Australia’s history is falling apart for lack of government spending to preserve national archives.
While the National Archives of Australia spent a reported $2m in an unsuccessful legal bid to block the release of the ‘Palace Letters, the 1975 correspondence between the Queen’s private secretary and then governor-general John Kerr.
Now a letter to prime minister Scott Morrison from more than 150 prominent writers, academics and others calls on the government to save Australia’s heritage – including papers, film and magnetic tape – before it’s too late.
They have been prompted by comments by assistant attorney general Amanda Stoker during a Senate hearing that the disintegration was “part of the ageing process”.
Emergency funding of $67 million over seven years was recommended to prevent the loss of almost all the NAA’s film and magnetic tape holdings, in a report by former finance secretary David Tune 18 months ago, but there has been no government response or budget provision.
The letter describes the National Archives of Australia as “one of Australia’s premier cultural institutions” and notes that it had always been supported by governments “of both persuasions”.
Following broadly unsuccessful attempts to find private philanthropic funding, the group says the NAA “should have to shake a tin or secure buy-in from the public for support.
“It is a legislated responsibility of government and should be adequately funded from public revenues.”
Established 60 years ago, the NAA has suffered from a number of cuts, especially in the last decade and is reported to have lost about a quarter of its staff, with delays commonplace. “It is now notorious among users for long delays, copying charges increasingly beyond the reach of academics and students, and a worsening culture of secrecy,” says Gideon Haigh in The Australian.