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Proformat News
No: 48a
February 2010
A national campaign to save archive offices is needed
Since the last newsletter a couple of family history societies have responded and it is appropriate that others know about their thinking.

Firstly one society in supporting my thinking that we need an organizing committee to develop a focused campaign suggested that I would make a good chairperson for such a group. Flattering indeed but something I cannot support. My profile is not well known across Australia and a lobby group would be better headed up by someone much better known and preferably someone with appropriate connections. Someone like former Premier of South Australia, the Hon. John Bannon for example. Not only is he a former Labor premier, he is also the current President of the History Council of SA [HCSA].

I think it requires action from an organisation with a national focus like the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations [AFFHO].

The very disappointing petition results demonstrate that either family historians do not know about the closures or think it does not affect them. We have to get the other states in on the act. Unfortunately its not their records under threat. However, this may be the thin end of the wedge and the next cuts by the NAA cannot hurt SA, TAS or NT and perhaps it will then be QLD and/or WA's turn!

With this in mind I suggested to AFFHO that they consider ramping up a campaign amongst their member societies. A count of the membership of societies associated with AFFHO suggests approximately 50 000. However, the focus should be towards the wider public as for every member of a family history society, I suggest there are probably at least two other people in the community interested in the subject not to mention local historians and the like. The response from the President of AFFHO was less than enthusiastic. In fact I would go as far as to suggest that AFFHO sees no greater role than what they have done for the campaign over the past three months which was little more than make people aware of the petition sponsored by Anne Picot. Their future plans revolve around my earlier suggestions in my newsletters and I quote:
However, AFFHO will now need to respond at a local level through their local Federal member of parliament. This includes:
• Write a personal letter outlining your concerns.
• Organise a deputation to air your concerns.
• Prepare your own petition at the local level.
As a realist, I know that in the scheme of things, the issue at hand is very low on the current list of political priorities both at state and national level. Both SA and TAS are in election mode until late March. The Federal Government has too much on its plate and is not coping too well at the moment and in any case the leadership favours the talk rather than the walk. Where in the scheme of things does our issue fall within such issues as the River Murray, boat people, roof insulation and the like. The Prime Minister even managed to give Free-to-Air Television $250M and so you can see archive collections must not even see the light of day in the myriad of issues and this is strengthened by a national petition result of a mere 7000 or so!

Taking the above into consideration it is no wonder we get no response. As John Bannon reported from his meeting with the Minister, Joe Ludwig:
I began my interview with the Minister advising of the many groups and individuals who were hoping for a positive outcome from the discussion, but it was most disappointing – he asserted very strongly that the offices targeted for closure were too costly to a maintain for the amount of business they do and that any resources that might be available after taking the required budgetary cut would be better spent on accelerating digitisation. He sees digitisation as the answer to all issues of access. He took up the majority of the short time allowed for interview reiterating the points in the NAA Fact Sheet (with Mr Ellis taking copious notes) and not really engaging with the points I was trying to make.

However, before the interview terminated I was able to draw his attention to the proposal I put to him in my letter last month (which was not addressed in his form letter of reply). This is for the decision to be put on hold pending an independent comprehensive enquiry into the needs of the Archives including an assessment of where other economies and efficiencies might be made, which would include examination of the co-location of federal and State records while preserving the identity and upgrading the facilities and services of both.

I intend to put this again formally to Minister Ludwig, advise the Prime Minister of the situation, raise the matter again with the responsible State Minister and the SA Public Records Office (in SA’s case), and further consult with the Chairman of the Advisory Board which I believe still has a major role to play in the matter.
Minister Ludwig is of course a Queensland senator assured of being re-elected as long as he has the party ticket and from a state that is not concerned about this issue.

We applaud the efforts by John Bannon, but we should not just sit back and rely on his efforts alone. Moreover, he is currently coming at the matter as an issue for South Australia alone. We need to include TAS and NT and every other state and territory in the campaign.

The AFFHO President also wrote to Minister Joe Ludwig, with copies to the Director General of National Archives and the Prime Minister. To date he has not had a reply, but if one does eventuate the expectation is that it is likely to be in similar terms to the response received by others who have written to the Minister— dismissive!

The AFFHO President also personally wrote to his own Federal Member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis, who simply forwarded the letter on to Minister Ludwig!

What does all this mean? Well we could just give up or we could continue the good fight. To win a such a fight, one needs a commander and a committed committee to plan the strategies. The current situation with individuals coming up with schemes is doomed to fail. Such campaigns have to be noisy things and to date, the current campaign has been far too quiet!

In this issue:
Update - Adelaide office closure
Feature article


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