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External scrutiny

The National Archives is subject to scrutiny from a number of external bodies, including the Australian National Audit Office, Commonwealth Ombudsman, various parliamentary committees and the courts.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The National Archives makes decisions on access to Australian Government records under the Archives Act. People who are dissatisfied with a decision can, in certain circumstances, seek a review from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

In 2019–20, the AAT received two appeals. Thirty appeals were carried over from the previous financial year. The National Archives responded to 27 of the appeals during the year, with five appeals remaining before the AAT at 30 June 2020.

Federal Court of Australia

There were no cases on matters relating to the National Archives before the Federal Court of Australia in 2019–20.

High Court of Australia

The National Archives had one case before the High Court of Australia in 2019–20: an application filed by Professor Jennifer Hocking appealing the decision of the Full Bench of the Federal Court in Hocking v. Director-General of the National Archives of Australia. The appeal was heard by the Full Bench of the High Court on 4 and 5 February 2020. The court’s judgement was handed down on 29 May 2020.

By a 6:1 majority, the High Court decided that written correspondence (and attachments) between Her Majesty The Queen (or the Queen’s Private Secretary) and the former Governor-General Sir John Kerr from the period of Kerr’s tenure as Governor-General, are ‘Commonwealth records’ within the meaning of the Archives Act. The court ordered that the National Archives reconsider its decision on access to the records sought by the appellant under the Archives Act and pay the appellant’s costs of the appeals to the Federal Court and High Court. The National Archives reviewed the records and made a decision on Professor Hocking’s application. The records were released in full on 14 July 2020.

Australian National Audit Office

The multi-portfolio performance audit report on the implementation of the DC 2020 Policy was finalised in October 2019. A total of seven recommendations were made regarding improvements to the administration, monitoring and evaluation arrangements. Five of the recommendations related directly to the National Archives have been implemented, including improvements to internal administrative arrangements to oversee the implementation of the policy. There has been a delay in the implementation of the other recommendations due to the impacts of COVID-19. All recommendations are expected to be implemented by the end 2020–21.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

One investigation relating to the handling of a reference inquiry was undertaken by the Commonwealth Ombudsman during 2019–20. Following investigation, the Ombudsman decided to take no further action.

Parliamentary committees

There were no submissions to federal parliamentary committees. On 1 May 2020, the National Archives lodged a submission to the NSW Social Issues Committee in response to its inquiry into the State Records Act 1998 and the policy paper on its review.

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner made no reports concerning actions taken by, or practices of, the National Archives during 2019–20.

Legal services and expenditure

The Legal Services Directions 2017, issued by the Attorney-General under the Judiciary Act 1903, require Australian Government agencies to ensure that legal services expenditure is appropriately recorded and monitored. The National Archives’ total expenditure on external legal services for 2019–20 was $709,034 (GST exclusive).