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Wednesday, 6 September 2006
Page: 1

Senator SANTORO (Minister for Ageing) (9:31 AM) —I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


The Archives Amendment Bill 2006 implements some of the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission report number 85, ‘Australia’s Federal Record: A Review of the Archives Act 1983’ . The majority of the Commission’s 223 recommendations have already been implemented administratively whilst others have been rendered unnecessary by subsequent events.

After exploring historical elements of archival institutions and various possible clarifications and enhancements to the utility of the Archives Act, the Australian Law Reform Commission recommended that an objects clause be inserted into the Archives Act 1983 (the Act). The objects clause confirms that the Act provides for a National Archives of Australia (the National Archives) whose functions include identifying the archival resources of the Commonwealth, overseeing Commonwealth record-keeping by determining standards and providing advice to Commonwealth institutions in relation to good record-keeping practices and preserving, promoting and making publicly available, the archival resources of the Commonwealth.

The Australian Law Reform Commission stressed the importance of consistent and accountable standards being promulgated by the National Archives. The Australian Law Reform Commission examined the functions and powers of the National Archives and recommended clarifying its functions, predominantly in relation to its role in promoting good record-keeping practices generally. Currently the National Archives’ role is confined to promoting good record-keeping practices in relation to records that form part of the archival resources of the Commonwealth.

In the two decades since the Act was drafted, the way information is recorded has changed dramatically due to technological advances that have occurred over that time. For the last decade the National Archives have, as a matter of policy, accorded the same status to electronic records as is given to paper records. The proposed amendments establish clear and comprehensive coverage of the range of material to be retained by the National Archives, by taking into account the technological advances in record-keeping already made and providing for those advances to be made in the future.

Currently, the National Archives holds vast stores of records some of which will ultimately be determined not to form part of the archival resources of the Commonwealth. The National Archives is not simply a repository or storage facility - its role is to preserve records that are of national significance or public interest because they relate to matters such as the history of Australia or its government, persons currently or previously associated with Commonwealth institutions or international or other organisations the membership of which includes, or has included the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth institution. The Archives Amendment Bill 2006 clarifies that only Commonwealth records that form part of the archival resources of the Commonwealth must be transferred to the care of the National Archives.

Whilst the National Archives has highly trained professional archivists with wide ranging skills, the National Archives will not always be the appropriate repository for all archival resources. There may, for example, be other persons or institutions that have more appropriate storage facilities for particular records or equipment that allows the records to be accessed or read. The proposed amendments enable the National Archives to allow another person to hold archival resources of the Commonwealth in accordance with arrangements agreed to by the Director-General of the National Archives where it is more appropriate for that other party to do so. This amendment is essential to ensure that the ultimate repository for material is the most appropriate one, taking into account the form and content of the material. Importantly, records held under such arrangements will not be any less accessible than records which remain in the custody of the National Archives.

Records can deteriorate rapidly if not stored appropriately. Records that form the archival resources of the Commonwealth will be required to be transferred to the National Archives as soon as they cease to be current Commonwealth records, but in any case, within 25 years of their creation. This will ensure that appropriate action can be taken by archivists as early as possible in the life of a record to ensure its longevity.

The Australian Government considers that the amendments contained in the Archives Amendment Bill 2006 will ensure that the National Archives is better equipped to carry out its functions, including clarifying its role in relation to its responsibilities to provide advice and standards for record-keeping by agencies. This will ensure that agencies implement and follow good record-keeping procedures that will aid the identification of archival resources of the Commonwealth and lead to the appropriate transfer of those archival resources to the care of the National Archives.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.