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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
National Film and Sound Archive

National Film and Sound Archive


CHAIR: Ms Labrum, welcome. Do you have an opening statement?

Ms Labrum : No, I do not.

CHAIR: We will go right to questions.

Senator GALLAGHER: Thanks very much for appearing today. There have been some reports, I think in the Australian in January, around program cuts at the National Film and Sound Archive, and reports around pressures on your funding. Can you update the committee from when we last met about the discontinued services and any other program changes that have been made based on the funding pressures that the NFSA is experiencing?

Ms Labrum : Overall, I do not believe there have been any further programs cut since the last time you would have had a representative speaking here. The areas that were affected in previous questions related to our touring screen program; the library; the shop being closed down; our cinema program being reduced; our exhibition gallery being closed; and our scholars- and artists-in-residence being curtailed. Does that match up with your recollection?

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes, that was what was raised, so there hasn't been any further—

Ms Labrum : I would turn it around and say that I think some of those areas are actually starting to prosper a little more. The Arc, the cinema screening program is, I think, reviving and developing in an effective way now. We have having increased attendance at a lot of the regular programs. We had an amazing Capra season a month or two back. We are working with our education program to be presenting refreshed curriculum related material to a growing audience of students over the year.

I know one of the issues from some of those articles was the notion that the archive in Canberra was a sort of dead duck that was depressing to go to, and why would you? My response is that it is really having to reshape based on its capacities across the board. The biggest impact I think is that we no longer have the exhibition space filled with an exhibition permanently, and I would have to say that—and it is a really hard one, because I am Canberran and I am very proud of it—the exhibition that we did pull down was over 15 years old. It was tired. To invest in creating something new compared to the other priorities that we have right now was one of the hard decisions that we had to make.

All of that said, I then start to get excited about what we are doing, which is partnering up as actively as we can with some of the serious exhibition organisations in Canberra but also beyond. So we are looking at this year with the National Portrait Gallery presenting their main summer exhibit, which will be focusing on the portrait stills from the National Film and Sound Archive. It will be starting off in Canberra in, I think, November, but it is then going to be touring around the country presenting in regional areas across the board. What I am trying to say is: we are in tight circumstances but we are not dead—

Senator GALLAGHER: That is good—I think we are all very pleased to hear that.

Ms Labrum : and I think we are actually presenting more and more that I think is of value and that is hopefully going to be reaching well beyond just Canberra.

Senator GALLAGHER: You touched on this a bit there, but your public access programs that you are working on, have you covered most of that in your previous answer?

Ms Labrum : I think so, but what I would say is that public exhibitions relate to both our physical delivery here in Canberra and beyond but also to what we are increasingly trying to focus on now, which is the opportunity of the web. We are looking at online exhibitions being developed there. We have had some terrific responses already—most recently, celebrating an anniversary for the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a small online exhibition that brought footage back to life from the entire history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

We have also been looking at the bigger questions about: if we can marry up our ambitions to digitise more than a century of the collection, which has been collected and preserved but which is analog, and become an active deliverer in the way that people now expect to receive material at the touch of a fingertip on a tablet or a laptop, we start to buy into a whole new age of the NFSA.

Senator GALLAGHER: Do you have resources to do the digitisation work?

Ms Labrum : That is an excellent question, and we have some committed resources to work on digitisation and it is a fundamental part of our program but we do not have enough. With reports such as Deadline 2025 last year, we have identified that there is a massive amount of magnetic tape material relating, especially to broadcast, not just with us but with other collecting bodies, which by about 2025 is going to be very difficult to be able to copy digitally. We are working with other national institutions to, hopefully, persuade government that it would be great to invest in a mass digitisation push, which would be both cost-efficient and effective. All of that said, we are steadily working on digitisation within the archive of priority material, to our capacity.

Senator GALLAGHER: Have you costed what that might look like?

Ms Labrum : Yes. We have costed it and we are looking at a proposal that is almost $30 million to deal with the priority materials relating to six national collections, including ourselves.

Senator GALLAGHER: In terms of the work you are doing now, you are just managing that within your existing funding?

Ms Labrum : We are doing two things. We are managing it within our capacity, but we are also working very hard now on increasing our capacity by improving efficiencies in terms of our work processes, and that is something that is an ongoing challenge for everybody.

Senator GALLAGHER: Minister, this might be a question to you: the National Library just said that they got some money as part of the government's modernisation program in the MYEFO. That is a component of a broader package, but the NFSA was not part of that, or it would be part of stage 2?

Senator Fifield: No, that $16.4 million was for the National Library.

Ms Labrum : We did look on enviously.

Senator GALLAGHER: Yes, I can imagine. I wish you all the best with your lobbying on that front, because it is important. Minister, are there any plans to move the NFSA to Sydney or any city other than Canberra?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator GALLAGHER: I think I saw again some speculation about that in some newspaper reports. Am I right in saying that there are some vacancies on the board of the NFSA?

Senator Fifield: There are, but we have two in train at the moment.

Senator GALLAGHER: Would that fill those vacancies?

Senator Fifield: I think there might still be one after that.

Senator GALLAGHER: So that is a wait-and-see?

Senator Fifield: It is in the very near future.

Senator GALLAGHER: In the pipeline?

Senator Fifield: Yes.

Senator GALLAGHER: I understand, Ms Labrum, that you are the Acting Chief Executive at the moment. Is there a process underway for—

Senator Fifield: There is, which is very close to conclusion. It is a process that is chaired by the chair of the council of the archive.

Senator GALLAGHER: Have you received a recommendation? Is it that close?

Senator Fifield: Not formally. I am aware of where things are at, and it is very close, but I have not formally received a recommendation.

Senator GALLAGHER: Thank you.

CHAIR: As there are no further questions, Ms Labrum, very much for appearing here today. We are grateful for your time.