The National Archives of Australia will receive $67.7 million in government funding to digitise important records and address backlogs, 17 months after a review warned of funding pressures on the entity.
The funding, announced by attorney-general Michaelia Cash and assistant attorney-general Amanda Stoker on Thursday, will be used to preserve the NAA’s at-risk collection over an ‘accelerated four-year digitisation program’.
It will also help pay for the extra staff and capability needed to address the backlog of access applications for records, and provide improved digitisation on demand services. Cybersecurity will also receive a boost, while the NAA’s Next Generation Digital Archive will be further developed.
NAA’s collection contains important pieces of information such as immigration records, military service records and Census data.
The formats that need to be digitised include paper-based files, maps and plans, photographs, motion picture films, magnetic audio-visual tapes, digital files, and objects.
Those that are most at risk of deterioration include magnetic tape audio visual records, and photographic and film records, particularly on nitrate and acetate film.
In March the government released former Department of Finance secretary David Tune’s review of the NAA, more than one year after it first received the report.
The Tune Review warned that the agency was facing ‘substantial’ challenges, including a lack of resources.
“The National Archives has struggled to fulfil its mandate and to invest in the systems it needs in the digital age to meet this mandate,” the review said.
Appearing on ABC Canberra Breakfast on Thursday, Stoker said NAA would need to have digitised most of the at-risk records by the end of 2025.
“But what’s good about this funding is that it makes sure that the Archives will have the resources they need to do this within the forward estimates – over the next four years,” she said.
“That’s a lot faster than was originally contemplated by the Tune review, which put this issue on the agenda. That report suggested seven years.”
Stoker said the urgent measures hadn’t been taken earlier because the NAA was ‘at a bit of a crossroads’ due to its changing responsibility.
“They have been a paper agency, but now they are increasingly needing to be a digital one,” she said.
“They face a number of matters which they need to build capability, with our support, of course. And so the task of making sure we get this right, wasn’t as simple as [throwing] in some money.
“It means that we needed to really understand what was necessary at a granular level to make sure this agency didn’t just have the money to solve this short-term problem, but in fact, had the plan and the capability it needs to be able to be relevant for decades and decades to come.”