CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), Michael Loebenstein, has had to oversee the dramatic de-funding of the institution's work following his arrival from Austria in 2011. Ongoing cuts have placed this nationally significant collection, and its ever-reducing expert-base, at considerable risk.
On World Day for Audio-Visual Heritage in 2015 the NFSA released a statement about the prospects for this collection.
Click here [download] to read the NFSAs Deadline 2025: Collections at Risk.
The document focuses on the case of the NFSA but locates it within the broader national and international context. All holdings of magnetically recorded objects face the same fate within a decade. The document therefore calls for a 'National Framework for Digitisation of Audiovisual Collections' and calculates that only $10 million would rectify this problem at the NFSA.
A not dissimilar cry for help by the NFSA, the National Library of Australia (NLA) and the National Archives of Australia led to funding to develop a business case to address the problem titled 'Dealing with the Digital Deluge' in 2009. The resulting document was hardly actioned.
Click here to read the National Library announcement on the 2009 business case funding.
Such outcomes were earlier anticipated by the Collections Council of Australia (CCA) at the inaugural Digital Collections Summit of 2006. It proposed an 'Australian Framework and Action Plan for Digital Heritage Collections'. This proposal was not funded.
Click here to access the CCAs Digital Heritage Collections webpage via the NLAs Pandora archiving website (click twice to access).
A cause of these funding woes is the levying of an 'efficiency dividend' on federal government departments. Introduced by the Hawke Government in 1987, and intended to be in the order of ~1.0%, it rose to 4.0% in 2012-13 under the Gillard Government, and the last MYEFO (Mid-Year Economic Fiscal Outlook (Federal Budget half-yearly update)) adjustments under the Turnbull Government raised it again to 3.0% - after a brief period of lower rates in between times.
Click here to read background on the efficiency dividend.
Click here to read our news item 'Efficiency Dividend put to the vote', 5 June 2011, for background on the efficiency dividend and how it disproportionately affects technical agencies like collecting institutions. It is important to note that the Australia Council for the Arts still receives an efficiency dividend exemption, and that the best funded of all national collecting institutions, the Australian War Memorial (AWM), has been exempted from the latest cuts. The AWM is located in a different department to most other national collecting institutions and its current Director is a former federal politician, Dr Brendan Nelson.
Small technical institutions like the NFSA now effectively work on the basis of a semi-skeleton staff, and Australia's global lead in the audio-visual preservation field has faltered.
The lack of policy follow-through and efficiency dividend cuts evidenced above belies the fact that Australia avoided recession at the time of the Global Financial Crisis.
For the actual effects of efficiency dividend and budget cuts on collecting organisations we recommend you read the following items.
Click here to read press on efficiency dividend cuts in The Canberra Times, 16 December 2015 by Towell, Colley and Back and click here and in The Guardian, 12 February 2016 by Karp.
Click here to read press in The Canberra Times, 22 February 2016 by Belot, on the National Library and for cuts affecting the high profile issue of the National Library's Trove service (online library database aggregator) read the #fundtrove summary (24 February 2016); 'Peak bodies advocate for Trove' (15 March 2016); the 'fundtrove' Facebook page; and example letter of advocacy on behalf of Trove from the History Council of Victoria.
Please consider writing to your local Member about these issues. The fundtrove model letter of advocacy provides a basic shape for your letter addressing any or all of the above cuts and policy shortfalls.