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Monday, 15 October 1973
Page: 2072

Mr STEWART (Lang) (Minister for Tourism and Recreation) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the National Library Act 1960-67. The main amendments are to increase the size of the National Library Council by 2 appointed members; make the chief executive of the Library an Executive Member of the Council with the designation Director-General; and extend the definition of library material to take account of modern methods of communication. These amendments are intended to strengthen the National Library's capacity to meet rapidly changing circumstances in the area of its responsibilities and take particular account of recommendations for accelerated development of library and information services in science and technology contained in the report of the Scientific and Technological Information Services Inquiry which was tabled in the Senate by the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) on 31 May. In addition we wish to make amendments of a machinery kind to the financial and audit provisions of the Act.

In recent years - even in the decade since the original National Library Act was passed - there has been an 'information explosion' of unprecedented dimensions. The amount of recorded information in the world has been increasing at a rate beyond all past experience in both absolute volume and variety of forms - books, journals, microforms, films, audio tapes, video tapes and so on. Simultaneously the use of computer technology in the management of information collection and dissemination is advancing at an equally bewildering rate. It is crucially important in the national interest that we face up to the problems and opportunities created by these developments and shape our information services on a national scale so that they can meet effectively the developing needs of the Australian community as a whole. Achievement in various facets of Australian life - industry, health, education, leisure and so on - will depend increasingly on Australians being able to find their way to and through relevant areas of recorded knowledge. Prompt and efficient access can yield dramatic gains.

In a special way the responsibility for Australian national information services lies with the Council of the National Library. While seeking to ensure effective organisation and use of its present resources and services, the Council has also given attention to identifying future needs for national information services and other functions under the National Library Act. Briefly, this Act provides for 2 groups of functions embracing all areas of knowledge - firstly, establishing a national collection and making it available to users, and secondly, performing needed national services and cooperating with others in Australia or abroad in library matters, including the development of library science. Because provisions to be made at the national level will touch so many institutions and people, it is important to make clear in broad terms the Government's policy. Our objective is to develop, in co-operation with appropriate organisations at both State and local levels, programs for library and information services which recognise the importance of free and ready access to knowledge as a basic factor in material progress and in advancing the quality of life. We propose that the National library will act as a chief source and channel of advice to the Government on library and information services.

The Library will co-operate in the establishment of machinery to ensure adequate consultations with Australian and State government departments and authorities and to shape and strengthen links with institutions and users throughout Australia by the establishment of advisory groups. It has in the past received, and has expressed a desire to continue to have available, the advice of the Australian Advisory Council on Bibliographic Services which represents the library community. It plans to take other measures to ensure that it has the best advice on the application of technology to information problems and to obtain through inquiry and research more authoritative information on the requirements of users than is at present available.

We contemplate a reorganisation of the National Library to provide policy and planning capacity, together with resources and services in the major areas of external activity, viz., science and technology; social sciences and humanities; and the application of computing, telecommunications and microform technology to information problems. In this connection I might perhaps draw attention to two aspects of the STISEC report. The first is that the National Scientific and Technological Information System should not be created in isolation but as an integrated part of a total information system. The second is that one method of satisfying the needs for scientific and technological information might be to set up an authority under the National Library Act. In view of the overall responsibilities of the National Library Council it did not appear to the Government necessary or appropriate to have such a separate authority.

The services which the STISEC report found were needed will be implemented through the new resources and services to which I have just referred and through associated advisory machinery.

The physical and organisational coordination achieved through the 3 areas of activity developing into the active centre of a nation-wide network will enable us to make the maximum use of library collections and also the best use of the relatively limited numbers of personnel who are skilled in advanced methods of handling information. Where relevant services within the national system can be provided by existing specialised organisations, consideration will be given to assisting them financially to increase their effectiveness but if assessments show that a new service is needed within the national system, it may be provided either as part of the National Library or elsewhere in conjunction with other bodies. We look forward to continuing and extending our co-operation with State authorities and with institutions concerned with the problems of information transfer. We expect to be able to offer improved central services and technical assistance and a greatly improved access through the network centre to the resources of the whole system.

I wish to stress that it is not proposed to create a monolithic centralised organisation. Rather, we propose an arrangement by which the National Library of Australia, in the context of a broad and evolving information policy, will become the centre of a nation-wide library and information system through which existing institutions may link up. It will also ensure rapid access through international channels to recent overseas information. The Government will, as necessary, introduce further amendments to the National Library Act enabling the Library to develop its role as library technology and information services develop at all levels in Australia. We recognise that programs of action will require the provision of both human and material resources and we will view sympathetically the needs of the Library for capacity to perform its function. Under the aegis of the National Library Act we look to the rapid and co-operative evolution of library and information services in Australia to cope with the information explosion and the technological revolution in the handling of information. This Bill is a step towards that objective^- '

Mr Deputy Speaker,I might say to you and to the House that the speech I have just delivered is almost word for word the speech that was delivered by the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) in the Senate. I had sought the approval of the Opposition to allow me to make a short statement to incorporate this speech in Hansard. That approval was not granted. Accordingly I have spent the last few minutes repeating in this House a speech that was delivered in the Senate and which was not opposed in the Senate. I suggest that the course of action that I had to follow today should be looked at very closely by the Speaker. I ask you to pass my comments on to him because I feel that with the new Government in power there is a need for us to look at how we can get legislation through this House far more rapidly than has been the case in the past. I return now to the prepared speech to add that I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Street) adjourned.

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