The National Archives of Australia will receive $67.7 million in government funding to save at-risk records after warnings from an expert review that precious historical items could be lost forever.
Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker says she is optimistic the spending will save all historically important records after a government expenditure review committee agreed to the funding on Wednesday.
But the government is yet to release its full response to the Tune review, including a recommendation to spend $167 million overhauling the IT systems of the National Archives and improving how government preserves records.
The funding announced on Thursday will accelerate the race to digitise records at risk of becoming obsolescent or decaying, after the Tune review released in March recommended $67.7 million in spending to protect the items.
It follows years of warnings from National Archives director-general David Fricker that records were at risk of perishing within years without additional funding.
Historians and advocates for the Archives have also heaped public pressure on the government, urging it to help digitise the precious items with more funding.
The federal government on Thursday said the funding would let the Archives preserve about 270,000 of its most at-risk records, including ASIO surveillance material, scientific research and Indigenous language recordings.
Senator Stoker, who is responsible for the National Archives, told The Canberra Times the $67.7 million would fast-track digitisation of at-risk records, ahead of the 2025 deadline by which the institution says items will be obsolete.
However some items appear likely to be lost despite the funding boost.
Senator Stoker said deterioration was part of the natural passage of time with the records.
"There is always going to be a process of degradation over time and this process doesn't really ever come to a stop," she said.
"The investment we have here is based on working with the Archives and the department to identify all of the significant records that are at risk and making sure they are all appropriately preserved.
"I'm optimistic that will represent a complete preservation of the matters that are of historical importance.
"That doesn't mean we can save every piece of paper, it doesn't mean we can save every microfiche, but it's a process of working with the people who know best to determine that which is historically significant and making sure that remains part of Australia's national story for the long-term.
"This funding delivers completely on that mission."
Senator Stoker said the Archives will receive additional staff and improved cybersecurity through the $67.7 million announced on Thursday.
It will also address backlogs for applications to access Commonwealth records, and provide improved digitisation on demand services.
"This is about investing in the organisational improvements that are necessary to effectively support that digitisation process so people don't just have the records preserved but they're able to be accessed and used by Australians."
The National Archives' plight came under the spotlight when it asked the public for donations to support it in digitising at-risk records, after the federal budget did not include $67.7 million recommended by the Tune review for the task.
Senator Stoker said the government had waited before announcing the funding to consider how to undertake the digitisation project.
"The reason there has been some time taken to do this is that the Archives is at a really important cross roads," she said.
"It's got a number of challenges that come from it being established as a paper agency moving into a world where the vast majority of data it receives is digital and it has an understandable need to be assisted in building that capability to be able to manage that shift.
"Part of the reason we took the time was to make sure we did it right."
Archives director-general David Fricker has previously warned that without additional funding important records would be lost forever.
The records include paper-based files such as maps and plans, photographs, motion picture films, tapes and digital files.
Formats that are particularly susceptible to deterioration and loss include tapes and audio visual records, as well as photographic and film records.
The Tune review also recommended $167.4 million in upgrades to the Archives IT system, however the government is yet to respond to that recommendation.
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