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3.3 - Improve the discoverability and accessibility of government data: Archived records

Overall status:

This commitment is aimed at making it easier for the public to find, access and use government data and information. We will do this by making greater use of central portals, digital platforms and other tools to improve discoverability and accessibility.

The commitment by the National Archives of Australia is to modernise and improve access to the national archival collection.

The National Archives can best be described as the memory of our nation: we care for, preserve and make available for public access records that document the actions and decisions of the Government reflecting Australia’s history, democracy and identity. As well as preserving history, the Archives plays a key role in helping to ensure the Government and its agencies are effective, transparent and accountable to the people. The most significant records of the Government are held by the National Archives of Australia. To facilitate citizens’ access to these records through digital and online channels, the Archives will continue to lead the transition from paper to digital information practices in government agencies, digitise paper records of high research value and increase the number of records available for public access.  

Current status

The Archives has successfully conducted the 2017 Digital Continuity Statement survey to determine agency progress towards the targets for transitioning the Government to fully digital information practices. 95% of agencies in scope participated in the survey, and results indicate that progress is being made towards the Archives’ Digital Continuity 2020 (DC2020) policy targets. Eighty-seven per cent of agencies indicate they have completed or are in progress towards the targets for Principle 1, meaning they are digital by default; 90 per cent of agencies indicate they have completed or are in progress towards the targets for Principle 2; and 67 per cent of agencies indicate they have completed or are in progress towards the targets for Principle 3. It is noted that although DC2020 targets were not designed specifically for the Open Government Partnership, the DC2020 Policy is complementary to the Government’s transformational agenda as well as the commitment to open government. It is therefore relevant that agencies are making progress towards more digital maturity and information sharing, supporting the goals of open government.

From 2 July 2018 Check-up PLUS replaced both Check-up Digital and the triennial Survey of Information and Records Management Practices. Check-up PLUS is designed to collect data on Australian Government agencies’ information and data management capabilities and behaviors.

During 2018, the Archives released the beta version of new information management and data capabilities approach, replacing the previous digital information management capabilities matrix. It provides Australian Government agencies and the broader information management profession with pathways to improve skills, with particular emphasis on data for information management professionals. Improving information and data skills will lead to improved management of information and data as government and corporate assets.

Under the Archives Act 1983, the Archives provides access to, promotes and interprets the national archival collection. The collection can be accessed online through the Archives’ websites with new material added each week. The Archives also provides access to the collection via the National Reference Service and reading rooms in each capital city, some co-located with state or territory archives or libraries, providing a one-stop shop for researchers. In addition, the Archives engages with diverse audiences, including school children, veterans and their families and Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse communities to assist them to learn about their heritage and democracy.

Since July 2016, the Archives has proactively released for public access over  435,200 records from more than 320 groups of archival records including records relating to child endowment, the Mabo High Court case, the 1967 Referendum, entries to the Parliament House design competition, and key 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Cabinet records. The Archives has also released an additional 71,070 records in response to applications for access received from members of the public.

To date in 2017/18, the Archives has added over 7 million digital images of collection material to its website. Subjects covered by these new images include Cabinet, passenger arrival, and military service. The Archives continues to support community organisations, government agencies and researchers to commemorate World War I and World War II anniversaries. We have made records about indigenous service personnel, military medical officers and serving and repatriated veterans from various localities available for public access. We’ve recently committed to digitising and making available online records relating to two major wartime organisations – the Civil Construction Corps (CCC) and the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC).

In addition to promoting access in reading rooms and via its website, the Archives provides websites, publications, exhibitions, displays and events that allow people to engage with and explore the collection and its impact on the nation’s heritage and democracy.  The Archives also provides an education program that introduces students and others to the national archival collection and Australia’s history and develops marketing and communication programs, including media engagement, to inform people about the Archives and its’ services.

In 2016/17 the Archives hosted 5.6 million visits to online and onsite programs and services with 4.7 million records accessed online or onsite.

In 2017/18 to the end of April, the Archives hosted 5.6 million visits to online and onsite programs and services. As such, overall engagement numbers have increased slightly from 2016/17, despite the temporary relocation of the Archives’ National Office to Old Parliament House and related curtailment of onsite programming.

Digital access projects launched by the Archives since 2017 include:

  • Facing Two Fronts: the fight for respect telling the stories of Indigenous service personnel and their fight for social justice. Digital exhibition displayed at Archives’ East Block and Darwin offices.
  • Seven new video tutorials were released on the Archives’ Discovering Anzacs website to assist the public understand World War I service records and repatriation records.
  • The upgraded Destination: Australia: Sharing our post war migrant stories was launched on 8 May 2017. The upgrade, which has generated much positive feedback, has facilitated increased public engagement with the Archives’ extensive collection of photographs which document the arrival and settlement of post war migrants.
  • Five videos exploring the shared history of Dutch migration to Australia have been developed for hosting on Destination: Australia website. This program is part of an ongoing program to create links between the Archives immigration related collection and the emigration related collections from the National Archief of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The program also included a scoping study of the Archives collection to identify other Netherlands related material.

Through its network of consultative forums in each capital city, and the planned redevelopment of its corporate website the Archives is refocussing its public engagement mechanisms to further encourage public input into decisions about the proactive release of records in the Archives collection.

Other stakeholders

Government: All Australian Government departments are required to participate in implementation of the Digital Continuity 2020 policy.

Non-Government: National Archives Consultative Forums consisting of representatives of historical, genealogical, military and other research interest groups.

Steps to implementation

Implementation Step Implementation Period Status

The Archives will lead the transition to fully digital information management practices in government agencies. Creating and maintaining information in digital formats better supports timely online access to government data online.

Dec 2016-Dec 2018 Completed

The Archives will increase the number of archival records available in digital formats, including World War II service and passenger arrival records.

Dec 2016-Dec 2018 Completed

Make additional groups of archival records of high research interest available for public access.

Dec 2016-mid 2018 Completed

Status updates for commitments are provided approximately every two months. With each update, agencies are encouraged to provide further and better particulars of the commitment and its steps to implementation, which may result in changes to timelines outlined in Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18.

Last updated: 20/09/2018



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