The National Archives of Australia Struggles to Protect our Heritage
14th May 2021
Politicians of all hues like to appeal to history, but few want to pay for it. History has been at the centre of the culture wars for the past 30 years, and each politician has a view of the past. However, History is not valued when it comes to paying to protect the archives. Yet without archives, there is no history: if history be not the past itself, but the act of recording and presenting a view of the past to the present. To do this we need archives.
In 2020 David Tune AO, a former Commonwealth public servant, reported on the National Archives of Australia. He wrote:
Resources are needed to invest in contemporary technologies that will meet the volume of digital transfer, preservation, storage, declassification, and public access required under the Act. Stronger cyber security measures are also an urgent priority. And the mandate to require better recordkeeping needs strengthening.
An issue of immediate importance is the deterioration of many records held in the Archives. Limited capacity in the Archives means that many records (in a variety of forms) will be lost if action is not taken. As such, the National Archives could potentially be in breach of Part 5 Section 24 of the Act due to unauthorised loss of records. (Functional and Efficiency Review of the National Archives of Australia, 30 January 2020, p. 8).
The Tune review called for $ 67.7m over seven years to digitise at-risk materials. Since then David Fricker, the Director General of the National Archives has pointed to the losses that will occur into the near future if nothing is done to boost resources to protect the 384 kilometres of records in the NAA, especially many of our national treasures (SMH, 26 April 2021).
The NAA has suffered funding cuts, has fewer employees than in 2013, and over 22,000 Australian citizens, academics, family historians and others are on a waiting list to view records. The 2021-22 Federal budget this week increased funding to the NAA by a paltry, indeed miserly, $0.7m (SMH, 11 May 2021) over $9m short of what the Tune report recommended to the Government.
This is clearly unacceptable. The RHSV calls for enhanced funding and attention to our national heritage, in the form of better funding and protection for our national heritage of documents. To lose these is to lose our knowledge of the national past.
Emeritus Professor Richard Broome AM
President, Royal Historical Society of Victoria