Legislative Council

QUESTION: State Records of South Australia

July 5th, 2018

On the 5th of July, Mark asked the Leader of the Government representing the Attorney-General a question about access to State Records.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I have reworded my question on the run in light of the ministerial statement that was delivered about five minutes ago. In a post on the State Records of South Australia Facebook page last month, State Records reports that it has partnered with the organisation FamilySearch to 'digitise and publish some of our most popular records relating to family history including passenger lists, school admission records and social welfare records'.

For the benefit of members, FamilySearch is a genealogy organisation operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormons. It is apparently the largest genealogy organisation in the world. When you log on to the FamilySearch website, you need to provide personal details, including your name, date of birth and email address, before you can access South Australian State Records data. On the registration form you are also invited to identify whether or not you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Before accessing South Australian State Records data on the FamilySearch website, users are also required to accept the terms and conditions of access, which include the Mormon church's privacy policy and an agreement to be bound by the laws of the state of Utah in the United States of America. Whilst access to the FamilySearch website is free, the data held by FamilySearch, derived from South Australian State Records, is also shared with the commercial operation Ancestry.com. My questions to the minister are:

1. Does the minister think that it's appropriate that accessing state records of South Australia for no charge should require handing over personal and contact details to the Mormon church in America?

2. What steps is the government taking to provide alternative free access to State Records data without going through the intermediary of an overseas religious organisation?

3. Given that the contract, which was provided to us five minutes ago, obliges the Mormon church to provide State Records with digitised data, why then does it cost $9.25 per record to access that information in South Australia if a person, for example, does not wish to give their contact details to the Mormon church and avail themselves of free access via the website?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer): I thank the honourable member for his question. Obviously, I will refer the question to the minister for reply. Indeed, the Attorney-General has made a ministerial statement on this very issue, and I think it's pertinent to point out a couple of aspects of that particular ministerial statement; namely, that this arrangement with FamilySearch was actually entered into by the former Labor government in November 2015, so it wasn't actually something that has been initiated, as perhaps some out-of-order snide interjections across the chamber might have led some people to mistakenly believe. This has evidently been a longstanding arrangement.

The other point I would make, according to the Attorney-General's ministerial statement today in relation to free access, is that:

'The records accessed by FamilySearch can be accessed by any member of the public who wishes to examine them and who would be free to make a copy of that material, should they wish to do so.'

So this would appear, on the basis of this particular statement, not to mean that FamilySearch has a monopoly in relation to access to information. I think it's important for the Hon. Mr Parnell to understand that if he has the mistaken belief that in some way members of the public don't have free, unencumbered access to the information—

The Hon. M.C. Parnell: It's not free; it's $9.25.

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: No, they say:

'The records accessed by FamilySearch can be accessed by any member of the public who wishes to examine them and who would be free to make a copy of that material, should they wish to do so.'

The other point to bear in mind is that the Attorney-General states:

'Only those records that are currently open for public access, as determined by the agency that is responsible for the records, are provided to FamilySearch. No restricted material is made available.'

I think it is important to reiterate again what the Attorney-General has said to allay any misplaced concerns that there might be that, in some way, restricted material is being provided to FamilySearch. I am sure the former Labor government who initiated this process wouldn't have wished that to have occurred, and that's what the Attorney-General has been advised and has placed on the public record. I will refer the honourable member's question to the Attorney-General but, as is her way, she is one step ahead. She has put this information on the record through her comprehensive ministerial statement today. Nevertheless, we thank the honourable member for his Dorothy Dixer in relation to this particular issue.

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