The federal government has handed an extra $67.7 million to the National Archives of Australia to preserve irreplaceable records in a digital form and to protect vulnerable systems from cyber attack.
The funding lifeline comes after the Tune review of the NAA – completed in 2020, but not released until March 2021 – highlighted a list of problems stemming from a lack of resources.
The report said “immediate” action was needed to preserve deteriorating records in paper-based form, as well as magnetic tape audiovisual records, photos and film, to ensure they weren't lost forever.
“In particular, the NAA has struggled to fulfil its mandate and to invest in the systems it needs in the digital age to meet this mandate,” the review said.
“Resources are needed to invest in contemporary technologies that will meet the volume of digital transfer.”
Cyber security was also underscored as an “urgent priority”, with the collection of government records otherwise “vulnerable to obsolescence, attack, compromise or loss”.
Former NAA chief information officer and Australian Strategic Policy Institute fellow Anne Lyons reiterated these risks earlier this week.
While the government has not provided a breakdown of the new funding, the boost will allow the NAA to digitise its at-risk collection over an “accelerated four-year digitisation program”.
The Tune review had costed a seven-year program for the digitisation of at-risk records at $67.7 million – the exact amount provided by the government on Thursday, but over a shorter period.
The approximately 270,000 records considered at-risk – or high priority – will be digitally archived, a process that ensures they are digitised, stored, cyber-secured and catalogued by the agency.
The funding will also be used to boost staffing to address backlogs in processing applications to access records, to “invest in cyber security” and further develop the NAA’s next generation digital archive.
Attorney-general Michaelia Cash said the investment would provide much-needed funding for the agency's immediate needs.
“This funding will be critical to preserving our history, the national treasures that define it, and increasing the public’s access to it,” Cash said in a joint statement.
Assistant minister to the attorney-general Amanda Stoker said the funding would put the digitisation on a “fast-tracked timeline”.
“Recognising the importance of these records, this funding will allow the NAA to do the digitisation work that is needed – including for military documents relating to World War II, Vietnam and Korea,” she said.
Digital records are also set to cause the NAA a headache over the coming years, with around 10 percent – the most valuable records of government decisions – expected to be kept under the Archives Act.
“About 6.4PB (petabytes) of born-digital records (created as digital records) are currently awaiting transfer to the NAA from agencies,” the Tune review said.
“The NAA holders nearly 2PB of digital data currently. The volume of born-digital archival records is expected to grow to about 27PB by 2027.”