I speak in debate on the Museums of History NSW Bill 2022. The bill seeks to establish and confer functions on Museums of History NSW and repeal the Historic Houses Act 1980, amend the State Records Act 1998, transfer certain functions of the State Archives and Records Authority of NSW to Museums of History NSW, and consequently rename the authority. Labor does not oppose the bill. Under the bill the New South Wales Government seeks to merge Sydney Living Museums and the records management functions of the State Archives and Records Authority [SARA] into a new entity called Museums of History NSW. Sydney Living Museums was initially established as the Historic Houses Trust of NSW to manage, maintain, and interpret buildings and places of historic importance for the enjoyment and education of the public.
The trust was launched as Sydney Living Museums in 2013 and currently cares for 12 of the most important historic properties, gardens, houses and museums in the State. Those properties include Elizabeth Bay House, Elizabeth Farm, the Hyde Park Barracks, the Justice and Police Museum, Meroogal in Nowra, the Museum of Sydney, the extraordinary Rose Seidler House in Wahroonga, the Rouse Hill Estate, Susannah Place in the Rocks, the Mint and Vaucluse House. Each of those unique properties and institutions tells our story as a State. Indeed, right now we are debating this legislation in a historic building—the oldest Parliament in Australia. But our history does not just rest in our historic and heritage buildings. We must make sure that the history of First Australians and the oldest living culture in the world also has pride of place in the history of Sydney.
The State Archives and Records Authority hosts a vast array of historical records and archives dating back to European arrival in 1788. The agency also manages and stores over 650 kilometres of semi-permanent government records for the New South Wales public sector offices. The agency already partners with the State Library of New South Wales and Sydney Living Museums. Under the provisions of the bill, the State Archives and Records Authority and Sydney Living Museums would merge into one entity called Museums of History NSW. The former would continue to perform its archives functions and be renamed the State Records Authority. It is not entirely clear why the Government is choosing to merge those institutions. The Minister has pointed to the need to better understand and appreciate our contested history in New South Wales, particularly in relation to First Nations people, multiculturalism and our colonial past. While the Government's intentions in this context are good, it is not entirely clear how the merger of those institutions will achieve that.
The Government must do more to ensure that the history of the First Australians, which is not written down, but kept orally and passed on from person to person, is there to inform and enrich all of us. I urge the Minister to ensure that in merging those institutions, the primary focus of record keeping and archiving by SARA is not lost or diluted. We know that the work done by SARA is critical to public accountability and cannot become a side project of the newly merged entity. It is also critical that the work of SARA is not commercialised but reserved as a measure of integrity for the New South Wales public. Still, efforts to ensure that our heritage and preservation institutions are more publicly focused are to be commended and supported. It is in that spirit that we support the bill today.
It is also important to note that the bill will strengthen record-keeping requirements by amending the State Records Act 1998. Those changes include that a record need only be made or received in certain circumstances—not kept as well—for it to become a State record. The bill also shortens the time that must elapse before a State record enters the open public access period from 30 years to 20 years and ensures that when State records enter this period they become public by default. That means that documents and records that are important for public transparency and interest are made available to the public sooner and are more easily accessible. That is a very good thing. The bill also enables the State Records Authority NSW to issue notices requiring public offices to assess and provide a report on record-keeping processes and records management program. The bill will increase the maximum penalty for an offence relating to protection measures and the time within which proceedings must be commenced. It provides that access arrangements may allow copies of State archives to be altered and alters the constitution of the NSW State Archives and Records Authority Board. This important change will ensure that at least one person has knowledge and experience of First Nations culture.
Strengthening the record-keeping provisions of the State Records Act is critical and the provisions in this bill promise to fortify what is a fundamental principle of good governance, accountability and transparency. I note that these principles are critical and the current Government would do well to strengthen these principles within its current practice. One can only hope that strengthening the record-keeping provisions in this bill will have a direct impact across the Liberal-Nationals Government as a whole. Labor will move an amendment in the other place to further strengthen the maximum penalty for an offence under section 21 related to the protection measures—from the current 50 penalty units to 100 penalty units. This moves further than the 75 penalty units proposed by the Government and we think it better reflects the gravity of the offence. Increasing the penalty units and the period in which proceedings for an offence under section 21 of the State Records Act can be commenced from two to three years derives from recommendations from the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I urge the Government to consider further increasing the maximum penalty for offences under section 21.
In conclusion I reflect on the broader principles that we are considering today. History is our story; it is critical to our understanding of who we are as a community and to providing a foundation for all we do to create a better future. As a people we must do better to ensure that our history is not just about buildings and colonialism. Honouring First Nations history and living cultural heritage is critical. Honouring the rich story of our multicultural community is critical. We are a unique State and a unique people, in large part because of our diversity and because of the land that we rest on today. The land of the oldest living continuous culture on the planet is something of which we must be immensely proud. It is my hope that our historical institutions work better and work together to reflect that. I commend the bill to the House.