Opinion - Funding boost for National Archives is just the first step
Canberra Times, July 2 2021
The National Archives of Australia is at a crossroads. Since its founding in 1961, the Archives has fulfilled the important role of storing, preserving, and protecting government records that are vital to our nation's history.
But as it now faces a more digital world, the Archives must transform itself, while also ensuring the important records it stores are not lost to history.
The Morrison government is committed to ensuring the Archives is fully equipped to meet these challenges. That's why we're providing the Archives with an additional $67.7 million over the next four years.
This funding is the first part of the government's response to the Tune review, and it is on top of the $75.6 million the government has already provided the Archives for 2021-22.
The funding will go towards three of the key issues the National Archives faces.
First and foremost, the funding will fast-track the digitisation and preservation of the National Archives' at-risk collections, with this task being undertaken over the next four years, rather than under the seven-year timeframe proposed in the Tune review.
The Archives has already begun the process of digitisation. Since July 2020, an estimated 20,500 hours of records have been digitised, and there are also already 2.6 million pages of World War II service records available online through the naa.gov.au website.
But there remain countless records—in formats ranging from maps and plans to photographs, films, microfiche, and magnetic audio-visual tapes - which still need to be preserved.
The funding will ensure the Archives has the staff and the capability to address backlogs in "access applications" for Commonwealth records, and provide improved digitisation-on-demand services.
And importantly, the funding will ensure the National Archives builds its cybersecurity capacity, facilitating secure and timely transfer of records to the National Archives' custody, as well as their preservation and digital access.
This funding is important, but it is only the start. It will ensure the National Archives will join Australia's collecting institutions, such as the National Library, with world-leading status.
The government's response to the Tune review will ensure the National Archives is able to continue its important role as a vital cultural institution.
It is worth noting that some of the recommendations contained in the Tune review are already being implemented by the Archives itself.
Despite reporting at the time, the Archives' decision to create a membership scheme as an alternative revenue source was a positive step towards meeting recommendation 14 of the Tune review.
In it, Tune encouraged the Archives to "Explore new commercial and philanthropic opportunities."
Embracing community outreach—and the additional revenue streams that come with it—also brings the National Archives into line with sister institutions in other Western countries.
The UK's equivalent organisation generates some £10 million annually in partnerships, licensing arrangements and commercial digitisation services.
Likewise, the Archives' US equivalent has a private philanthropic foundation that supplies 5 per cent of its annual spend, as well as drawing corporate revenue from commercial use of its cultural buildings.
Philanthropic revenue streams will never replace government funding—and nor should they. But they are an important way the Archives can supplement its income and increase its relevance to and engagement with the Australian people.
This is an area of enormous potential growth for the Archives.
The National Archives is already the only national cultural institution with a national presence with public research centres and storage facilities in every state and territory.
While its role of storing, preserving, and protecting government records must remain the priority, this national presence provides enormous potential for the Archives to increase its role in educating the Australian public.
As an example of what is possible, Canberra residents can go to the two new permanent exhibition spaces in the Archives' refurbished national premises. These exhibitions present government records in an interesting and engaging way. They not only tell the story of Australia, but its culture, its people and the government that represents them.
The National Archives is an important institution that plays a vital role of storing, preserving and protecting important historical information. The $67.7 million in additional funding is just the first step in the Morrison government's plan to ensure it can continue its important role for decades to come.
Senator Amanda Stoker is Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, and Assistant Minister for Women. She has responsibility over the National Archives.