President’s Report

A number of issues have recently emerged that are set to become hot topics over the next months and perhaps years.  Firstly, the reduction in the number of students studying History at secondary school, because of the proliferation of WACE subjects in Years 11 and 12. Secondly, the position of History in WA Government Arts Leadership Group’s Strategic Directions 2016-31. Thirdly, the continuing lack of storage space for State Archives and the challenge of born-digital archives.

History in the Curriculum

The position of History in the curriculum has long troubled the History Council. Recently the media reported a significant decline in the number of students studying History. We first became active in this space in 2005 when we formed a History in Schools Working Party. At that time, we met with the CEO of the WA Curriculum Council when the Year 11 and 12 History Course of Study was being reviewed and then our expressed outrage when the mandatory course in Australian History was dropped from Year 11 and 12. In 2006, I was privileged to be invited to the Prime Minister’s Australian History Summit in Canberra, and later that year we held a forum in Perth on ‘History and Secondary Education’. Then in 2009 we held a forum on the National History Curriculum, with guest speaker Stuart Macintyre, then Ernest Scott Professor of History at Melbourne University, who had been charged with framing the new National History Curriculum.  You will remember what a political football that became.  Now, nearly a decade later, we find that the number of students studying History at Yrs 11 and 12 in WA is in decline.

WA Government Arts Leadership Group’s Strategic Directions 2016-31

I recently delved into this tome.  I was somewhat concerned that the word ‘history’ in the sense of ‘our history’ or ‘the state’s history’ appeared only twice in the 47-page report and the word ‘heritage’ only ten times; I was pleased, however, to read that a key outcome to be measured is that ‘Western Australia’s unique cultural and natural history assets are preserved, valued and recognised nationally and internationally.’ The present situation suggests that a significant injection of funding will be required to achieve this outcome. I further read, in the section headed ‘Technology’;

Our great State collecting institutions – Western Australian Museum; the State Library of Western Australia; the State Records Office and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, have the potential to harness the State’s collective history digitally and present new images, sounds, text, objects, means of engaging with, participating and developing our assets. An important goal will be planning for this future and understanding how to incentivise innovations through technology, which will be an area requiring considerable ongoing work over the next five years.

This is an urgent, neglected and ongoing issue.

Machinery of Government Review and Archives

Technology was a key theme in a talk by Duncan Ord, Director-General, Department of Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) on 14 March 2019. Organised by the Australian Society of Archives WA (ASAWA), his talk was well attended by archivists.  As the only historian present, I was delighted to have been invited to hear his talk. 

He first gave us the background to the changes that have occurred as a result of the Machinery of Government (MOG) Review established by the Premier. The Premier was concerned by the lack of accountability and transparency in government, duplication, and lack of IT security and, following the election, sought to transform government.  His concerns were echoed in the Langoulant Special Inquiry in Government Programs completed early in his term of government. The Premier was also aware of developments in other places, seeing NZ, NSW and Victoria as potential models.  While changes in NZ were seen as revolutionary, with social well-being joining traditional financial measures of growth, Victoria with 9 super departments and NSW now beginning consolidation of departments, were seen as delivering achievable best practise. 

WA had 41 government departments, with 22 Director-Generals, 5 different payroll systems, 3 IT systems, 5 grant systems and different accounting and HR systems throughout. Meetings of Director-Generals were characterised by discussion based on self-interest and disagreement, with the inability to find consensus leading to a tendency to do nothing.

The key targets of MOG were delivered by June 2017.  They included a 40% reduction in the number of departments to 21, a 20% cut in the State’s Senior Executive Service with a 10% overall staff cut to the civil service.  Further reform is being undertaken in the second phase of MOG.

Duncan then laid out the history of requests, visions, business cases and reports on providing storage for and future proofing government archives, since storage reached capacity in 2001. The importance of archives and the results of inadequate archives storage has now become clear to government following a number of enquiries and royal commissions in which archival evidence could not be found.  Essentially three storage options have been considered.

  1. Building a giant archive — unsustainable as it would quickly reach capacity.

  2. Archival storage by the private sector (as NAA WA has done)

  3. Utilizing Midland Railway Workshops in association with the private sector. This is the preferred model.


Born Digital

Technology will provide the solution for archiving in the future. But as Duncan Ord noted government agencies are not fully engaged in the transition to digital government. This is an issue of great concern to the ASAWA.

The Federal NAA Digital Strategy provides a model.  SRO’s Born Digital Strategy has been reviewed and implementation is estimated at $50m. This requires acceptance by Department of Premier and Cabinet, Treasury and the Public Service Commission, but is hoped ultimately to

  • provide a comprehensive information management framework for a common digital architecture to be used throughout the public service.

  • determine whether new material is archival or ephemeral at birth

  • reduce duplication and improve data sharing, 

  • provide a solution for the archiving of legacy paper and digital records, including microfilm and magnetic data.

Consideration is also being given to a review of the State Record Act by a parliamentary committee.

Jenny Gregory – HC President