The 2021-2022 Federal Budget contained few surprises for the GLAM sector, as so many of the initiatives had been announced in the run up to the main event. These included an additional $79.9 million for the National Collecting Institutions, with $9.9 million to the National Library of Australia; $125.6 million for the creative and cultural sector’s Restart Investment and Sustain Expand (RISE) grants, and $5.5 million for the Museum of Australian Democracy.
Despite significant media coverage of the urgent need for investment in National Archives of Australia digitisation, there was no new funding announced in the Budget.
The $1.2 billion Digital Economy Strategy, announced on 6 May, neglected to include provision for community-based digital skills initiatives, which have been so successfully delivered through Australian public libraries. However, there were a number of initiatives under the umbrella of ‘unlocking the value of data’, which included $16.5 million to identify Australian government data assets and establish a searchable data catalogue.
As a digitally orientated profession, librarians will welcome the government’s investment in building Artificial Intelligence capabilities through a variety of strategies. There was $22.6 million for more than 200 scholarships in emerging technologies and $10.7 million to trial industry-led digital skills cadetship pilots.
At a community level, there may be opportunities to build on our partnership with the Australian Digital Health Agency around digital skills and consumer health information, with $500 million to be invested in overhauling myGov and enhancing the My Health Record.
With libraries at the pointy end of supporting digital access in communities, the $130.4 million for improved connectivity in regional, rural and remote areas was welcome and the government announced an additional $5.2 million for a national online safety awareness campaign, building on the work of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
The Budget had a strong focus on supporting regional Australia through a range of targeted programs. The Building Better Regions Fund for community infrastructure benefited from $256.5 million, while the government’s Stronger Communities Programme, which supports small capital projects of between $2,500 and $20,000 received $28.2 million. A Rebuilding Regional Communities program will be established with $6.1 million to assist community organisations and small enterprises in regional Australia to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. The government allocated $0.6 million to carry out a scoping study into establishing Australian Public Service Hubs in regional Australia.
The Budget offered a number of initiatives aimed at assisting vulnerable people and those living in rural and regional Australia to overcome the impacts of COVID-19. For example, $26.3 million has been set aside to support the development of digital foundation skills and digital skills training for job seekers, and $12.2 million for projects that facilitate career opportunities and pathways for women. Libraries offer essential services to many seeking to enter or re-enter the workforce.
A new body, the National Recovery and Resilience Agency, will be established, with a budget of $600 million to support local communities during the relief and recovery phases following major disasters. It will provide advice to government and develop disaster preparation and mitigation programs and could be a useful ally for the work of Blue Shield Australia, of which ALIA is a founder partner.
This Budget was aimed at supporting Australians to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, with the focus on digital skills development and upskilling regional Australia; themes which play to the strengths of libraries.