HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.31 pm]: I rise tonight because I want to draw the attention of members to the effective disappearance of the State Records Office from the 2019–20 budget. I have already noted on multiple occasions that the establishment of the State Records Commission and the supporting State Records Office was a direct result of recommendations arising from the royal commission into WA Inc. I have spoken before about the importance of record keeping, not only as a transparency and accountability measure, but also as a human rights measure. I remind members of issues such as access to records for people seeking redress for stolen Aboriginal wages, or former wards of the state trying to access their care records.
Outside the State Records Office, we know that government agencies have spent over $40 million over the past five years simply on storage and archiving. That is because the State Records Office has not been able to take records into its archive since 2001, when it began life as an agency. The starvation of funding for the State Records Office has meant that agencies have spent over $8 million in the past five years on private consultants to advise how to manage their records. By comparison, that is nearly four times the entire amount allocated to the State Records Office annually. In the 2018–19 state budget, the service of state information management and archival services was allocated just over $2 million, but yesterday, when I asked a question in Parliament about this, it was revealed that a similar low level of funding has been allocated for the 2019–20 financial year.
There is clearly a high demand for services that the State Records Office should be supplying. For example, the State Records Commission’s most recent annual reports clearly showed the impact of the lack of resourcing of the State Records Office on its capacity to function. The State Records Office provides records management training, but it was only able to deliver targeted presentations to three out of the 14 agencies that had specifically requested training in 2017–18. I note that these agencies included two local governments. That is significant because I remind members that the recent Auditor General’s report, “Records Management in Local Government” found that although approved record-keeping plans exist and are current, they are not necessarily supported by adequate procedures and policies. The Auditor General was clear that more regular and thorough records training will be needed. It is clearly an area in which the State Records Office could and should be providing further advice and assistance. However, it needs to be resourced to do that.
It is also responsible for monitoring compliance with the State Records Act 2000. The State Records Commission of Western Australia relies on the record-keeping review plan cycle and the investigation of suspected breaches. The commission would prefer to implement a complementary compliance monitoring regime as soon as possible but it simply cannot due to ongoing funding restraints. Given the Auditor General’s findings in local government, I think it would be well worth reviewing the policies and procedures of record-keeping plans in our state agencies. Maybe that can be one for the Auditor General’s consideration. Very importantly, the State Records Office is responsible for managing and conserving the state’s archives. The preservation-needs assessment showed that a substantial portion of our existing catalogue needs preservation work, and a lot of our non–paper records, such as those on magnetic tape, are at risk.
A routine conservation program has not commenced, and it will not commence under the current resourcing. We know that a new storage facility is desperately needed for an ever-growing collection of state archives that, by necessity, are being housed by contractors to individual government agencies. That means that they are increasingly inaccessible to the public. I note that another business case for this facility is underway and I will ask more questions about that. In the meantime, members, approximately another 1.5 linear kilometres of archived state records are being produced every single year. The State Records Office continues, I think, to respond very creatively to its incredible lack of funds. However, the ongoing answer to why the office is not doing these things is very simply resourcing. We can see that money is being spent by government agencies at nearly double the usual budget for records management expertise across the public service. Very clearly, starving the State Records Office of funds and simply employing consultants is a false economy.
The State Records Office has been completely buried in this latest budget. It has disappeared as an independent entity from the 2013–14 state budget. The service provided by the State Records Office has gone from being “government record keeping and archival services” to “state information management and archival services”. In this budget, that service has entirely disappeared and has been subsumed into “corporate and asset and infrastructure support to the culture and arts portfolio and government”. The associated note says that it is due to difficulties calculating these measures, those being key performance and other performance indicators. It seems to me that the State Records Office might be having difficulty calculating these indicators because it has been so incredibly starved of funds for so long now that it is very difficult for it to do its job.
I remind members once again that it is a measure that sprung from the Royal Commission into the Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters to raise transparency and accountability across the public service.
I am deeply disappointed by the lack of funding and now the lack of transparency about funding for this office. It is a false economy. However, it is a great problem for integrity of government and I am calling on the government to properly fund this essential work.