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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


The century's final decade takes researchers well into the access closed period, meaning that, even with the progressive introduction of the 20-year rule for public access, it will be some time before Commonwealth records are appraised, sentenced, transferred, ingested, listed, examined and then become generally available. What potential survivals may be anticipated?

The agencies in Tasmania which created and accumulated Commonwealth records in the 1990s were already in place. What did change were their office technologies – increasingly with personal computers deploying word processing and email programs – and their names, now reflecting the priorities of the Keating (1991–96) and Howard (1996–2000) governments. Each may be linked to more permanent bureaucratic changes, such as the decommissioning in 1994 of the HMAS Huon naval base, and in 1998 the sale of Hobart and Launceston airports. But federally, the return in particular of the Liberal–National coalition to power after 13 years in opposition meant another round of departmental rearrangements. Even so, their Tasmanian state, regional or area office representation largely remained. The decade did introduce at least one new entity, however, the Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency. It was quickly renamed Centrelink and has become perhaps the most ubiquitous reminder of the Commonwealth throughout the Tasmanian community, and in recent decades the most likely reason Tasmanians enter the Commonwealth record.

In one tragic case, events in Tasmania had a very direct impact on the generation of Commonwealth records, namely the Port Arthur shootings in April 1996. Within months, Prime Minister John Howard convened a meeting of the Australasian Police Ministers' Council. The National Firearms Agreement developed from it. This in turn led to a gun buy-back scheme and, with the cooperation of all the states, uniform gun laws covering ownership and registration. There were myriad recordkeeping implications.

The decade also saw three by now familiar Commonwealth initiatives. In 1996, the new Howard government commissioned yet another Tasmanian inquiry. It was a joint initiative with the Tasmanian Government, whose predecessor in 1992 had already received from Charles Curran Tasmania in the Nineties: government finances, economic performance, challenges and opportunities. Independent Commission to Review Tasmania's Public Sector Finances. Former federal Liberal minister Peter Nixon agreed to conduct a Commonwealth–state inquiry into the Tasmanian economy. The following year he presented The Nixon Report: Tasmania into the 21st century. Report to the Prime Minister of Australia and the Premier of Tasmania, July 1997.

Also in 1996, the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme was introduced. The scheme, which is still operating, is designed to help with the cost of Bass Strait sea travel when passengers accompany a vehicle. In 2010–11, the Australian Government provided assistance for more than 180,000 eligible vehicle crossings, which resulted in yet further Commonwealth records.

During the decade Tasmania's two most prominent Commonwealth agencies continued to evolve. In 1997, the CSIRO Division of Marine Research was formed by merging the Division of Fisheries Research with the Division of Oceanography. As noted, these two divisions had been in Hobart since 1980. Hobart's other pre-eminent national focus, the Antarctic, was further strengthened in 1991 with the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Foundation (CA 7428). It was formed to broaden understanding of international Antarctic issues among the Australian community.


Chapter 1
The Commonwealth and Tasmania, 1901–2000