Funding boost for our national cultural institutions

by Bill Browne

Overdue funding boost for ailing national cultural institutions like the National Library, National Gallery and National Archives.

Last month I thundered about the embarrassing state of our national cultural institutions – like the National Library, National Gallery and National Archives – only for the government to announce half a billion dollars in extra funding before my rant made it to air. It could not have come too soon, with the National Archives begging for private donations, reports of water leaks in the National Gallery of Australia, and deteriorating media at the National Film and Sound Archive that they do not have the funding to digitise.

These collections of artworks, books, TV and radio broadcasts, ephemera like leaflets and magazines, diaries, memos, accounts, and websites are an important historical record, with real salience today. When we wanted to illustrate that voter ID laws would derail the Australian tradition of voting in your swimming costume, we found photos of the practice from the 1960s in the National Archives. And when I wrote about our failing freedom of information system, there were some records that I could only find through Trove’s archive of government websites.

The additional funding for cultural institutions is vital, but the next step is for the government to spare these institutions from the so-called “efficiency dividend” – an annual decrease in funding for government organisations. As Frank Bongiorno, Joshua Black and Michelle Arrow argue in The Conversation, these institutions are small, with well-defined responsibilities and they are legally obliged to expand their collections, so it is inappropriate that they are subject to an inflexible measure that is intended to trim much larger departments.

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