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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
National Library of Australia

National Library of Australia


CHAIR: Welcome to estimates, Dr Ayres. I understand it is your first appearance here in this new position. On behalf of the committee, we welcome you and thank you very much for appearing here today. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Dr Ayres : No, thank you.

Senator GALLAGHER: I have a couple of questions. I will start around Trove. We are aware of the efficiency dividend and the reduction in funding for the National Library. I think in last estimates we were advised of a number of program changes: closing of particular services, such as reading rooms on public holidays and stack retrieval on Saturdays; ceasing the e-publishing program; curtailing the Library's trade publishing; and ceasing the Library's funded digitisation collections. Can you give the committee an update on how those program changes are going in terms of being implemented and what impact it is having on the work of the Library?

Dr Ayres : You have asked about Trove and about the other programs, so I might take the other programs.

Senator GALLAGHER: I will come back to Trove, yes.

Dr Ayres : The other programs are all continuing. We are certainly continuing to rationalise our collection processing. Our reading rooms remain closed on public holidays. Stack retrieval does not operate on weekends. We have reduced the number of our exhibitions and turnovers in exhibitions, and reduced the overseas travel budget. Those non-Trove related activities to work within the savings measures are continuing and will continue.

Senator GALLAGHER: Correct me if I am wrong, but I recall that the Library was finding that the impact on the Library was greater upfront in terms of the savings that were required from government. I do not know whether that was a decision of the Library, but you had to find more savings in the first year of the efficiency dividend, and then it eased in the out years. Have you been able to meet that savings regime?

Dr Ayres : Yes. We did take a number of specific measures in the then financial year to make sure that we could meet that target earlier. A number of those related specifically to activities around Trove. So, yes, we have been able to do that.

Senator GALLAGHER: In terms of impact on the Library's operations from these changes, have there been any concerns raised about it from your patrons?

Dr Ayres : In relation to the broader set of services that we have discussed, separate to Trove?

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes.

Dr Ayres : No, there has been no significant comment or complaint from our patrons. The Library has worked hard to ensure that, where we have needed to reduce a service, we are able to offer an alternative. An example is the stacks retrievals. We do not do retrievals on weekends, but our electronic systems mean that people can request earlier in the week and have the material available for them. So in each case we have really tried to ensure there has been minimal impact on the public.

Senator GALLAGHER: In terms of the reductions in funding for the National Library, your annual report, if I read it correctly, has a reduction in staff of about 44. Is that right?

Dr Ayres : In 2016-17 we anticipate our staff will be 393. In 2015-16 it was 421.

Mr Linehan : Just to correct that: I think 414 was the final outcome. I think 421 was an early estimate.

Senator GALLAGHER: In the annual report the June 2015 total was 444. June 2016 was 400. Is that right? That was the staff count?

Mr Linehan : Can you give that page reference?

Senator GALLAGHER: Page 125, but it also matches staff classification on 126, and that seems to pick up ongoing, non-ongoing, part time and casual.

Mr Linehan : What you are referring to there is the headcount, not the average staffing level.

Senator GALLAGHER: So it is the difference between headcount and ASL?

Mr Linehan : Correct. I will just find that reference at the top of page 125. Average full-time equivalent staffing for 2015-16 was 414, and that compared to 420 in 2014-15.

Senator GALLAGHER: In 2016-17 it is 393. That is the impact of the efficiency dividend continuing to roll through, is it?

Mr Linehan : It is a range of issues, but including that, yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: So a reduction this financial year of 21 staff?

Mr Linehan : Correct.

Senator GALLAGHER: Is that across a range of different classifications?

Dr Ayres : It is a range of classifications.

Senator GALLAGHER: And done through a voluntary redundancy?

Dr Ayres : There were four voluntary redundancies this year, three last year. In most cases we have been able to manage this through natural attrition. Our staff turnover remains similar to previous years, and we have a steady number of retirements, so in most cases we were able to redeploy staff within the library.

Senator GALLAGHER: In terms of Trove, I think back in October estimates we were advised that in 2016-17 the Library anticipates adding 1.5 million pages of contributor funded content to the Trove service. How is that going? How many pages have been added for the year to date?

Dr Ayres : That is tracking very well for this financial year. We have a range of contributors who fund content, primarily the State Library of New South Wales. By the end of this financial year, the number will be considerably higher, partly because contributors are funding more digitisation this financial year.

Senator GALLAGHER: Can you step us through that? What is the detail there?

Dr Ayres : We have partners who fund digitisation of material for delivery through Trove—state libraries and some smaller organisations. At the beginning of each year, we make an estimate of what we think those organisations will want to do during the course of the year, and that varies depending on their priorities. The figure that we provided was the information we had at the time about what other institutions had told us they wished to do. I now anticipate that it will be higher, but between now and the end of the financial year there will still to be quite a lot of variation.

Senator GALLAGHER: Higher than that 1.5 million?

Dr Ayres : Yes, it will be higher.

Senator GALLAGHER: Perhaps if you could take it on notice and provide a bit more detail about what the arrangements are from contributors and if you are able to go back a few years to 2013 perhaps—whatever you could provide there would be useful.

Dr Ayres : Certainly.

Senator GALLAGHER: What departments or agencies of government contribute to funding of content for Trove, and do you have the details of the cost of those arrangements?

Dr Ayres : Are you asking about Commonwealth departments?

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes.

Dr Ayres : No Commonwealth departments have funded content for Trove to date, so the funding has come either from within the National Library or state organisations. We have had some—

Senator GALLAGHER: Any state governments?

Dr Ayres : All state and territory governments so, principally, through their state and territory libraries, but also public libraries, even district historical societies, and a very tiny amount of material funded by universities—it is principally the National Library and the state and territory libraries who have funded that content.

Senator DUNIAM: I just wondered—we have talked about the funding—how many institutions are contributing to Trove?

Dr Ayres : Trove is a large and unwieldy beast, so I am going to give several answers here.

Senator DUNIAM: That is fine.

Dr Ayres : Institutions contribute metadata to describing their collections so that they can be discovered via Trove. The number varies, but it is between 1400 and 1500 institutions, of which 1200 would be libraries around Australia. So that is one stream where metadata flows in so that the collections can be discovered. The other stream is the digitisation stream: newspapers, journals. Again, it would vary from year to year. We have got a core set of funders—as I said, the state and territory libraries, so eight or nine—and then each year there might be a small number of organisations who contribute on a one-off basis. So the total number of funders of digitised content over the last 10 years or so would be between 30 and 40, and I am happy to take that question on notice.

Senator DUNIAM: That would be great, thanks very much. Just in terms of the users who are accessing the site, do you keep track of where they are accessing it from across the country?

Dr Ayres : Yes, we do.

Senator DUNIAM: Are you able to provide some detail on that?

Dr Ayres : Yes. We can track in a systematic way whether the users are coming from overseas or within Australia. Fairly consistently, about one-third of use is from overseas and the rest is within Australia. We are also able to track state or territory, and there is a slight bias towards a little overrepresentation from the ACT, a little underrepresentation from the Northern Territory; otherwise, it fairly much fits population distribution.

Senator DUNIAM: So do you break it down between major population centres within states versus regions?

Dr Ayres : We have been able to do that in the past by user evaluation studies. We did a big evaluation in 2013, an independent evaluation. In fact, the match between population distribution of metropolitan, regional rural and remote almost exactly matched the distribution of population, which is not something the library would have been able to achieve in a predigital world.

Senator DUNIAM: That is very interesting. In terms of the changes of use in Trove—you obviously would monitor what people are looking up and searching—has there been a particular growth in a certain area of the data kept on Trove?

Dr Ayres : I think that we know a fair bit about Trove users but I will say that we do not ask people to declare themselves. They do not have to register to use Trove, so they do not have to tell us what they are using it for. I think I would say that there has been a very steady set of users, obviously, engaged with family history but an increasing number that are engaged with community history, especially from small towns. We see a consistent growth there. There is also consistent growth in use by the research sector, for traditional research, research using digital means and also for digital humanities and digital social sciences use, where there is data mining activity going on.

Senator DUNIAM: Thank you very much. That is very helpful.

Senator GALLAGHER: In terms of the efficiency dividend, to finish that area off, you have already outlined the staff reductions and the programs that will be closing or that will have changed arrangements. Are there any other plans that you are going to have to implement in terms of services at the Library as that efficiency dividend rolls through? Or do the reductions in staff and in these programs meet your efficiency dividend?

Dr Ayres : There will be some continuing effects, but the set of programs that I have outlined will be the ones that will continue over the period. So we do not see new areas being affected. I think that will continue—

Senator GALLAGHER: So there will be no changes to existing arrangements?

Dr Ayres : There are some changes from the existing arrangements in terms of managing funding made available at MYEFO 2016-17 around our digital infrastructure. That will of course roll through over the next 3½ years, but we will manage that within our existing ASL. The other programs of managing within that reducing base will continue.

Senator GALLAGHER: Sorry, at MYEFO? Did you get some extra funding, or did you lose some additional funding?

Dr Ayres : The Library received $16.4 million over four years at MYEFO as part of the Public Service modernisation fund, which is specific purpose. It is around our digital infrastructure and around ensuring that Trove remains robust. It will conclude after four financial years.

Senator GALLAGHER: I have a series of questions around how internal complaints are handled with the Library. Obviously it is a reasonably small workplace. I have had a case raised with me around a complaint. I do not want to go to the specifics of the complaint or the individuals involved, but I am interested from a public administration perspective how the Library handles situations like that—what the processes are. I have had a look at your corporate plan and some of the statements in your annual report. But in particular, if a complaint is made around a grievance within the workplace and the complaint is made to the director-general, what would be the normal process for investigating that complaint between staff?

Dr Ayres : So you are specifically asking about grievances?

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes, allegations of bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Dr Ayres : We have policies covering both. So we have a grievance policy and we also have a policy on eliminating bullying and harassment. In the first instance, grievances particularly can be notified through a range of areas. Certainly for staff who feel that their grievance cannot be addressed by their own supervisor, or it would not be appropriate for the grievance to be directed to their supervisor, it can go to the director-general. The director-general would then make decisions about how to proceed with the grievance investigation, based on the policy. There are a range of ways that that could occur, including of course determining whether it is a code of conduct issue. Does it need an external investigation? Is there a need for any special measures to ensure that there is a fair hearing?

Senator GALLAGHER: In a situation where the director-general has received a complaint and determined that they are going to treat it as a public interest disclosure, is there a set process for how that would be handled? How do you handle public interest disclosures?

Dr Ayres : There is always a question about whether an issue will be treated as a public interest disclosure. Once that decision is made, there are two paths forward. One is that it is a public interest disclosure and therefore it will be handled under the provisions of that arrangement. In most cases the code of conduct grievance issues will be found to be manageable within code of conduct processes and it will therefore proceed down that path. There are a number of different pathways, all aimed at ensuring that there is a fair and adequate hearing of the issue from both sides.

Senator GALLAGHER: As part of examining whether or not it is a public interest disclosure, would there normally be an investigation around that would it be determined perhaps on papers?

Dr Ayres : Certainly it does depend on evidence that is presented and the decision making. We have a range of roles within the library as to whether you are a decision maker on a public interest disclosure matter. Certainly if it is a complex matter it would usually also be discussed or referred to the ombudsman so that we could say, 'Yes, this is the way that is has been handled.' I think that I am answering your question, but correct me if you are seeking more procedural information.

Senator GALLAGHER: No, I think you have. In terms of the complaint I am aware of, a complaint was made to the director-general and a decision was taken to treat it as a public interest disclosure. I am advised that there was no investigation or discussion with the complainant or, as I understand it, the alleged perpetrator about matters within that complaint. Then it was determined that it was not a public interest disclosure without, seemingly, an investigation.

Dr Ayres : I cannot comment on the details of those decisions.

Senator GALLAGHER: No, I am not asking about particular decisions; I am asking whether or not it is possible to determine that it is not a public interest disclosure without going and speaking with the complainant.

Dr Ayres : Yes, it is. There are set of tests that are available to help a decision maker to decide whether it should actually be handled as a public interest disclosure or whether it can be handled as a code of conduct matter. They are not internal tests to the library; they are the tests that are actually set out and advised.

Senator GALLAGHER: In terms of how conflicts of interest are managed at the library, it is a smallish workplace and complaints particularly within the senior staff within the library involve relatively few people. How would conflict of interest be managed where there was a situation of a complaint between senior officers within the library, particularly in the instance where the director-general may have been aware of this? This is in the past—it predates your term, I acknowledge. What is the process for managing those conflicts of interest?

Dr Ayres : I presume when you are discussing conflicts of interest you are still referring to the grievance or bullying and harassment scenario. As I said, there are procedures within the library and a policy that says that, if it is not appropriate for a matter to be handled by an officer's supervisor or even one removed, it is handled by the director-general. So that is the way that it is managed, and it is therefore the director-general who manages that investigation.

Senator GALLAGHER: In the instance that people are aware of a complaint and then become the decision maker around how that complaint is going to be determined do you see the capacity or the ability within the broader portfolio to have that determined outside the library?

Dr Ayres : In some cases there might be. There may be alternatives. In particular, with a grievance, if a decision is made there is still an option, for example, to refer to the Merit Protection Commissioner.

Senator GALLAGHER: But you would not necessarily go to the portfolio?

Dr Ayres : No, we would not. It would be handled within the agency at director-general level if it could not be handled anywhere else, with advice from other organisations external to the Library but not the portfolio.

Senator GALLAGHER: Outside of the public interest disclosure process, when is there an alternative pathway determined for examination of a complaint? Again, I am not trying to go to the specifics of the matter, but I have had concerns raised with me about how the complaint has been handled by the Library. The elements I am interested in really go to the internal processes of how the Library has managed this. In particular, it seems to me there is a case for a conflict of interest that does not appear to have been managed. Outside of the public interest disclosure, it has been handled with another investigation. Again, what protections are there to make sure that appropriate conflicts within a workplace are managed? For example, if a HR director in charge of the external investigation into this matter actually reports to the alleged perpetrator in this situation, how would that be appropriate? Again, what other options would there be to manage that?

Dr Ayres : As I have said, we have policies and procedures—whether the case is bullying and harassment, grievance or a public interest disclosure—to ensure that, where there is an issue where it is not appropriate for lines of reporting to be involved, the director-general takes that role. That is what our policies and procedures indicate, and that is what would happen.

Senator GALLAGHER: I am aware of time, chair, and I am aware that the complainant has provided you with information in your role. I would ask that you go and have a look at how this has been managed and whether or not those processes you referred to have actually been followed in the instance of this matter that has been raised with me, because it appears to me there are some areas where those conflicts would definitely have arisen and do not appear to have been managed by the Library. I will come back and pursue this further.

CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any other questions? If not, I thank you very much and again welcome you to this appearance of estimates and look forward to seeing you at the next one.

Dr Ayres : Thank you.