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Sunday, 14 February 2016

Another Funding Crisis hits the National Film & Sound Archive

The report in The Guardian set off the alarm bells. One by one the heads of the various cultural institutions located in Canberra gave their evidence to the recent Senate Estimates Committee hearings. The National Library, the National Gallery and the Australian Museum, among others, all reported that that they faced having to make staff cuts or cut programs, extend exhibitions and the like in order to comply with the Turnbull government’s demands for savings to be made. The journalist who wrote The Guardian’s story either didn’t stick around for or didn’t pick up on the fact that the NFSA also faced serious difficulties notwithstanding having shed some 28 staff barely more than a year ago.

The Hansard record of proceedings for this particular discussion is now online and it reveals that at the Senate Estimates hearings NFSA Chief Executive Michael Loebenstein explained the forecast cuts thus:
The impact of the MYEFO adjustment to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia's budget will be: a $387,000 reduction this current financial year; a $890,000 reduction in 2016-17; a $897,000 reduction in 2017-18; and, finally, a $905,000 reduction in 2018-19.  

Responding to a question as to what would be done Loebenstein went on to say:
I can summarise it as: try to do things differently, look at everything that is discretionary, focus even more on what work is undertaken in the agency that is unique and look at all of us as a mosaic of organisations that add up to a whole of the national collecting sector here in this country. We will take a good hard look at what is expendable, what can be faced differently, what we can reduce doing and what we can stop doing. So it is no different than the other agencies. In the expenditure mix of the National Film and Sound Archive, employee benefits make up 70 per cent of our appropriation, about 20 per cent is supply expenses—you will appreciate that there is very little discretion in that space; it only amounts to about $5 million per annum—and property operating expenses only make up 10 per cent. So we are confident, unfortunately, that we will have to look at our staffing base again. ....

We have started engaging not only with management in the NFSA but across the organisation, informing our workforce that after an organisational restructure and fairly substantial staffing losses about 18 months ago we would again be going through a process of looking under every single rock and looking at every single aspect of our business. We were very transparent with our workforce this time around that staffing losses will be unavoidable, but that we did not yet—and still do not—know the scale. You can do some rough calculations based on an FTE average, but that is averages, that is statistics; that is not people. Until we finish the process of consulting across the organisation and working with our senior managers, our line managers, our workplace consultative committee and our staff representatives to sort out what aspects of our work we are going to do differently, we will not know what those staffing losses will be. 

The effect of these cuts, modest as they may be,  leaves unanswered the question facing the the Turnbull Government and its Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield. Neither Government nor Minister have yet been persuaded, to the extent of financial commitment on the table, of the need for large scale additional government investment for digitisation of the NFSA collection. Michael Loebenstein, in a recent note sent to NFSA sympathisers and supporters advised that Fifield, on a visit to the NFSA demonstrated great interest, and substantial knowledge of the issue of media obsolescence, and the need for large-scale digitisation. This interest thus far hasn't translated into any additional funding for a task that becomes ever more pressing and perilous by the day.

No questions were asked so none answered regarding the NFSA's digitisation requirements in the immediate future. 

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