Save the National Archives of Australia! More than 150 leading Australian writers, researchers and thinkers have signed an Open Letter to the Prime Minister

The open letter. Media release below. Look out for coverage in media, particularly The Australian by Gideon Haigh on 12 June (paywall) and editorial). Genevieve Jacobs in The Riot Act.

Among other important points, the letter contrasts the treatment of the National Archives of Australia with the largesse enjoyed by the Australian War Memorial. Yet the Archives contains massive holdings of records of Australian service during our wars!

Update 15 June 2021: David Smith, ALP member for Bean, ACT, compares the parlous state of the Archives with the largesse afforded the War Memorial (Canberra Times).

Update 12 June 2021: The National Archives is now accepting expressions of interest for those who may be interested in volunteering with them in the near future. For more information or to submit an application, please see the volunteer page on the NAA website – Volunteer |


More than 150 leading Australian writers and scholars have signed an open letter sent yesterday to the prime minister expressing dismay at the government’s failure to adequately fund the National Archives of Australia – ‘Australia’s memory bank.’

Nobel laureates J. M. Coetzee and Peter Doherty, former Victorian premier Ted Baillieu, and former ABC chairman James Spigelman are among the signatories. Doherty is one of three Australians of the Year, with Professor Fiona Stanley and Sir Gus Nossal.

Among writers represented are Helen Garner, Stan Grant, Gail Jones, Thomas Keneally, David Malouf, Henry Reynolds, Tim Winton, Tara June Winch, Alexis Wright and Clare Wright. Twenty winners of Prime Minister’s Awards for Non-Fiction, Australian History and Fiction are on the list.
Many distinguished historians have joined the group, including the Regius Professor of History at
Cambridge, Sir Christopher Clark, and the Regius Professor of History at Oxford, Lyndal Roper. Both are Australian. Clark called the predicament of NAA ‘a shameful state of affairs.’

The letter comes in response to government inaction on the Functional and Efficiency Review of NAA by former finance secretary David Tune, presented to the Attorney-General eighteen months, which, among other recommendations, called for urgent additional funding for the digitisation of disintegrating magnetic tape and film, to the tune of $67 million over seven years.

No additional funding was provided in the federal budget on 11 May, although the government is to spend $500 million replacing the twenty-year-old Anzac Hall at the Australian War Memorial.

At Senate Estimates on 27 May, the assistant to the Attorney-General, Senator Amanda Stoker, described the loss of irreplaceable records as ‘part of the ageing process’ and ‘business as usual.’

‘The National Archives is one of Australia’s premier cultural institutions,’ says the letter, which was drafted by Graeme Davison, Emeritus Professor of History at Monash University, a former member of the NAA’s advisory council.

‘It has always enjoyed the support of governments of both persuasions…’

‘We were disappointed, therefore, that in a budget that increased the funding of other national institutions, and made very large investments in the expansion of one of them, the Australian War Memorial, no allocation, even of interim funding, was made for the National Archives of Australia.’

The letter also stressed the primary role of the National Archives as a backstop of government and
mechanism of accountability: ‘As the institution created by parliament to maintain the official records of the Commonwealth, the National Archives is one of the pillars of our democracy,’ says the group.

‘It makes decision-making more transparent. It holds governments, past and present, to account.’

For further information, contact

Emeritus Professor Graeme Davison (0425743671)

Gideon Haigh (0407546119)

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