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Education and Employment Legislation Committee
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies


CHAIR: Welcome. Senator Reynolds will begin.

Senator REYNOLDS: Good evening, gentlemen. I have a few questions. It seems to me there was a somewhat muted reaction to the funding in this year's budget, but I think $40 million is a significant amount of money over the forward estimates. So I assume this funding was welcomed by AIATSIS.

Mr Taylor : Senator, before I answer that question, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet this evening. I pay my respect to their elders past and present and pay tribute to their resilience and continued cultural practices on country.

From an AIATSIS perspective as well as from a national education and research perspective, the enhancements to our budget as described in the forward estimates are an unprecedented and most welcomed enhancement to our capacity to preserve, protect and make accessible our internationally significant collections. So, in answer to your question, from an AIATSIS perspective, it is extremely good news.

Senator REYNOLDS: How are you anticipating using that money to preserve the collection?

Mr Taylor : As I said, it certainly enhances our capacity to preserve, protect and make accessible our collections. In the short term, it is really going to allow us to address some threats that were recently identified to our collections, particularly our audio-visual collections, through using digital technology so that we can adequately address those threats.

Senator REYNOLDS: Is that because they are corroding with time?

Mr Taylor : Absolutely, and chemically breaking down because of the various conditions that apply to audio-visual film, photographs et cetera. The budget enhancement, which essentially doubles our core operating budget each year for the next four years, ramps up to a significant degree our capacity to address those threats. So, in the short term, that is how those funds will be applied. In the longer term, again through using state-of-the-art technology, we will make available to both domestic and international interests our collections for use in terms of the services that are provided to Indigenous stakeholders—and particularly our research stakeholders—and also represent services that adequately maximise the access to our collections for the benefit of a whole range of stakeholders, but particularly the research and education stakeholders.

Senator REYNOLDS: I had not realised before this announcement that you have like a million items in the collection.

Mr Taylor : We had a recent review of our collection, which said a couple of things about our collection. Firstly, it said that it is internationally significant; secondly, it said that it is the best contextualised collection of its kind anywhere in the world; and, thirdly, it identified some threats and risks, particularly in terms of our audio-visual collection.

To give you an idea of the scope of the collection, if I may, there are over 2½ thousand art and artefact elements in the collection; 39,000 hours of audio tape; 120,000 items of published material; 6½ million feet of moving image; 5,000 individual video titles; 13,000-plus individual manuscripts; and 670,000 individual photographs. In answer to your question, it is a wonderful, diverse and irreplaceable collection of international significance.

Senator REYNOLDS: Where is the collection stored?

Mr Taylor : It is stored in our purpose-built archive vaults at AIATSIS on the Acton peninsula. We do have some off-site storage as well, for backup, but essentially the collection is housed in our purpose-built building on Acton peninsula.

Senator REYNOLDS: Given what the National Archives does, do you see any synergies? Or are you already working with the National Archives?

Mr Taylor : We have collaborative arrangements with all of the national collecting institutions. I suggest that we are a little bit different in that a great deal of our elements from our collections are not held by other agencies, and there are elements of our collection that differ. For instance, our collections include a lot of analogue records and nondigital-borne materials, where many of our cultural collecting institutions deal exclusively with digital-borne material.

Senator REYNOLDS: Perhaps not with just with the National Archives—as you said, you have a relationship with all the major collecting organisations—but do you see that there are some synergies that you can now have or utilise in terms of training or best practice for archiving or for restoration? Are there things that you can do to work together or to learn from each other?

Mr Taylor : Absolutely. We are very pleased to be involved in discussions that might adopt strategic approaches to various common challenges that we all face, whether it be in storage or in shared services and in those sorts of efficiencies that can be achieved. We pride ourselves at AIATSIS that the technological processes that we use for our collections are state-of-the-art best practices. We do our best to share those practices with our colleagues and we also take the utmost opportunity to learn from their processes as well.

Senator REYNOLDS: Currently, what access do Australian researchers and members of the public have to the collection? Once you have gone through this process over the next few years, how do you see that tangibly changing?

Mr Taylor : I do not see any tangible changes, other than perhaps the take up in use of technology. Essentially, in answer to your question, particularly our research clients but all of our stakeholders and our clients use a number of means by which they access our collections. They do that via the web. I think last year we had about 40,000 digital pages of online exhibitions, so we do an awful lot of business via the web. We also do it by remote and by email et cetera. We also obviously have face-to-face visits. As part of our library services, which provide services internationally as well as domestically, we have a family history unit. That not only provides services to individual personnel but it also supports the link-up organisations that are based around the country—in fact, we train their staff, in terms of family history archival research.

Senator REYNOLDS: Can I just clarify: with the family history archival research, do you do that for individual family members or is that to teach other people how to actually capture and do the research?

Mr Taylor : We do both. We provide services to individuals for those people who want to connect with their heritage—particularly members of the stolen generation. We also provide training and support services to the link-up organisations that are based around the country. We have very favourable relationships with every stolen generation group that exists around the country as well. It is a very important part of our library, research and support services.

In terms of research interests, career researchers, senior and other academic interests, we provide all of the services that I just mentioned. But in particular, we enjoy a lot of face-to-face interaction with the research community. We are very strong in terms of providing support, particularly to our Indigenous communities. We do that in two ways: we either sponsor or support and receive visits from communities and we have a repatriation program, where we visit communities and, to the maximum extent possible, repatriate those elements of our collections that relate to their communities and their families.

Senator REYNOLDS: That is wonderful. How many staff do you have, given the million-plus items that you have in the collection and all that work that you are doing?

Mr Taylor : At the moment, about a hundred. I will take that on notice, but around about 140. With the benefit of the recent budget enhancement, the staff numbers will rise.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you very much for that. It was very interesting. I know that there was an amendment to your bill that went through last year that made some governance arrangement changes, which I understand were done in consultation with you. Nearly a year after, how are the change in governance arrangements working?

Mr Taylor : They are working very well. The legislation was passed early this year in February. The main point of those legislative changes, which were strongly supported and endorsed by our council, had to do with the governance arrangements, the composition of council and the electoral processes that they support that actually gives rise to membership. In terms of our governance model, we have nine council members, five of whom are appointed by the minister and four of whom are elected by our members. The legislative changes did three important things. They provided for gender equity in the electoral process, they provided for the retention and permanent existence of an Indigenous majority on our nine-person council, and they gave the minister some flexibility in terms of the minister's ability to appoint and make changes to council.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you very much for that. I look forward to visiting some time and seeing some of the wonderful work that you are doing.

Mr Taylor : We look forward to that.

Senator REYNOLDS: That would be lovely, and thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Taylor and Mr Ritchie. There being no other questions for AIATSIS, thank you very much, gentlemen, for your time today.