13 March 2021


Posts in this blog have noted the ongoing erosion of capability at the National Archives. David Tune's report on his Functional and Efficiency Review of the National Archives of Australia will presumably not be embraced by the Government.

Tune comments 

 The National Archives of Australia (National Archives) is a non-corporate Commonwealth Entity (a ‘listed Entity) under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 and a statutory agency under the Public Service Act 1999. It is established under the Archives Act 1983 (the Act) and is part of the Attorney-General’s portfolio. 

It is the largest archival institution in Australia and has a strong reputation, nationally, in the Pacific Region and internationally for managing archives of government data and information, in both traditional (paper), audio-visual and digital formats. 

The mandate of the National Archives is to secure, preserve and make public, the archival resources of the Commonwealth (section 2A (a) (ii) of the Act). This is reinforced in: • The Objects of the Act, specifically in section 2A (a)(iii) and (b) which gives the Archives the power to set recordkeeping standards and obligations across all areas of the government’s activities • Section 5 (2) (a), which relates specifically to ensuring the preservation of existing and future archival resources of the Commonwealth; and • Section 5 (2) (i) and subject to arrangements in Part V S 31, to make records in the open period publicly available. 

The mandate is clear. However, the National Archives authority to set and enforce information standards across government, whilst stated in the Objects of the current Act, requires greater clarity in the Functions and Powers. In particular, 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. 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. 

In addition, the performance of the National Archives is measured, in part, by its ability to respond to requests for records within the period defined in the Act. However, it is failing to deliver against this. Long response times were highlighted in many public submissions to this Review and have also attracted media attention for some time. Part of this criticism relates to the time taken by the National Archives to obtain advice from other agencies (particularly for security related and other sensitive records) before it can take decisions on whether to declassify records and release them. 

But other factors are involved, including the requirement for National Archives to make decisions on very large (and sensitive) requests for the release of records – often from a very small number of applicants. This review makes recommendations to address this, whilst maintaining the principle of releasing as much information as possible. 

The National Archives is implementing several strategies to address these issues, focussing on: • Strengthening information governance and cyber security • Prioritising digital preservation of at-risk records • Improving record management processes and service delivery across government; and • Providing new ways for the community to connect with government information. 

These are reflected in the National Archives Corporate Plan 2019–20 to 2022–23 and Strategic Plan 2020. They outline the goals, strategies and plans to transform the National Archives into a contemporary, world-leading digital archive. Key priorities are implementation of a new 5th Generation Digital Archive (5thGDA) and enhancing the National Archives digital preservation capability, particularly for at-risk records. This Review endorses these priorities as essential elements in meeting its mandate. 

The challenges facing the National Archives are substantial. It would be possible to take an incremental approach to each of them and deal with them individually. This review, however, considers that a more fundamental, structural reform process is needed. 

A key challenge affecting the National Archive’s ability to deliver on its legislated mandate and implement its strategic priorities is financial resources. Over the past 5 years, the National Archives has absorbed the budget efficiency and savings measures, finding efficiencies in its operations through reforms, down-scaling of services and improved management of its leasing and storage arrangements, and reduction in staffing levels through multiple voluntary redundancy programs. 

As observed in recent independent audits, this has impacted the National Archives service delivery to both government and the Australian public. This includes the National Archives leadership of whole-of-government policies including achieving Digital Continuity 2020 objectives which are essential to the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation 2025 policies. 

There needs to be increased investment to address important areas such as IT and cyber-security upgrades to stay contemporary in the digital age, to digitise and preserve important records, to ensure quicker access for the release of records to the public and, with agencies to enable policy development, better decision-making and better service delivery. 

An objective of the review has been to examine options that will generate sufficient resources to address the challenges and priorities of the Archives. Accordingly, I propose a new integrated, whole of government model for information management and record keeping and for the storage, digitisation and preservation of government records across government. The model seeks to generate efficiencies across government sufficient to support the necessary investment in digital capacity within the National Archives and other priorities. It has three tranches: • A major investment in a new 5th Generation Digital Archive (5thGDA) that will bring the National Archives ICT systems into the digital age, enabling end-to-end handling of records from creation through to access • A Government Information Management Model (GIMM), with the National Archives having responsibility for information management across Australian Government agencies, to support improved records management, to provide better compliance with the objectives set down in the Archives Act, and to escalate digitisation of the Archives records. This seeks to provide whole-of- government efficiencies • A Centralised Storage and Preservation Model (CPSM), that provides whole-of-government efficiencies through more effective ways of managing and assessing records to be retained and stored. 

As part of the review, the National Archives has developed proposals that it considers will enable it to be more sustainable, including in its foundational (or business-as-usual) activities and also future transformational initiatives. This review does not necessarily endorse all those proposals and does not consider that it is feasible to finance them unless considerable savings can be garnered to offset their cost. An initial analysis suggests that the GIMM and the CPSM proposals would provide such offsets, with financial analysis indicating a cost-neutral outcome over both the forward estimates period and over a 7-year program (see Table 1 below). However, the feasibility and magnitude of the offsetting savings from the GIMM and the CPSM require further work through the development of full business cases before consideration is given to increasing the National Archives’ resources. Within that package, this review considers that the 5th Generation Digital Archive, increased resourcing for digitisation and preservation of at-risk records, and increased capability and authority to improve record keeping and information management are the most pressing priorities. 

To enable these outcomes, the Archives Act 1983 needs updating, with adoption of a new National Archives Bill. The Act is pre-digital and requires modernisation to meet the rapid and ever-evolving challenges of the digital world, support the transformation of government and government business, and achieve efficiencies both for the National Archives and across all Australian Government agencies.

Tune's recommendations are - 

 1 The National Archives of Australia be included in government decision-making bodies determining information management policy and standards. 

2 The National Archives develop: • Criteria for prioritising Records Authorities for processing; and • A mechanism that shows agencies progress of their new Record Authority in the queue. 

3 The National Archives invest more resources in its capability and capacity for advice and training on information management policy for agencies. 

4 The National Archives assume authority and responsibility for information management, recordkeeping and archiving across the Australian Government. 

5 Subject to a full business case, consolidate information management, recordkeeping and archiving across government through implementation of a Government Information Management Model (GIMM). 

6 Subject to a full business case and appropriate investment, the National Archives establish and maintain a secure 5th Generation Digital Archive (5thGDA) for Australian Government information – to uplift its technological capability, people and processes, and deliver secure preservation and digital access to government information. 

7 Appropriate investment is made to strengthen the National Archives digital and cyber-resilience capability. 

8 The National Archives implement a 7-year program for the digitisation of the high priority (at-risk) records, with an annual allocation of $11.1 million for 3 years, then $8.6 million a year for the remaining 4 years. 

9 The National Archives invest more resources in legacy collections management and new digital solutions for digital information and data management. 

10 Subject to a full business case, amalgamate storage, early transfer, preservation and on-demand digitisation of legacy Australian Government entity records through the Centralised Storage and Preservation Model (CPSM), to establish a facility which would lead to: • Cost-effective storage, management and controlled disposal of paper records • Access to records through a digitise-on-demand service • Savings to government through storage reduction and smart application of digital technology; and • A mass digitisation hub. 

11 The National Archives allocate extra resources and alter its processes for applications for access to non-sensitive records and for classified and highly sensitive records to: • Reduce the requirement to refer applications for advice • Increase capacity to declassify records • Introduce charging options for valued-added research requests • Implement a new regime of negotiated outcomes for high-volume research requests, with the aim of reducing the burden and the time taken to make decisions on very large requests; and • Complete set up of digital capability for secure connectivity and information exchange with relevant policy agencies. 

12 The National Archives continue to review arrangements for its state and territory offices, including co-location, to ensure they remain fit-for-purpose and deliver the best operational outcomes and service delivery. 

13 The National Archives continue to invest in education, public programs and national exhibition touring and pursue inclusion as a Tier 1 Parliamentary and Civics Education Rebate Provider (PACER) institution. 

14 The National Archives: • Increase its marketing and program budget so it can better reach targeted markets • Review the Digitise on Demand public access model to identify new fee-paying services • Increase dedicated staff to develop and deliver higher revenue streams • Continue its work to implement a volunteer program; and • Explore new commercial and philanthropic opportunities. 

15 The National Archives implement a new public user fees structure under reformed legislation. The structure should include charges for value-added services and give the National Archives new charging powers. Public consultations should take place before new fees are introduced. 

16 To bring the Archives Act 1983 into the digital age, update the Act with a new National Archives Bill. This should: • Have clear and understandable functions and powers, with the authority to set and achieve implementation of mandatory information policy and management standards for government information across agencies • Give the National Archives clear and flexible charging powers; and • Retain existing security provisions for access to archival records. 

17 The National Archives of Australia continue as a non-corporate independent statutory agency and listed entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. 

18 The National Archives of Australia retain its existing role, functions and powers, amended as necessary, to enable implementation of several other recommendations. 

19 The Minister develop a statement of expectations for the National Archives, in consultation with the Advisory Council, outlining areas of government interest and priorities. 

20 The Advisory Council is retained as defined in existing legislation.