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Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Page: 9458

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (17:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


Today I introduce the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Amendment Bill 2015.

The Bill will allow for amendments to be made to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Act 1989. These amendments will strengthen the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies' (AIATSIS) governance arrangements and refocus it on its core activities of collection and preservation of Indigenous culture and heritage.

AIATSIS' work involves curating, researching and preserving our internationally significant collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.

AIATSIS holds over a million items of historical and cultural significance. According to a recent independent analysis, AIATSIS holds the most extensive and best contextualized collection of Indigenous Australia in the world.

These items come in all manner of media and formats, some of which cannot be replaced. The national collection includes more than 175,680 titles of printed material, 5000 manuscripts, 2600 rare books, and 650,000 photographs relating to Indigenous Australia dating from the late 1800s.

It also includes the Australian Indigenous Languages Collection, which contains over 4300 titles, and more than 40,000 hours of audio.

The language collection is of such international significance that it is now part of the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.

AIATSIS is proud that its collection grows at a rate of some 1400 items per year. Importantly, or perhaps sadly, AIATSIS holds audio visual recordings of some Indigenous communities and languages which no longer exist.

Maintaining a collection of such breadth, cultural significance and value is not without enormous challenges.

This Bill is part of a reform agenda that will assist AIATSIS to position itself for the future so that this is achievable.

It is an agenda that has been developed through consensus - that recognises the national importance of AIATSIS and acknowledges there must be change to ensure its sustainability.

In addition, in May this year, the former Minister for Education and Training, the Hon Christopher Pyne, worked with the AIATSIS Council on the establishment of the AIATSIS Foundation. The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC, launched it.

The AIATSIS Foundation will make it possible for the broader community and philanthropists to support and contribute to the critical work of AIATSIS.

This follows steps taken in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 Budgets, when $8.3 million in additional funding was provided over those two years, so that the most immediate risks to the preservation of the national collection of Indigenous cultural materials could be addressed.

This Bill now takes important steps to reform the appointment process for the AIATSIS Council and refocus the functions of AIATSIS towards the purposes it is uniquely placed to achieve.

This includes that the national collection is maintained as a major research resource and the largest of its kind in the world.

More and more of this information is being used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to reconnect with their culture. It is also increasingly being used to enable cultural revival, including access to lost languages.

The amendments in the Bill reflect the contemporary environment for the heritage and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It affirms AIATSIS' national leadership role in preserving, understanding and communicating this heritage and culture for future generations.

The Bill will refresh the appointment process for the AIATSIS Council.

In making appointments in the future, consideration will need to be given to the overall skill set of the Council so that effective and contemporary governance practices guides the work of AIATSIS. The principle of diversity will be embedded, and importantly so will the requirement to maintain an Indigenous majority on the Council.

In the future, the Council will be refreshed on a rolling basis by limiting membership to a maximum of two consecutive terms.

These changes will provide AIATSIS with a dynamic and strategic Council to oversee and guide the activities of the Institute into the future.

AIATSIS currently has a wide range of legislated responsibilities which include: promoting, publishing and undertaking relevant research; assisting in training people, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as research workers in relevant fields; establishing and maintaining a cultural resource collection; and encouraging understanding, in the general community, of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.

Streamlining the number of legislated functions that AIATSIS is required to undertake, from eight to five, will better target available resources to ensure that maximum effort is directed towards preserving the national collection.

Since the AIATSIS Act was enacted in 1989, the landscape for preserving, understanding, communicating and developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage has changed and grown, with many more academic, cultural and community organisations and institutions involved.

AIATSIS will be better positioned to focus on preserving, maintaining and reviving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, languages, cultures and histories and traditions passed on from one generation to another, now and into the future.

This Bill is an important next step in ensuring the preservation of this important national collection.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of this bill be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.