National Archives of Australia
National Archives of Australia Advisory Council
Annual Report 2017–18

Report on performance

Statement of preparation

I, David Fricker, as the Accountable Authority of the National Archives of Australia, present the Archives’ annual performance statement for 2017–18 for the period 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, as required under paragraph 39(1)(b) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) and section 16F of the PGPA Rule 2014. These results are reported against the performance measures outlined in the National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017–18, and as published in the Archives’ 2017–18 Portfolio Budget Statements.

In my opinion, the annual performance statement is based on properly maintained records, accurately reflects the performance of the Archives, and complies with subsection 39(1)(b) of the PGPA Act and section 16F of the PGPA Rule.

Signature of David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia

David Fricker
National Archives of Australia

12 September 2018

Annual Performance Statement

Purpose 1: Maintaining the official record of the nation

PBS performance criterion

The archival resources of the Commonwealth are identified and secured for the future

Criterion source

  • Program 1.1 deliverables, 2017–18 Portfolio Budget Statements, p.239

Performance criterion

Identify and secure information of enduring national significance for the national archival collection

Criterion source
  • National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017–18 to 2020–21
Result against performance criterion
  • During 2017–18 the Archives issued 24 instruments under the Archives Act 1983, including records authorities developed in consultation with individual entities. This contributed to total records authority coverage of 85 per cent of Australian Government agencies.
  • Transfers of information and data continued to meet national significance criteria and transfer requirements.
Analysis of performance

Records authorities dictate the identification and subsequent transfer to the Archives of information of archival significance. The volume of transfers is dependent on a number of variable factors including ongoing business requirements of agencies and allocation of resources. The year 2017–18 included the transfer of 512 drawings and maps from the Department of Innovation, Industry and Science relating to the 1956–63 British atomic test sites around Maralinga, South Australia and 25.8 terabytes of digital format records. Information about transfers is added to RecordSearch and Mediaflex, the Archives' collection databases, to assist in managing and providing access to records.

Performance criterion

Preserve the archival resources of the Commonwealth

Criterion source
  • National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017–18 to 2020–21
Result against performance criterion
  • The Archives achieved preservation of 139,753 at-risk items against a target of 120,000.
  • A new Digital Preservation Policy was published.
Analysis of performance

Preservation treatments continued to focus on records at risk, including digitisation of paper, photographic and audiovisual records through outsourced projects. Digitisation efforts support the objectives of Deadline 2025, a collaborative initiative with the National Film and Sound Archive, to prioritise digitisation of at-risk audiovisual collections.

The procurement of motion picture film and photographic digitisation equipment has increased the Archives' capacity to undertake in-house preservation digitisation of deteriorating records.

Preservation digitisation standards were reviewed to ensure continued compliance with technical preservation standards, in line with national and international cultural institutions. Access to the collection is supported through preservation activities. This includes intensive conservation treatment and digitisation of items for education, exhibition and community outreach programs and for loans to other state and national cultural institutions.

The new Digital Preservation Policy gives shape to the Archives' plans to deliver a state-of-the-art digital archive, to develop our digital capability and skills, and to drive the digital transformation of the Archives' functions and services.

Performance criterion

Demonstrate leadership and best practice, to promote the creation, management and preservation of authentic, reliable and usable Commonwealth records

Criterion source
  • National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017–18 to 2020–21
Result against performance criterion
  • Ninety per cent of Australian Government entities reported that information created in digital formats is stored and managed digitally in accordance with the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy.
  • A new survey reporting tool was issued to assess entities' progress towards digital information management.
  • Ninety-five per cent of entities participated in annual survey reporting requirements.
Analysis of performance

There has been a significant increase in the number of agencies reporting they work digitally by default since the introduction of the Digital Transition Policy in 2011. In 2010, agencies reported 30 per cent of their work was undertaken digitally. This increased to over 90 per cent in 2017, with 70 per cent showing an overall improvement in their maturity. There is evidence of continuing improvement in digital information management capability and commitment, with the majority of agencies reporting that the policy targets are in progress or completed.

The Archives streamlined its reporting requirements (and associated target), in response to recommendations of the independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation (Belcher Red Tape Review). Entities were required to respond to a short survey assessing progress against the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy targets. This provided a snapshot of whole-of-government information management maturity which was published on the Archives' website. Consequently, reporting to the Minister and Prime Minister was rescheduled to enable more comprehensive reporting and analysis from new survey processes (Check-up PLUS) which will commence from 2018–19.

In 2017–18, 95 per cent of entities participated in the annual survey, a decrease of 5 per cent from the previous reporting period.

Check-up PLUS was developed following extensive consultation with Australian Government agencies and will open for the 2018–19 reporting period in July 2018. Check-up PLUS will drive maturity in information and data management.

The Archives continues to use the data collected in previous surveys to:

  • assist agencies to understand and improve their own performance
  • inform its own evidence-based policy and product development
  • enable the Archives to meet its whole-of-government reporting requirements
  • provide leadership on information and data management to the Australian Government.

Strategies for the transfer, long-term preservation, and accessibility of the Archives' digital information, were underpinned by research and policy development based on domestic and international standards and processes. Metadata and descriptive standards were developed to more effectively control the complex relationships that exist within and between digital records.

The Archives continued to develop digital preservation standards and digital archiving capabilities in line with international best practice. A gap analysis of digital archives systems against the international Open Archives Information Standard (OAIS) will guide procurement of best practice preservation solutions in the future. A skills gap analysis against a European digital archiving skills curriculum (DigCurV) will similarly inform future staff training needs and requirements for digital archiving capabilities.

Performance criterion

Maintain and enhance Australia's involvement with the national and international archival community

Criterion source
  • National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017–18 to 2020–21
Result against performance criterion
  • The Archives advocates the benefits of sustainable information management through participation in targeted international forums, and professional exchange and audience engagement through research of collections that document shared histories with Australia.
Analysis of performance

Through membership of the Pacific Branch of the International Council on Archives (PARBICA), the Archives assisted the National Archives of Fiji to run a biennial professional conference for PARBICA members. Over 100 delegates attended the conference and practical workshops at the Pearl Resort, Pacific Harbour, Fiji in September 2017. Outcomes included substantial work on developing five new disaster preparedness guidelines for the PARBICA Recordkeeping for Good Governance Toolkit funded by the Programme Commission of the International Council on Archives, with these guidelines scheduled for launch in late 2018.

A number of successful international partnership projects in 2017–18 supported close engagement with the international archival community:

  • A French–Australian Shared Histories Symposium was held in Paris on 23 April 2018 in partnership with the service interministériel des Archives de France.
  • Stage 1 of a joint project with the Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands told the stories of Dutch migrants to Australia using archival records and personal accounts.
  • The Archives gifted Japanese company trading records seized in Australia during World War II to the National Archives of Japan, with formal events held at the Japanese Embassy in Canberra and in Tokyo. The formal ceremony was presided over by Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment the Hon Steven Ciobo MP and Ministers Kono and Kajiyama from the Government of Japan.
  • The Archives hosted international delegations from multiple countries including Indonesia, the UAE, Japan and New Zealand, sharing professional expertise and providing tours of the new repository in Canberra.
  • Senior representatives from the Archives attended the ALA-ICA Conference in Mexico City in November 2017 and conducted bilateral meetings with the national archives of the UK, Canada, USA, China, Indonesia, Japan, Netherlands, Iran and Norway. The conference also provided a single forum for technical meetings with industry leaders in the fields of digital preservation and information access.

The Archives is also collaborating with other international archival institutions on digital archival strategies. Collaborators include the national archives of the United Kingdom, United States, Singapore and Finland.

Purpose 2: Creating valued connections between the national archival collection and government, researchers and the community

PBS performance criterion

Public engagement with the national archival collection grows and enhances understanding of individual and collective history.

Criterion source
  • Program 1.1 deliverables, 2017–18 Portfolio Budget Statements, p.239

Performance criterion

Promote understanding and appreciation of the national archival collection and its value

Criterion source
  • National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017–18 to 2020–21
Result against performance criterion
  • The Archives promoted and provided access to the collection through multiple channels effectively increasing its interactions with the public.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy was implemented.
  • Educational resources, including the integrated Learn capability, were developed in support of the Archives' Discovering Anzacs website and the Centenary of Anzac Commemoration program.
  • Improved functionality and interactivity of the Archives' website, Destination: Australia, supported the outreach immigration program comprising national touring exhibitions A Place to Call Home? and A Ticket to Paradise?
  • Partnerships with external organisations including Google Cultural Institute were established.
  • Innovative national touring exhibitions were launched including SPY: Espionage in Australia and Facing Two Fronts: the fight for respect.
  • The Archives hosted the Whitlam Institute's touring exhibition The Way of the Reformer: Gough Whitlam in his Century.
Analysis of performance

The Archives' services were temporarily disrupted by the requirement to relocate the Canberra reading room and the Charters of our Nation gallery to Old Parliament House in October 2017. This move was necessitated by the Commonwealth's sale of its National Office building (East Block) and the associated obligation by the new owner to undertake major maintenance on the building. The Archives continued to provide reading room and orientation services, and public engagement with the nation's founding documents from its new temporary location, with a combined visitation at Old Parliament House of 7907.

The Archives' websites – including Discovering Anzacs, Destination: Australia, and Vrroom (the schools education learning portal) – attracted more than 2.5 million visitors, with 12 million page views recorded. The Archives' online collection database, RecordSearch, saw almost half a million researchers viewing more than 22 million pages. Increased social media activity provided additional channels of interaction with the public.

During 2017–18 the Archives' national reference service responded to 50,201 inquiries, meeting our service standards in 93 per cent of cases. A further 7.3 million images of collection material were made available on the Archives' online collection database RecordSearch, bringing the total number of images online to 59.3 million or approximately 4.6 per cent of the collection.

Public programs and community outreach activities occurred across all Archives offices including public talks about the collection and participation in national events such as Seniors Week, Constitution Day, National Family History Month, NAIDOC Week and the judging of the annual National History Challenge for school students.

The Archives' annual Constitution Day Speakers Forum was held at East Block on 7 July 2017. The forum topic was The Democratic Disruption, with the panel exploring how digital technologies are disrupting and changing democratic institutions. There were 60 attendees at the afternoon event.

The Archives participated in Enlighten 2018, with a series of programs aimed at engaging with the large visitation that occurs at Old Parliament House over the two weekends of the program. In the reading room visitors were able to view original records about the creation of Canberra, the building of Old Parliament House, and records created by Alfred Deakin, while Queen Victoria encouraged visitors to engage with the Charters of our Nation gallery. Over the two weekends of the 2018 Enlighten Festival, 2351 visitors engaged directly with the Archives.

Archives' offices in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory held public program activities with co-location partners. The largest joint event was From Outback to Outer Space: Woomera 1955–1980, an exhibition held in partnership with the State Library of South Australia. The exhibition was on display at the library from 23 August to 12 November 2017, attracting more than 57,000 visitors.

The Archives provided access to original archival material in regional and remote communities through innovative national touring exhibitions. In 2017–18 the Archives toured four exhibitions to eight venues across New South Wales, the Northern Territory,
Queensland and Western Australia, including:

  • A Ticket to Paradise? (Darwin NT, Townsville QLD, Kalgoorlie WA – 96,773 visitors)
  • A Place to Call Home? Migrant hostel memories (Longreach QLD, Grafton NSW – 24,122 visitors)
  • Facing Two Fronts: the fight for respect and Indigenous Australians at War from the Boer War to the Present (Darwin NT – 98 visitors)
  • Without Consent (Parramatta NSW, Grafton NSW, Albury NSW, Longreach QLD – 22,656 visitors).

On 31 May 2018, the Archives' new temporary exhibition, SPY: Espionage in Australia, was opened at the Museum of the Riverina, Wagga Wagga NSW. Over the month of June, 1253 visitors attended the exhibition. SPY: Espionage in Australia will be the first temporary exhibition displayed in the National Office when it reopens to the public in 2019.

During 2017–18 the Archives further implemented the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy. This included the development of protocols describing best-practice management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander–related records, and the provision of services to Indigenous people by the Archives. The Archives hosted visits by Aboriginal groups including the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, Nunkuwarrin Yunti, and Wellington Aboriginal Corporation Health Service. To celebrate National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week, the Archives presented collection material including patent records of Indigenous inventor David Unaipon, the Larrakia petition and records relating to Indigenous activist William Cooper.

In partnership with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Archives developed and delivered three video-based educational resources on the Learn page of the Discovering Anzacs website. This year, the focus was on developing resources to demonstrate the richness of, and encourage the use of, repatriation records held by the Archives, documenting the experiences of returned soldiers, nurses and families during World War I.

Improved functionality and interactivity of the Destination: Australia website enabled the Archives to present new video content including audiovisual material from A Ticket to Paradise? This increases access to the audiovisual material in the national archival collection and supports the Archives' partnership with the Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands, with both archives highlighting the records related to Dutch migration to Australia.

Planning for redevelopment of the permanent exhibition and Federation galleries focused on curatorial and content development. This included scoping the collection, and developing curatorial principles around relationships between people and government and the role of the Archives in documenting and providing evidence of that relationship.

The Archives worked with a range of external organisations to expand the reach and use of the collection during 2017–18. Partnerships were established in support of the national touring program including with the Netherlands' Nationaal Archief and the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the Department of Communications and the Arts; the Department of Social Services; and the Department of Home Affairs. The Archives developed and published content on Google Cultural Institute, and worked with cultural and knowledge institutions to deliver public programs based on the use of archival material. The Archives also renewed its partnership with the Australian Dictionary of Biography and continued support for the development of biographies and projects commemorating military service in particular regions.

The Archives partnered with the Whitlam Institute, providing collection material for the research and presentation of the institute's exhibition, The Way of the Reformer: Gough Whitlam in his Century. We hosted the exhibition at our National Office from 28 July to 3 September 2017. The Archives also partnered with the Australian Parliamentary Library, the National Museum of Australia, the Victorian Parliamentary Library and the ANU Australian Studies Institute for the First Eight Prime Ministers program. This significant partnership included a lecture on former prime minister Alfred Deakin by historian David Headon during the Enlighten Festival and the launch of the Deakin monograph at Parliament House.

Performance criterion

Provide access to the information that we hold in accordance with the Archives Act 1983

Criterion source
  • National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2017–18 to 2020–21
Result against performance criterion
  • Access to information in the Archives' collection was improved by the addition of 591,095
    new item descriptions to our collection database, RecordSearch.
  • The 1994 and 1995 Cabinet records were released on 1 January 2018.
  • The Agency Digitisation Service became mandatory from 1 January 2018, contributing to efficient, streamlined services for entities to access records.
Analysis of performance

The Archives Act provides a general right of access to records in the open access period unless they are exempt from access under one or more of the 16 exemption categories defined in section 33 of the Act. Before a record is released, records are examined by Archives staff for any information that should be exempt. Records are released in response to applications for access from the public or as part of the Archives' program of proactive release.

As at 30 June 2017 there was a backlog of 23,287 applications for access to records from the public. During 2017–18, the Archives received 43,325 new applications for access to records and released 36,653 records subject to application from the public. There is often more than one applicant for a record and there may also be more than one record requested in a single application. Therefore, the examination of a single item may result in the completion of a number of applications. The Archives also released 238,755 records as part of its program of proactive release. Proactive releases included records relating to child endowment, the Mabo High Court case, the 1967 Referendum, entries to the Parliament House design competition and key 1994–95 Cabinet records.

As at 30 June 2018, there was a backlog of 25,942 applications for access to records from the public pending examination. The Archives continues to manage the backlog in addition to responding to new requests and maintaining its program of proactive release.

Table 1: Number of records access examined

Decisions on access (number of items)2017–18
Items examined in response to public access applications36,653
Items examined for proactive release program238,755

Table 2: Decisions on access

Decisions resulting from access examination (number of items)2017–18
Wholly released271,498
Partially released3,335
Wholly exempt575

Table 3: Time for simple access examination

Time taken to make decisions on applications from the public – simple access examination2017–18
Within 90 days31,419
More than 90 days1,370

Table 4: Time for complex access examination

Time taken to make decisions on applications from the public – complex access examination2017–18
Within 90 days2,620
More than 90 days1,244

Note: Records requiring complex access examination generally contain sensitivities relating to national security, defence or international relations. These records may require referral to other entities for expert advice.

Figure 2   Application progress, by financial year

Figure 2 Application progress, by financial year

The embargoed release of the 1994 and 1995 Keating Cabinet records, held at the National Press Club on 5 December 2017, was attended by 95 invited guests, including diplomats, departmental staff and media representatives. Event highlights included an 'in conversation' discussion between the Hon Kim Beazley AO and senior journalist and President of the National Press Club, Chris Uhlmann. The Whitlam Years, a selection of historians' Cabinet-focused essays written from 2002 to 2005, was launched at the event. The Archives presented media representatives with a media guide and copies of selected Cabinet records to assist with the preparation of news stories for publication on 1 January 2018.

The Agency Digitisation Service became mandatory from 1 January 2018. This is a national program that provides agencies with digitised copies of unclassified records in the Archives' custody on a cost-recovery basis. The Agency Digitisation Service is part of the Archives' ongoing transformation to a digital framework and is consistent with the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy. The service protects paper records, reduces the administrative burden and supports the re-use of digitised images. In 2017–18, the Archives digitised 3469 files, a total 159,334 images, and raised $200,501 in invoices.

Financial Performance

The Archives recorded a deficit of $12 million for 2017–18, compared with a deficit of $4.4 million in 2016–17. This deficit is the result of lower income compared to total expenses in 2017–18. Excluding depreciation and amortisation, which is no longer funded by the government, the Archives made a surplus of $3.2 million for 2017–18.

Statement of comprehensive income


In 2017–18 the Archives received total income of $71.5 million compared with $85.2 million in 2016–17. The decrease in income of $13.7 million was mainly due to a decrease in revenue from government of $7.2 million in 2017–18 as a result of the ceasing of one-off funding received in 2016–17 for the relocation of records and staff to the National Archives Preservation Facility (NAPF), and a decrease in other revenue recognised of $6.6 million from the intake of records from Australian Government entities.


The Archives expenses totalled $83.5 million in 2017–18, compared with $89.6 million in 2016–17. The decrease of $6.1 million was primarily due to a decrease in employee expenses of $2.5 million as a result of a lower average staffing level in 2017–18 compared to 2016–17, a decrease in depreciation expenses of $2 million for Infrastructure, Plant and Equipment (IPE) assets as a result of a number of IPE asset disposals in May 2017 and December 2018 after the expiration of leases for three properties and a reduction in write down and impairment of assets of $1.2 million due to the write-off of two software projects where work on these projects ceased in 2016–17.

Balance sheet


At 30 June 2018 the Archives' assets totalled $1.535 billion compared with $1.512 billion at 30 June 2017. The increase of $23 million was mainly due to an increased value of Heritage and Cultural assets as a result of the independent revaluation during the year.


The Archives had total liabilities of $26.9 million at 30 June 2018, compared with $24.2 million at 30 June 2017. The increase was mainly due to an increase in supplier payables of $3.4 million, primarily as a result of the straight-lining accounting treatment for the NAPF lease offset by a decrease in other payables and a decline in other provisions due to de-recognition of a portion of the make good provision as the lease for the Archives building, East Block in Parkes ACT ceased during the year.


The total equity of the Archives at 30 June 2018 was $1.508 billion, compared with $1.488 billion at 30 June 2017. The increase of $20.3 million comprises an increase of $27.7 million in reserves primarily as a result of the valuation of Heritage and Cultural assets offset by the appropriate withdrawal of collection items and the derecognition of make good provisions for the East Block building in Parkes ACT, an increase of $4.6 million in contributed equity (Departmental Capital Budget), offset by a decrease of $12 million reflecting the deficit recorded in 2017–18.