National Archives boss pleads for more money
Mr Fricker said the continued creation of records by all branches of government meant the archives would have to expand their collection while spending more to preserve it for the future.
He said the archives were particularly important as they contained original documents.
“You don’t want future generations to subtly rewrite the discourse to somehow reflect a different sort of truth,” he said.
“What is particularly threatened for Australia is the material which has not yet seen the light of day, but which should. He’s sitting in a box somewhere. It could be aspects of Australia’s military operations, there could be aspects of what the intelligence agencies have been doing that won’t see the light of day for, you know, 20 years from now.
The archives typically reach public consciousness on January 1 of each year when they release cabinet documents previously secret under the 20-year rule.
But the documents have changed form over the past two decades. Ministerial decisions and discussions are increasingly held by encrypted means. Officially these should be collected by the archives but so far almost none have been deposited with the institution by former ministers.
“Australians need to know this, and this information can be kept closed and kept private for 20 years, but at some point in the future you should be held accountable and therefore we need to keep this information,” Mr Fricker said.
“I think it keeps the current generation of public servants and ministerial staff online as well, because in the back of your mind you know that you can’t help leaving a trace of what you’ve done. Someday that will reveal itself and I think it has to act as a pause on things like corruption. “
Besides cabinet documents and its funding issues, Mr Fricker’s archives were also at the heart of the “letters from the palace” fury.
Correspondence between former Governor General Sir John Kerr and the Queen spanning several years, and held in the archives, was finally made public after a High Court ruling. The archives are expected to publish more correspondence between other governors general and the Queen in the coming months.
Mr Fricker, who has been criticized for handling the issue, said he didn’t regret the way he handled the case which ultimately cost the archives more than $ 1 million in legal fees.
He said the archives had acted according to the law, with the argument over the publication of the letters revolving around the definition of the word property.
Mr Fricker said the role of archives in preserving Australian history has been reinforced by the whole issue.
“I am not here to protect history. I’m here to say look at primary sources, look at real evidence, ”he said.
Former Prime Minister John Howard paid tribute to Mr Fricker’s work and said the archives were vital to preserving the “treasure” of Australian history.
He said the archives had played a role in explaining major developments in the country’s past, noting that Australia hosted the secret ballot and was one of the first nations to extend the right to vote to women.
“I am so happy that the government, I am sure with the support of the opposition as it should be a bipartisan enterprise, additional funds have been made available to the archives,” he said.
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