Canberra's national institutions have already endured years of budget cuts and a turbulent summer of bushfire smoke and hailstones.
They're now grappling with a new set of burdens imposed by COVID-19, a pandemic that for months stopped them sharing Australia's collections of historical items and art with visitors, a peak body for ACT's national attractions has said.
The National Capital Attractions Association said the popular institutions - which include the Australian War Memorial, the Museum of Australian Democracy, the National Museum of Australia, and others - are struggling to coordinate their responses and recovery during the pandemic.
The association told a parliamentary committee investigating the government's response to COVID-19 that staff working in Canberra's national institutions were encountering a lack of clarity about safety guidelines as they tried re-opening to the public.
National institutions closed in late March as COVID-19 escalated, but reopened throughout June and July.
Association president Naomi Dale, speaking to The Canberra Times, said a coordinated approach to reopening was difficult for national institutions because they were spread across separate government portfolios.
There had been a lack of coordination between the institutions about opening times, COVID safety requirements, and whether staff worked from home or on site, she said.
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"Even just methods of signing in, all those sorts of things are very different across all of them and so our visitors and even locals are really not sure of what's going to happen when they get there," Dr Dale said.
"Of course they're different places so they don't have to be cookie cutter, exactly the same, but I think that if we had one overall coordinated approach in particular around visitor safety and COVID, then I think that would make a huge difference to people feeling that they knew what was going to happen next.
"Because everyone's doing things slightly differently, some even not opening at all, it's made it very difficult for our visitors and locals alike to know what's happening."
Government portfolios overseeing the institutions didn't prioritise tourism, which had prevented the attractions from keeping a safe return for visitors top of mind, Dr Dale said.
Through its National Capital Education Tourism Project, the National Capital Attractions Association contracted Aspen Medical to develop a set of COVID-19 safe protocols specifically for visiting school groups to ensure the institutions were ready for when the school excursion market resumes.
The association intends to use findings to make recommendations helping the institutions prepare for school groups. Institutions might also be able to apply the guidelines as they welcomed back other visitors, Dr Dale said.
National institutions had struggled during COVID-19 as staff were redeployed to welfare agency Services Australia, which had needed help processing surging numbers of JobSeeker claims, she said.
While the agency had needed the assistance and the institutions' public servants had been glad to contribute, their own workplaces had lost experienced staff and had been less able to respond quickly to changes in COVID-19 restrictions, Dr Dale said.
A War Memorial spokesperson said institutions had coordinated during the pandemic through video and teleconferences.
The memorial had enacted a COVID-safe business plan upon reopening to the public on July 1.
Redeployments overall had a positive impact on the staff and the Memorial as a workplace, the spokesperson said.
Comment was sought from Arts Minister Paul Fletcher, who oversees several national institutions.