Our concern in Brisbane is exactly the same. If you have this massive contraction of shelf space it means that documents are going to be culled. Whether we call the process one of destruction or disposal becomes immaterial if documents disappear. That is why I have launched an FOI action against the government to get to the bottom of this. That is why I have put a question on notice to the minister to get to the bottom of this. I am seeking from him an unequivocal clear-cut undertaking that not a single document will be destroyed once the sale of this property occurs and the relocation of the collection to the other facility in the CBD, to other participating government departments or to any other facility belonging to National Archives elsewhere in Australia occurs. I have yet to receive that undertaking. I am optimistic that it will soon be delivered. (Time expired)