25.07.2017

Society of Archivists votes to keep fighting WA State Records merger


The Australian Society of Archivists has resolved to continue its campaign against the Western Australian government’s decision to merge its State Records Office with the State Library, after it got no joy from meeting with the director-general of the relevant department last week.

Duncan Ord

Duncan Ord, who leads the recently created Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, agreed to meet with the group last week and listen to its concerns.

It didn’t go so well.

“The rationale offered for the administrative change causing the SROWA to lose its independence and visibility remains unsatisfactory,” said Pauline Joseph, the ASA’s WA branch convenor and an academic who teaches records and archives management at Curtin University.

“We offered to meet with Duncan Ord to discuss further if he wants to adopt a consultative approach moving forward,” Joseph told The Mandarin.

After delivering a position statement and hearing the government’s position would not change, the WA branch of the society held a meeting where its members voted to keep campaigning against the decision.

A petition against the new arrangement started by the ASA has received several hundred signatures, including from a Carmen Lawrence, who the ASA believes to be the former premier.

The administrative change did not require legislative backing and does not reduce the considerable statutory independence of the State Records Commission, which is supported by the public servants who work in the SRO.

But while the commissioners retain their powers on paper, ASA members are concerned that the new administrative arrangements could undermine their functional independence, and point out the inquiries that followed the state’s major “WA Inc” corruption scandal recommended keeping the agencies separate.

The society is worried that the head of the SRO now reports to the state librarian and that it may face a more difficult fight for funding in future, and believes the change should go through a public consultation process.

They argue other examples of merging government libraries with archives have resulted in a weakening of record keeping standards, which in turn undermines accountability by degrading audit trails, although there are mixed views on whether merging state library and state records agencies is a bad idea in general.