Monday, 21 June 2021
National Archives of Australia
In March this year the Morrison government was forced to release the findings of the Functional and Efficiency Review of the National Archives of Australia. This was a review commissioned almost two years earlier and headed by Mr David Tune AO, PSM, the highly respected former head of the Department of Finance. Mr Tune provided that final report to the former Attorney-General, the member for Pearce, back in January last year, 17 months ago. As he did with the Respect@Work report, provided to him that same month by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, the former Attorney-General responded in his usual fashion, by doing absolutely nothing. In fact, a whole year went by before the government released the Tune report in response to media demands and the legal requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. Just why the government had been so reluctant to release the Tune report became clear, as it laid bare the disaster the National Archives is facing after eight long years of neglect by this government. The situation is so bad that, without urgent funding, unique and important records will soon be lost from our history forever. Those irreplaceable records include film of early Australian Antarctic exploration, ASIO spy surveillance footage, audio recordings of the royal commission into the stolen generations, Prime Minister John Curtin's wartime speeches and priceless letters from World War II prisoners of war.
In January last year the Tune review warned $67.7 million was urgently needed over the next seven years to digitise the highest priority records before they are lost forever. Yet, in last year's budget, the Morrison government gave the National Archives precisely nothing to implement that urgent recommendation. Incredibly, last month's budget did it again, with not a single extra dollar to implement the Tune report recommendations. Instead, they sent out a junior minister, Senator Stoker, to dismiss the concerns of Australians who care about our heritage with a series of facile comments trying to justify the government's neglect. In a disastrous performance at Senate estimates, Senator Stoker dismissed concerns about the disintegration of our precious historical records as just 'part of the ageing process' and 'time marches on'. Time does march on, Senator Stoker. That's why we need national archives. This is a government that claims to follow the conservative political tradition, a government that claims Robert Menzies as its inspiration. But conservatives don't trash Australia's history. Menzies didn't trash the National Archives; he established it. Fortunately, this government's contempt for our nation's heritage is being noticed and called out for the disgrace that it is.
A campaign has been launched by over 150 eminent Australians, including some of our greatest historians, writers, researchers and thinkers, two Nobel laureates, former science minister Barry Jones and former Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu, calling for the National Archives to be saved from the Morrison government's wanton neglect. In an open letter to the Prime Minister that group wrote:
… we fear that the integrity of the nation's premier memory bank, the National Archives of Australia, is in jeopardy … the National Archives is one of the pillars of our democracy.
This government, which is refusing to provide even a paltry $10 million per year to preserve our nation's irreplaceable historical records, is the same government that unlawfully diverted over $100 million into a Liberal Party election slush fund under the sports rorts scandal. It is the same government that handed over $33 million to a Liberal Party donor for airport land worth $3 million, and the same government now paying out nearly $2 billion to settle its callous, unlawful and catastrophically failed robodebt scheme. Perhaps the government is hoping that numerous records of its own conduct will be irretrievably lost, records like the colour coded spreadsheets at the heart of the sports rorts scandal. Or perhaps they hope that the documents revealing what happened with the airport land scandal will be lost. Maybe Mr Morrison is hoping we lose forever the documents that reveal his personal involvement in establishing the shameful and illegal robodebt fiasco. The willingness of the government to let our history rot, rather than implementing— (Time expired)