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Annual performance statement


The purpose of the National Archives is to provide leadership in best practice management of the official record of the Commonwealth and ensure that Australian Government information of enduring significance is secured, preserved and available to government agencies, researchers and the community.

Analysis of performance against purpose

The National Archives seeks to achieve its purpose through one outcome:

Outcome 1: To promote the creation, management and preservation of authentic, reliable and usable Commonwealth records and to facilitate Australians' access to the archival resources of the Commonwealth.

Program 1.1: National Archives of Australia

The National Archives provides stewardship of the records of the Australian Government to provide access to the evidence and memory of our nation, connecting Australians with their identity, history and place in the world.

Criterion source

Program 1.1, 2018-19 Portfolio Budget Statements pp.178-9

Performance results

The National Archives measures its perfomance using a range of criteria as outlined in the National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2018–19 to 2021–22 and 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statements. These criteria include deliverables that assess the value of National Archives’ activities and areas of future business improvement.

Performance criterion one

Australian Government agencies are surveyed against Digital Continuity 2020 (DC2020) Policy targets and outcomes reported to the Prime Minister and the Minister

Criterion source
Program 1.1 deliverables, 2018-19 Portfolio Budget Statements pp.178-9
National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2018–19 to 2021-22

Delivery strategy
Establish frameworks for best practice management of Australian Government information by Australian Government agencies toward achievement of Digital Continuity 2020 Policy targets.

Result against performance criterion
Ninety-seven per cent of entities completed the Check-up PLUS survey in 2018–19, 1 per cent higher than the target of 96 per cent participation.

Analysis of survey responses and case studies demonstrates Australian Government entity progress against Digital Continuity 2020 Policy outcomes.

Analysis of performance
The National Archives’ Digital Continuity 2020 Policy is a whole-of-government approach to digital information governance that contributes to the Australian Government’s digital transformation agenda. The policy aims to integrate robust digital information management into all government business processes to support digital service delivery as well as efficiency, innovation, interoperability and information re-use. Building on progress made under the 2011 Digital Transition Policy, agencies are progressively moving from paper-based to digital information and records management.

The Check-up PLUS survey of Australian Government entities was conducted for the first time in 2018–19, replacing the former Check-up Digital survey and the biennial survey of Information and Records Management Practices. Check-up PLUS aligns with the National Archives’ Information Management Standard and is an online self-assessment tool designed to gauge Australian Government agencies’ maturity and performance in information and data management. Completion of the survey is an annual requirement under the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy, enabling agencies to track their progress against a variety of best practice information management behaviours and identify improvements to their information and data management maturity.

During 2018–19, 97 per cent of Commonwealth entities completed the Check-up PLUS survey.

The average information management maturity index score for all agencies was 3.1 out of 5. These results are above the median and suggest that agencies are improving, with above average responses of ‘often’ and ‘usually’ applying to a range of information management practices measured in the survey. The index also indicates that considerable progress is required across agencies to address information and data risks and realise the full benefits of best practice information management.

During 2018–19, the National Archives introduced a number of initiatives and products to address gaps identified through the annual surveys, and assist agencies to progress towards meeting the objectives of the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy. These included:

  • developing a learning resource to build agency capability to meet interoperability expectations set out in the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy to support the use and re-use of government information and data
  • setting a new target to support agency professionalism by requiring senior staff responsible for information governance (Chief Information Governance Officers) to join a professional association to support their continuing professional development
  • carrying out planning and analysis for a capability development program to assist agencies to meet their information management maturity objectives
  • providing practical guidance for capturing social media records to support management of official Australian Government information.

The National Archives will continue its program of policy development and the roll-out of advice, assistance and practical tools to assist agencies in their digital transformation journey to ensure that Australian Government information assets are created and maintained for the benefit of all Australians. Reporting against the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy to the Minister and Prime Minister in 2018 was delayed to early 2019–20 to enable results of the first Check-up PLUS survey to be included in analysis of progress against policy outcomes.

Case study

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world. Its information and data assets are of immense value.

In 2018–19, following a successful enterprise information and data audit, CSIRO was able to identify key systems that required assessment against the National Archives’ business systems assessment framework (BSAF). The BSAF is a tool created to assist government agencies assess the information management functionality of their business systems in meeting Digital Continuity 2020 Policy requirements.

A BSAF pilot study was undertaken to assess information management requirements against one of CSIRO’s high priority business systems. CSIRO tailored the BSAF tool to use language and requirements that met their needs. The successful pilot resulted in the development of a BSAF workflow that is now recognised as ‘business as usual’ within the agency.

The workflow has been a catalyst for linking a range of professionals responsible for adding information and data into business systems, including cybersecurity and privacy officers. BSAF is now considered during project procurement stages, demonstrating that it is part of an organisational culture that is committed to building more robust business systems.

This work was a key step in ensuring CSIRO meets the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy requirement that business systems have been assessed for information management functionality. This assessment ensures that information is available and usable for as long as it is required, and in accordance with business outcomes and risks.

Case study

As an Australian Government agency, the National Archives is required to meet the principles of the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy. In doing so, the National Archives aims to be an exemplar, meeting interim targets within recommended timeframes, and sharing approaches to achieving the goals of the policy with other agencies.

One of the main undertakings in 2018–19 was to identify analogue approval processes and convert them to digital authorisations and workflow processes to meet the 30 June 2019 interim target.

The National Archives approached the task by developing a checklist based on its digital authorisations framework to help assess the business processes and identify any blockers to moving to digital processes. This identified a number of forms which still required ‘wet signatures’. Information management staff worked with relevant business areas to revise these to digital authorisations. In most cases, an email or online workflow approval process was sufficient. Exceptions included external forms which were referred to the National Archives’ Commonwealth Information Policy section to follow up as part of developing whole-of-government advice and support.

The review of authorisation processes provided an opportunity for business areas to examine their practices and better align them with digital business processes. As one staff member stated: ‘My experience has confirmed that it’s a no-brainer to move most processes online’.

Performance criterion two

Records of enduring national significance are identified and transferred into the national archival collection for safekeeping.

Criterion source
Program 1.1 deliverables, 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statements pp.178–9
National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2018–19 to 2021–22

Delivery strategy
Secure and preserve Australian Government information of enduring national significance for the national archival collection.

Result against performance criterion
Three-quarters of Australian Government entities had comprehensive records authority coverage at 30 June 2019, meeting the 75 per cent target.

Preservation work is measured by the number of items that received treatment or were digitised. The case studies below provide examples of the records of enduring national significance transferred for safekeeping in the national archival collection.

Analysis of performance
In 2018–19, the number of PGPA Act Commonwealth entities with comprehensive records authority coverage increased from 135 to 141, representing 75 per cent of a total 188 entities.

During this financial year, the National Archives issued 25 records authorities under the Archives Act 1983. Of these, five provided new comprehensive coverage for the agencies to which they were issued. The remaining 20 authorities related to revisions of existing authorities, or new general records authorities (GRAs) which apply to all agencies. This included GRA41 for Child Sexual Abuse Incidents and Allegations issued in response to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and GRA38 for ministers of state which sets out the requirements for keeping or destroying records created as part of a minister’s official duties.

A disposal freeze was issued in June 2019 to ensure that records which may be relevant to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability are protected and available for the purposes of the royal commission and any subsequent actions by the Australian Government. A records retention notice for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was issued to 22 agencies identified as potentially holding relevant records, suspending their permission to destroy those records.

The Administrative Functions Disposal Authority (AFDA) and the streamlined AFDA Express, which set out requirements for keeping or destroying records of administrative business performed by most Australian Government agencies, were iteratively revised and reissued as AFDA Express Version 2.

The Preservation Digitisation Standards which set out the required standards for digitisation of archival records in all formats were issued on World Digital Preservation Day on 29 November 2018. The National Archives’ collection consists of a wide range of formats including those which are physically deteriorating through use, are inherently unstable, or are at risk of becoming inaccessible due to technological obsolescence of playback equipment. The Preservation Digitisation Standards support the National Archives in delivering its key responsibility to preserve and make publicly available the Australian Government records that reflect our history and identity through the production of a digital copy which is an effective long-term surrogate for the original.

The National Archives preserves items in its collection through physical preservation treatments, as well as digitisation for preservation purposes. During 2018–19, a total of 50,993 items in the National Archives’ collection received physical preservation treatment. An additional 1,804 audiovisual items, 59,852 photographic images and 1,554,413 pages of paper records were digitised under the National Digitisation Strategy which supports both preservation of at-risk formats and access to high demand collections. Key collections digitised under this strategy included World War II posters, photographic material relating to Nauru, Ocean Island and Christmas Island, and Forced Adoptions memorabilia.

Through its on-demand service, which provides digital copies of items for a fee, the National Archives digitised 235,211 pages or images for government entities and made publicly available 1,023 photographic images and 651,086 images of paper records.

Transfers of records of archival significance to the National Archives’ custody during 2018–19 included:

  • Australian Antarctic Division, Tasmania – 1,104 scientific and technical drawings of equipment used for research over the period 1959 to 1992, totalling two shelf metres. The records were approved for immediate release to the public by the Australian Antarctic Division.
  • Federal Executive Council – bound volumes of original minute papers dating from 2010 to 2011, totalling 3.24 shelf metres.
  • National Capital Authority (NCA) – 304 design boards relating to the NCA Design Competitions for Commonwealth Place and Reconciliation Place dating from 2000 to 2001, totalling 18.30 shelf metres.

Case study

In 2018–19, the Australian Antarctic Division transferred station reports, logs and year books (series P1556). The stations covered are Heard Island (1947–63), Macquarie Island (from 1948), Antarctica (1948–54), Mawson (from 1954), Davis (from 1957), Wilkes (1957–69), Casey (from 1969) and other temporary field locations. The transfer included records of operations and events at each station for the duration of each expedition.

The station reports vary in content and detail with some officers-in-charge and expeditioners compiling more thorough reports than others. Logbooks are in diary format, recording daily activities over the period of each expedition.

Matters reported on the files include shipping, equipment, working methods, topography, weather conditions, personnel, specific field trips and station building services such as plumbing, carpentry and electrical. The files include black-and-white photographs depicting station life and activities; large maps and charts; handwritten notes and sketches; and typed reports.

Case study

The Federal Executive Council was established under the Australian Constitution to perform similar functions in Australia to those performed by the Privy Council in the United Kingdom – that is, to advise the Crown. The council is the formal constitutional and legal body responsible for advising the Governor-General.

The records transferred by the council in 2018–19 represent submissions and approvals (series A1572 and A1573) from 2010 and 2011. These transfers add to the complete run of submissions and approvals held by the National Archives dating back to the council’s establishment in 1901.

The minute papers submitted to each meeting provide a significant insight into the operations of the government of the day. Minute papers are prepared in the appropriate department of state and signed by the Minister. The schedule for each meeting lists the minute papers considered, the date and place of the meeting, and those present – usually the Governor-General and two ministers of state.

Once approved, the original, bearing the Governor-General’s signature, is retained in the council records. The duplicate is stamped to indicate that it has been approved by the Governor-General and returned to the department concerned.

The records of the council are considered to be an iconic part of the National Archives’ collection because they represent key decisions of the government.

Performance criterion three

The national archival collection is accessible and promoted, and made available through multiple channels regardless of original format.

Criterion source
Program 1.1 deliverables, 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statements pp.178–9
National Archives of Australia Corporate Plan 2018–19 to 2021–22

Delivery strategy
Connect researchers and the community to the national archival collection and enhance understanding of the role of the National Archives.

Result against performance criterion
The National Archives developed a new public engagement reporting methodology and framework to establish 2018–19 as the benchmark year for measuring progress towards its target of a 3 per cent annual increase in public engagement.

Statistics for onsite, offsite and online public engagement activity provide a quantitative analysis of performance. Case studies below demonstrate the accessibility and level of engagement with the national archival collection, the channels used, and cooperation with other stakeholders.

Analysis of performance
Millions of Australians engaged with the National Archives onsite, offsite and online in 2018–19.

Our research centres, public programs, events and exhibitions attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors across the country, while millions more accessed National Archives services and information through our websites and social media channels.

The National Archives’ public engagement is measured under three streams of activity:

  1. onsite – visits to our offices and research centres located in every capital city
  2. offsite – attendance at National Archives and partner events and activities held at other venues
  3. online – visits to our websites, social media followers and digital media audiences.

Our digital channels continued to drive the majority of public engagement activity. Visits to our websites totalled more than 4.3 million, while social and digital media activity reached an aggregate potential audience of more than 23.5 million across the year. Our digital platforms provide ready access to the collection and National Archives services while promoting the organisation through published information and online media articles.

Digital engagement is complemented by the National Archives’ network of offices in every capital city in Australia. Our state and territory offices (STOs) provide access to the national archival collection, deliver public engagement programs and events, and perform a crucial role in building collaborative partnerships with other cultural and community organisations. Onsite visits to our Canberra head office and seven STOs totalled more than 87,000. Clients visited research centres, attended exhibitions and public programs, and participated in public and corporate events.

More than 270,000 people attended offsite events and activities including touring exhibitions, collaborative events run with our partners, and outreach programs. The touring exhibition A Ticket to Paradise? completed its national tour, attracting a total of 218,248 visitors over four years.

Through its network of research centres and online services, the National Archives continued to assist researchers and other Australians to access the collection. More than 10,000 people viewed records in research centres located in every state and territory capital. In 2018–19, the National Archives received 62,190 reference enquiries and responded to 94 per cent of these within standards of service. In Canberra, research centre services were provided in our temporary location at Old Parliament House while maintenance work was undertaken on our headquarters building at Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes.

A focus throughout the year was assisting people, often child migrants and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have experienced institutional abuse, access records in support of applications under the National Redress Scheme. The National Archives also provided vital evidence of the citizenship of members of parliament in response to inquiries relevant to section 44 of the Australian Constitution.

The opening of our state-of-the-art Western Australia Office in Northbridge in March 2019 marked the beginning of a new era for public engagement in the state. Visitors to the new office in the heart of Perth’s cultural precinct can engage with the National Archives’ collection through a research centre, seminar facilities and exhibitions.

Throughout the year, the National Archives continued to digitise the collection and progressively add the digital copies to its online collection database, RecordSearch. At the end of 2018–19, more than 60 million images (approximately 5 per cent of the collection) could be viewed online.

Case studies

Collaborating to provide public access to collection material

Each STO holds unique collections rich in local material and stories. During the first half of the reporting period, the Tasmania Office worked with the Maritime Museum of Tasmania (a volunteer-funded and managed museum) to develop a display highlighting the Tasmanian maritime records held by the National Archives, including records on Antarctica, trading, immigration, whaling, lighthouses and merchant seamen. From late September 2018 through to early January 2019, the display was viewed by over 8,000 visitors, both domestic and international, contributing significantly to the National Archives’ outreach programs.

Digitising the collection with public help

The Queensland Office conducted a self-service digitisation trial from November 2018, allowing researchers to digitise original archival material in the research centre. Visitors were able to digitise suitable records and save a copy for themselves on USB. After a quality check, the images were loaded to the National Archives' database and made available to the public. The service was enthusiastically embraced by both first-time and regular researchers, historical societies, professional researchers and community groups. During the trial, over 30,000 pages were digitised. The service has led to collaborative work between interstate organisations and across cultural institutions.

Using crowdsourcing to transcribe item lists

The HIVE website provides a digital platform for members of the public to transcribe item lists that are used to make the collection more accessible. HIVE gives researchers access to digitised copies of original item lists received by the National Archives which are not yet on a database. Through a simple data entry screen, users can transcribe the item lists. The data they create is then manipulated into usable item descriptions and loaded to the National Archives’ database, RecordSearch. Thanks to the efforts of online volunteers since 2012, over 527,000 item titles can now be found and ordered online.

Describing unique collections

During the year, the National Archives continued to enhance collection accessibility by describing records at item level on RecordSearch. Work in 2018–19 covered a diverse range of records, including those accumulated by the Medical Equipment Control Committee from 1939 to 1947. The records document the committee’s role in the regulation, research and development of pharmaceuticals in Australia during World War II and the consequent manufacture of these pharmaceuticals in a heavily rationed postwar Australia. The records highlight a strong and influential committee operating within the Department of Defence, making decisions that had far-reaching military, social, economic and medical impacts on Australia, the war effort and the immediate postwar period. For example, the records document the recruitment and employment of women and prisoners of war in research roles in Australian universities to develop new medicines; the use of land and labour in Australian prisoner-of-war internment camps to grow poppies for opium and quinine trees for quinine; and the committee’s responses to personal appeals from doctors for medicine for gravely ill patients.

Harnessing the power of volunteers

A small volunteer team in our Canberra office worked with the National Archives to describe series in the collection. Work included description of a series of ships’ drawings and specifications (MP551/1) dating from 1870 to 1957. The series contains plans for the hulls of Royal Australian Navy vessels, naval vessels from other countries, and non-naval vessels of Australian Government agencies, including the New Guinea Administration. These records are frequently requested but, given the technical nature of the material, have inherent preservation, contextual and descriptive issues. Volunteers with relevant expertise have helped describe the records in greater detail, improving access. To date, this collaboration has resulted in approximately 6,000 drawings being reviewed and prepared for access.

Community engagement

The National Archives continued to provide a range of community engagement programs, including tailored programs for undergraduate and graduate students. In May 2019, following a visit from a group of masters students from the Australian National University’s Heritage and Museum Studies program, we received the following feedback:

It was wonderful for the students to get a deeper understanding of the form and function of the Archives from multiple perspectives – from legislation to missions, collections management, exhibitions and conservation – and then to have a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the new repository at Mitchell. The student feedback was incredibly positive and a couple of them specifically expressed how impressed (and grateful) they were for the amount of effort that you put into the visit. I know how extremely busy your schedules are in a climate of reduced staffing, so taking the time out to talk to students who are just starting out in the field is really special. Thank you all so much!

Access examination

The Archives Act 1983 provides a general right of access to records in the open access period, unless they are exempt under one or more of the 16 exemption categories defined in section 33. Before records are released, they are examined by National 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 National Archives’ program of proactive release.

On 25 April 2019, amendments to the access provisions of the Archives Act took effect. The amendments provide the National Archives with tools to appropriately manage requests for access to large numbers of records. They provide more realistic timeframes for processing applications, both for access and for internal reconsideration. The amendments also facilitate efficient and equitable access to open-period Commonwealth records for a broader range of applicants by enabling the National Archives to extend the statutory timeframe within which it must respond to an application for access. Since the amendments came into effect, statutory timeframes for access have been extended for 18 applicants.

At 30 June 2018, there was a backlog of 25,942 applications for access to records. During 2018–19, the National Archives received 46,298 new applications for access to records and released 43,860 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. This means that the examination of a single item may result in the completion of a number of applications. The National Archives also released 270,738 records as part of its program of proactive release. Proactive releases included the release of records relating to climate change; the immigration of displaced persons following World War II; case history material for tropical cyclones; postmaster diaries; Department of Works files; alien registration files; and key 1996–97 Cabinet records.

At 30 June 2019, there was a backlog of 23,197 applications for access to records from the public pending examination. The National Archives continues to manage the backlog in addition to responding to new requests and maintaining its program of proactive release.

Table 3 I Number of records access-examined (2018–19)

Reasons for examination

Number of items

Response to public access applications


Proactive release program




Table 4 I Decisions on access (2018–19)

Decisions resulting from access examination

Number of items

Wholly released


Partially released


Wholly exempt




Table 5 I Time taken for simple access examination (2018–19)

Time taken to make decisions

Number of items

Within 90 days


More than 90 days




Table 6 I Time taken for complex access examination (2018–19)

Time taken to make decisions

Number of items

Within 90 days


More than 90 days




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 I Application progress by financial year (2009–19)

Access examination applications and outcomes for 2018-19 compared to previous years back to 2009-10.