Subjects: Government response to Tune Review into National Archives
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: The Federal Government is committing in full or in principle to all 20 recommendations to a review into the National Archives. You know this is something we've talked about quite a bit on this program. Releasing its response to the Tune Review today, the Government has outlined a reform package to bring the Archives into the 21st Century. To talk to us more about this is the Assistant Attorney-General, Senator Amanda Stoker. Senator, Good morning.
AMANDA STOKER: Good morning, Stephen.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: You had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this, why?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I have to disagree with that. The Government has been working over a period of years to not just find out what is working well at the Archives, but identify areas of improvement, and put together a roadmap that's not just about kicking in for business as usual, but about equipping this institution to be a world leader for the long term. So in doing that, we have steadily increased funding over the business as usual period. We have committed $67.7 million to the digitisation of at-risk records, and to improving some of the processes around making sure people are getting timely responses to their applications for documents -
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: But that's my point, that $67.7 million was identified a long, long time ago, and if it wasn't for pressure from Zed Seselja – you were almost flippant in your disregard for this at times.
AMANDA STOKER: Well, I will certainly give Zed credit for being a really strong advocate for the institution, but I've never been flippant about this. It's always been an agency that I've cared about a great deal -
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: You made jokes about Labor Senators suggesting that we needed to protect our history, and you were going, ‘oh, who knew they cared about history'. These were flippant remarks that were unbecoming of a conservative member of a conservative government.
AMANDA STOKER: I disagree. The Estimates process that I think you're referring to is one where we had Labor Senators being very selective with what they were suddenly taking an interest in. But the thing you're probably referring to – because I know they made lots of mileage about it – was a comment that ‘degradation of records over time is a natural process'. And while that's absolutely true, nobody seems to notice what the next line was, and that was to say that what matters is what we do about it. And this Review, and the funding we've put into the Archives, reflects the answer to that question. So what do we do when we find that the old technologies of the Archives – that might have been contemplated at the time the Archives Act, for instance, was established – are not the types of technologies that are being used today, when those technological changes collide, the question is what we do next? So what we're doing is digitising the old technologies, like microfiche and magnetic tape, for example. And we have not only fully funded that but we have funded it over a faster period of time than that which was recommended by Mr Tune. Because we know that the faster we get to this the more records we are able to preserve for Australians for the long term -
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: It's -
AMANDA STOKER: But we're also stepping back and going – at the time of the Archives Act being established, most of the things we thought of when we considered what a government record even was, didn't exist. So we are working to build the capability in that Agency in a way that is more than just solving a political problem in the short term, it's about investing for the long term in the technology, and the skillset, and the cyber resilience, and the cyber security that's necessary. As well as making it a user friendly, easy interface for Australians to be able to tap into. And that's going to make it something that does great things for the long term.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Well let's talk about that long term, because it's been put to me by representatives of other institutions – because it's not just the National Archives that have historical documents that need to be preserved – one of the concerns was that with this almost $70 million of funding was that the biggest cost was almost outsourcing the manpower to do these things, and getting private contractors. Is there something to be said for setting up some sort of central agency that can digitise records for the War Memorial, the National Capital Authority, the National Sound and Film Archives – all of these different institutions – rather than spending what seems to be inordinate amounts of money to contract it out to private contractors?
AMANDA STOKER: Look Stephen, you've hit on something really good. And in the Tune Review, one of the recommendations that we've accepted in principle, rather than in full, is one in relation to how we go about doing stuff across agencies. So one of the things that we are committing to do in this response is to work across the National Library, the National Film and Sound Archives, the War Memorial, and others, to pull out and leverage the investments over time in all off those agencies to work out what are the best ways of doing things, and how we can get economies of scale by working together to do this as best as is possible. And then use the common investments that have been made in the cyber and digital hubs, that bring together the best of Australian cyber security and technical expertise, and storage capacity, into hubs that are economies of scale – bringing together the best of the expertise in an efficient way. And then, using the skills and the investments that we've made, to bring all that information together so it is as easy as possible for an Australian who wants to be able to access a document on a particular subject to go to a single place where they can potentially reach all the records, whether they're from the Archives or the Library or the War Memorial.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: So how long is all of this going to take?
AMANDA STOKER: It's going to take a little bit of time. But the response to this review sets out a roadmap for it. And we're going to see big results within five years, but some of the long term recommendations that have been made are going to take a bit longer than that.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now we -
AMANDA STOKER: The five year plan, though, is to build the capability that's necessary; build that cyber capability and make sure the digitisation is happening across agencies in an efficient way. Because that's how we can do as much as is possible for Australians with that precious dollar.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Some of this is time-sensitive, though. Has there been consideration made about some of those really urgent things that need to be digitised that might not survive five years.
AMANDA STOKER: Absolutely, and that $67.7 million is to go to all of the urgent at risk records, and to make sure they are secure for the long term, and to make that the processes are sped up to make it so that, whether its Australian citizens researching family history or whether it's a professional historian, they can get to the documents they need in a fair amount of time.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Now, off topic, before I let you go, we're asking people today what their first music gig was. Do you remember your first concert?
AMANDA STOKER: Do you know, my very first one; my mum took me for my birthday when I was about seven, to go and see B.B. King and U2 together. And it was amazing.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO: Oh, When Love Comes to Town. What a great song. Amanda Stoker, thanks for your time this morning.
AMANDA STOKER: Good on you. Thanks, Stephen.