State Records of South Australia is the government archive responsible for managing an archival collection that comprises approximately 90,000 linear metres of official government records of historical value, dating from the 1830s to the current day. Access to the archival collection by interested bodies and government agencies has traditionally been provided in person at State Records, now all at the Gepps Cross research centre.
To meet with what has become significant customer demand for improved access, and to enable the collection to be accessed by regional South Australians and those interstate and overseas, State Records has embarked on a program of work to digitise records and increase the number of indexes available. In November 2015, State Records entered into a partnership with FamilySearch, a not-for-profit organisation focused on helping people connect with their ancestors through easy-to-access historical records.
Only those records that are currently open for public access, as determined by the agency that is responsible for the records, are provided to FamilySearch. No restricted material is made available. The records accessed by FamilySearch can be accessed by any member of the public who wishes to examine them and who would be free to make a copy of that material, should they wish to do so. FamilySearch has the same access to State Records as every South Australian, and therefore it is incorrect to suggest that they may have access to information that is not publicly available, as has been referred to in some media reports.
In choosing which records are digitised as part of the arrangement with FamilySearch, State Records undertakes a rigorous process. This includes an experienced archivist physically checking the record to make sure that it is open access and a liaising with the government agency that is responsible for the record in order to obtain their permission to have the record included. Only following agency approval do State Records seek to have the record included in the arrangement.
Let me be clear: adoption records are completely restricted under the Adoption Act and State Records would never consider these records for inclusion on that basis. Only those records that are freely available to the public are considered for the arrangement. Generally, social welfare records, including records relating to wards of the state and guardianship of the minister, are restricted for 100 years. This restriction is set by the agency that is responsible for the records.
The only social welfare records that would be accessible to FamilySearch are those that are openly accessible because they are now over 100 years old and where State Records has received approval from the agency responsible. To date, only destitute asylums pre 1911 and records of infants born at the destitute asylums, also pre 1911, have been digitised and published. The digitisation service provided by FamilySearch has seen large numbers of records digitised and preserved, a service benefiting the whole community. These records are published at no cost to the government or community.
In 2016-17, the partnership of FamilySearch saw 140,000 images digitised. Where people do not wish to register with FamilySearch free of charge to access the images, State Records will provide researchers with a digital copy of the record, only charging an application fee of $9.25. There is no requirement for individuals to identify their religion if they are accessing the records via State Records.
State Records has extended its agreement with FamilySearch to include the indexing of the records being digitised, further increasing the accessibility of the records. The FamilySearch program supports community engagement with and access to the state's archival collection and is particularly important for improving access to regional areas and for those unable to travel to the research centre. State Records provides access to the state's archival collection in a number of ways, with the main focus being face-to-face services delivered through the Gepps Cross research centre.
Members of the public are free to attend and view open access records and receive assistance from experienced archivists. State Records' staff and volunteers also undertake digitisation and indexing projects to increase the accessibility of the collection. Access can also be obtained through the on-demand digital copy service, where State Records staff will, for a fee, digitise open access records and provide the customer with a digital copy.
The decision to undertake this contract was made in 2015 by the former government. Partnerships of this nature are common across Australia and, I am informed, have operated in Victoria for 10 years, with many interstate government archives having similar agreements. I annexe to this ministerial statement a copy of the agreement made between the Hon. John Rau, the then attorney-general, and FamilySearch International, which I have read and received permission to table. Read at your leisure.