Funding-starved National Archives struggles with cyber resilience

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The National Archives of Australia is struggling to maintain cyber resilience as the agency battles budget and staff cuts that are also putting important records at risk and slowing the work of researchers.

But the government has rejected the idea the agency is under resourced, as it mulls major reforms recommended in a damming internal review of the National Archives handed to it more than a year ago.

Significant vulnerabilities were identified by the ANAO in its 2018 review of the National Archives’ cyber resilience, which triggered the development of a cyber resilience framework and supporting plan.

A subsequent, wider review of the agency in 2020 found implementation of the cyber strategy had been slowed by “funding pressures” and more resources were needed.

The National Archives has warned it is struggling with cyber resilience

The National Archives has lost between five and nine million dollars in funding each year for the last five years through government savings measures and increases to “efficiency dividends”.

During Senate Estimates on Wednesday, National Archives director-general David Fricker answered questions about the review, which the government is yet to respond to despite receiving it more than a year ago.

Mr Fricker confirmed  the agency was struggling with resourcing pressures which forced two rounds of redundancies since 2014 and limited upgrades of technology.

The pressures are manifesting in three immediate areas of concern, according to the Archives director general.

“The [three] areas where we are feeling the most pressure at the moment are maintaining our cyber resilience – so investments in our cyber security capability – [and] the preservation of records at risk … and keeping up with the demand for declassification of records,” Mr Fricker said.

Mr Fricker explained there are many unique records at risk because of the format they are stored on. He said the agency needs to invest tens of millions of dollars more in technology and staffing to safely migrate and protect the records, which include indigenous cultural artefacts.

Losing the records would constitute a breach of the Archives Act, a key concern raised by the internal review.

Mr Fricker said resourcing pressures were also contributing to delays in assessing and releasing archives to researchers with a backlog now sitting at more than 20,000 applications.

Despite the evidence presented, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General Amanda Stoker rejected questions from Labor Senator Raff Ciccone about resourcing pressures compromising the National Archives, which is mandated to preserve records.

“I don’t accept that they are in breach of the [Archives] Act. If there is evidence of that I will be interested in it. But I don’t accept the premise that the Archives are being starved [of funding],” Senator Stoker said.

“They receive a considerable amount of resources annually for their important work.”

Senator Stoker said the delay on a government response to the 2020 review was due to the significant changes it proposes for the National Archives. She said implementing “some version” of the recommendations would cost more than $200 million.

She declined to set a date for the government’s response but said it can be expected by the end of the year.

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