Archives secures $ 67 million lifeline for digital cyber-recordings
National Archives of Australia in need of funding will receive $ 67.7 million in additional funding to digitize its decaying files, address a growing backlog of access requests and bolster its cyber defenses after it warned it had been made vulnerable by continued government budget cuts.
The government’s spending review committee on Wednesday approved the new funding while a larger package is being prepared in response to a scathing scrutiny from the agency last year.
The review, led by retired senior official David Tune, warned that the agency had “struggled to fulfill its mandate” of securing, preserving and making public the Commonwealth’s archival resources, and recommended more than $ 200 million. dollars in additional government spending.
This included a $ 67.7 million, seven-year project to digitize the most risky documents.
On Thursday, 18 months after receiving the review, the government announced $ 67.7 million in new funding for the National Archives to support critical functions. The proposed seven-year digitization program will be “accelerated” to four years, among other measures included in the new funding.
Additional staff will be hired to handle a backlog of Commonwealth document access requests, cybersecurity improvements will be made, and the development of the National Archives’ next-generation digital archives will be continued to support and digitize more documents.
“This funding will be essential to preserve our history, the national treasures that define it and increase public access to it,” Attorney General Senator Michaelia Cash said in a statement.
The funding follows years of red flags for the agency, including the failure of an external cyber audit in 2018 and a scathing review of the agency’s operations and effectiveness in 2020, which highlighted evidence of poor cyber resilience and legacy ICTs among several “substantial” challenges.
In April, National Archives chief executive David Fricker confirmed the agency was grappling with resource pressures that had forced layoffs and limited technology upgrades.
He said to Senate estimates that the agency was primarily grappling with cyber resilience, the digitization of records and a backlog of requests for access to researchers’ records, which now stands at more than 20,000.
But Deputy Attorney General Amanda Stoker dismissed the argument that resources were preventing the Archives from fulfilling their mandate to preserve Commonwealth records.
“I do not accept that they are breaking the [Archives] Act. If there is any evidence, it will interest me. But I don’t accept the premise that the Archives are starving [of funding]”Senator Stoker said at the same Senate Budget Hearing in April.
“They receive a tremendous amount of resources every year for their important work. “
But concerns about the state of records and cybersecurity continued to grow, Mr Fricker later told InnovationAus that the National Archives was a “very attractive target” for attackers.
“It is a very attractive target for a hostile actor wanting to launch a cyber-attack, either to destroy information, to exfiltrate information, or, as an act of information warfare, to manipulate information,” plant lies, pervert the course of public opinion in Australia, and deny our right to have free and informed public discourse in a democracy, ”he said.
After receiving just $ 700,000 in additional funding in the May federal budget, the agency took the extraordinary step of asking for public donations.
The government said it was working on a larger reform package for the National Archives and defended its delay in announcing them due to the importance of the reforms.
Senator Stoker said implementing “one version” of the recommendations would cost more than $ 200 million and that a formal government response is expected this year.
On Thursday, Ms Stoker said the latest funding package was key to speeding up the digitization of documents.
“The Morrison government is prioritizing the protection and preservation of government records, providing funding on an accelerated schedule to have digitization work completed within four years,” she said in a communicated.
“Recognizing the importance of these documents, this funding will allow the National Archives to carry out the necessary digitization work, particularly for military documents relating to World War II, Vietnam and Korea.
This article has been updated to clarify that the duration of the digitization project is four years.
Do you know more? Contact James Riley by email or Signal.