People power saves national archives offices

Issue 

Staff at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) offices in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart believe that the February 23 announcement not to close down these offices was a victory for people power.

"It's a reprieve for workers and public access", Anne Picot of the Australian Society of Archivists told Green Left Weekly. "The minister said that the NAA offices will remain open."

The NAA preserves Commonwealth government records identified as having continuing value. It has reading rooms for the public to see the records and storage repositories in each state and territory.

The three offices that were to be closed have reading rooms where staff, familiar with the records, help the public find what they need.

"That's how people, how our citizens, as a right in a democracy, can see the records which enable government to be accountable", Picot told the ABC's 7.30 Report on February 23.

NAA staff heard about the proposed closures last November. It was first explained as a budgetary decision — the need to save $3.5 million — but it was later revealed that centralising and storing the nation's archives in Canberra was a long-held policy of NAA management.

Picot said the decision not to close the offices, but to scale back means: "We have to work to keep the jobs and make sure funding is adequate."

But she is positive the campaign, supported by the Community and Public Sector Union, will continue to receive public backing.

There were 20 jobs at risk — specialised people who know the material and can help the public and historians with research. But Picot was also critical of the move to close the offices for another reason.

Closing down NAA offices is a "terribly Sydney-Canberra-centric view", she told the 7.30 Report. "It also destroys something which is unique about the National Archives institution: its federal nature, the fact that it has had offices in every state and capital territory city has meant that people do have access."

NAA staff had campaigned publicly. A petition, signed by 5748 people, was presented to federal parliament by Julia Irwin on February 8. Another 1200 signatures have been collected since then.

"We now know people will fight with us and they care about archives", Picot told GLW. This means that any future moves to renege on the promise to keep these offices open will be met with even greater resistance.

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