Archives’ tin rattling shows Morrison Government’s warped priorities

Ian Bushnell 4 June 2021 11
National Archives of Australia

The National Archives of Australia needs extra funding so it can do its job properly. Photo: File.

What price the nation’s memory?

For the Morrison Government, it seems that memory is highly selective as it continues to hold out against providing the $67.7 million in extra funding that the 2020 Tune review recommended for the National Archives of Australia so it could digitise significant historical material and meet its statutory obligations.

When the Federal Budget was handed down last month, the only national cultural institution to miss out on extra funding was the Archives, despite the review and intense lobbying from Director David Fricker who has repeatedly warned that material will be lost forever if things did not change.

This includes video recordings of early Australian Antarctic exploration, ASIO’s spy surveillance footage, audio recordings from the royal commission into the Stolen Generation and hearings of the High Court native title tribunal, as well as Labor Prime Minister John Curtin’s wartime speeches.

Now the Archives, already struggling under the ongoing efficiency dividend, has resorted to rattling the tin in a crowdfunding campaign – a humiliating outcome for an agency charged with such an important duty.


READ ALSO: Vulnerable Canberrans left out in the cold when legal funding ends


The matter has been raised in Senate estimates, with Mr Fricker sounding the alarm and government minister Amanda Stoker defending the miserliness in the most fatuous and dismissive terms.

“Time marches on and all sources degrade over time,” she told the Senate, adding that it was a good thing for the Archives to be seeking donations.

The Archives was doing a great job with what it had, she insisted, without saying when the government would respond to the Tune review.

While the case may be made for institutions such as the National Gallery and the National Library to be the beneficiary of private philanthropy, for an agency such as the Archives to be classed in the same vein is an abdication of the Commonwealth’s duty to collect and preserve its own records.

Historians are appalled that such important material may be lost, and at the government’s priorities.

It seems all you have to do is mention a war – any war – and then buckets of money will be made available to bolster the Anzac myth.

It funded the Sir John Monash Memorial in France as part of the Anzac centenary to the tune of $100 million.

And of course, the Australian War Memorial is set for a $500 million redevelopment that will tear down a 20-year old award-winning building and create a military museum in the guise of telling the stories of contemporary conflicts more comprehensively.

The government baulks at the expense of preserving vital primary sources that add to a more inclusive and authentic picture of who we are as a nation, but will splash around millions on the basis of backroom conversations with certain figures at the War Memorial.

In the context of the Federal Budget, the amount the Archives is seeking is a pittance.


READ MORE: ‘Scandalous waste’: avalanche of submissions oppose War Memorial expansion


The government may, in due course, come to the party in some shape or form after fully digesting the Tune review, handed down in January 2020 but only released in March this year.

But with the clock ticking, Mr Fricker says it is inevitable that some material will indeed be lost.

The government’s defensiveness and lack of urgency betrays a callous indifference and puts into question its fairmindedness when it comes to how completely the nation’s story can be told.


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11 Responses to Archives’ tin rattling shows Morrison Government’s warped priorities
jwinston jwinston 7:33 pm 04 Jun 21

Mr Bushnell – those “mythical” Anzacs died so you could write your tripe.

Teresa Layton Teresa Layton 6:13 pm 04 Jun 21

So this very important institution gets nothing while they give the war memorial 1/2 billion to turn it into a Disneyland of war - what a bloody disgrace.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 11:07 am 04 Jun 21

No sympathy for “Pro Disclosure” Fricker, who played the Palace Letters totally Morrison’s way. His obliging performance delivered no dividend for his cash-strapped agency. He should resign.

Bernard Bernard 9:47 am 04 Jun 21

A pure reflection of the approach to politics in Australia that was (for the most part) kicked off by Abbott.

The risks raised by the national archives are ones that won’t be realised during the terms of the current incompete… er incumbents.

As a result Australia’s history takes a back seat to the legendary tales of “Scomo and Potatohead” battling the ignorance of the general public re the wonders of coal, the satanic and vile LGBT morning teas and the evil scourge of the (impoverished and desperate) boat borne immigrants…

Tl;dr – if the problem isn’t going happen before the next election the libs couldn’t care less.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:04 am 04 Jun 21

    At least the Howard haters have progressed to Abbott.

    Howard has finally been archived.

    Bernard Bernard 10:40 am 04 Jun 21

    Howard has indeed been archived and, thanks to the liberal party, the are good odds that any records on him will be damaged or destroyed before any future generations have any inclination to read about his exploits.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:31 am 04 Jun 21

    I see you have assigned some residual ill-feeling to JWH’s legacy. He was the greatest Australian PM of all.

    Frank Booth Frank Booth 7:19 am 05 Jun 21

    Little in stature and little in achievement!

Lynne Audsley Lynne Audsley 9:00 am 04 Jun 21

The NAA has given me both a more complete story of my ancestors, at the same time broadening the picture of contributions of individuals to our growth as a nation. Ephemera is extremely important.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:11 am 04 Jun 21

In today’s social media milieu people are only interested in the last 30 seconds, not the last 30 years or beyond.

The media use this to advantage because news events can be described as unprecedented and that goes unchallenged because no one is interested to research what happened 50 years ago.

Also, be careful in referring to all things Anzac as “myths” too as that will offend a lot of people including your young Labor voters.

Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 7:38 am 04 Jun 21

The unwillingness to fund the National Archives adequacy - NATIONAL Archives, mind you - is an absolute travesty. I appreciate how I’ve used the NAA. Annually there is the very special Waterhouse exhibition. More importantly, perhaps, were my early researches into my father’s war service, and his connection in the CMF. That kick-started my further research in his WW2 war service, at the AWM. But it started with the Archives.

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