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Research Guides


Sound Recordings in the National Archives


9. Inquiries and Royal Commissions

The following audio records were created by agencies involved in inquiries. Some of these agencies were established for official inquiries such as royal commissions, while others are full-time government agencies with a long-term interest in national security.

Some items in the series described in this guide are not available for public access, either because they are less than 30 years old or because they contain sensitive information.

Australian Security Intelligence Organization

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) (now spelled Organisation) was established on 16 March 1949, following a directive from Prime Minister Ben Chifley. The Prime Minister stated that the new organisation was part of the Commonwealth’s defence forces and, unless specifically directed, had no concern with the enforcement of civilian law. ASIO’s role was to defend the Commonwealth from external and internal dangers ensuing from espionage and sabotage, and from the actions of persons or organisations (whether directed from within or without Australia) judged to be subversive to the security of the Commonwealth.

On 13 April 1954 Prime Minister Menzies announced the discovery of a Russian espionage organisation in Australia, and on 30 April 1954 he announced a royal commission to inquire into Soviet espionage in Australia.

ASIO FILM AND SOUND RECORDINGS, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1949–
Canberra and Sydney
This series consists of film, video and sound recordings in various formats, dating back to 1940. Films include surveillance footage of events such as meetings, national congresses and marches. The material was recorded for a variety of purposes, such as training and the 1954 Royal Commission on Espionage.
Series: A8703
Quantity: 11.66 metres (Canberra) 2.7 metres (Sydney)
Recorded by: 1949– Australian Security Intelligence Organization, Central Office (CA 1297)
LONG-PLAYING GRAMOPHONE RECORDS ON THE ROYAL COMMISSION ON ESPIONAGE, ALPHANUMERIC SERIES, 1952–55
Canberra and Sydney
This series contains long-playing records of transcriptions of recordings originally made by wire and tape recorders concerning the defection of V M Petrov from the Soviet Embassy in 1954. The recordings are of conversations, speeches and parliamentary broadcasts. Letter prefixes distinguish particular groups of records, eg 'RC' (Royal Commission on Espionage) and 'P' (parliamentary debates and other Royal Commission on Espionage material), and a single number distinguishes each record within the group.
Series: A6281
Quantity: 0.72 metres (Canberra) 2.34 metres (Sydney)
Recorded by: 1952–55 Australian Security Intelligence Organization , Central Office (CA 1297)
Parliamentary debate on the Royal Commission on Espionage, 1955 A6281, P9
Debriefing of Petrov, 1954 A6281, RC43

Royal Commission into Human Relationships

On 21 August 1974, the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam announced an inquiry into the effects of human relationships on Australian society. The terms of reference for the commission were to inquire into, and report on, the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships, so far as those matters were relevant to the powers and functions of the Australian Parliament and Government. The commission was to give particular emphasis to the concept of responsible parenthood and experience in other countries.

The royal commission received 1 264 written submissions from individuals and organisations. Oral evidence from 374 people was given at public hearings held in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Bunbury (Western Australia) and Hobart.

CASSETTE TAPES OF THE COMMISSION, 1975–76
Sydney
This series contains cassette tapes recorded by the commission in the course of its activities or presented to it.
Series: A4052
Quantity: 0.06 metres
Recorded by: 1975–76 Royal Commission into Human Relationships (CA 1891)
OPENING OF THE COMMISSION AND STATEMENTS OF INTENTION REGARDING EVIDENCE AND SUBMISSIONS, 1975–76
Sydney
This series contains two reel-to-reel tapes recorded at the opening of the commission on 6 November 1974.
Series: A4054
Quantity: 0.06 metres
Recorded by: 1975–76 Royal Commission into Human Relationships (CA 1891)

Department of Foreign Affairs

The Department of Foreign Affairs was created in 1970 and took over functions previously carried out by the Department of External Affairs (II). It was given responsibility for Australia’s relations with other countries and the control and management of Australian diplomatic and consular offices abroad. In 1987 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was established to combine the functions of the former Department of Foreign Affairs and those of the former Department of Trade.

INTERVIEWS WITH EAST TIMORESE WITNESSES about THE DEATHS OF AUSTRALIA-BASED JOURNALISTS IN 1975, 1976–
Canberra
In April and May 1976 three Foreign Affairs officers visited East Timor to investigate the deaths of the five Australia-based journalists at Balibo in mid-October 1975. During two separate trips to Balibo and one to Atambua in West Timor, they taped interviews with witnesses. Transcripts were made of the English language portions of the tapes and these are held in item A1838, 3038/10/12/4 part 3. The Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia sent a number of tapes back to Australia in July 1984. The contents of these tapes were re-recorded onto compact discs by the Sydney Office of the National Archives.
Series: A11683
Quantity: 0.18 metres

Royal Commission on Norfolk Island

The Royal Commission on Norfolk Island was established in 1975 to inquire into, and report and make recommendations on, the future status of Norfolk Island, its constitutional relationship to Australia and the most appropriate form of administration for Norfolk Island if its constitutional position were changed.

The commission issued invitations via the press throughout Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands to people and organisations interested in giving evidence to the inquiry. Public hearings were held on Norfolk Island (lasting nine weeks) and in Canberra and Brisbane.

TAPE RECORDINGS OF THE LAST SIX DAYS (OF) HEARINGS ON NORFOLK ISLAND, 1977–78
Canberra
The last six days of hearings on Norfolk Island (held in November 1975) were tape-recorded because of financial constraints. Tapes from each day's hearing were flown to Australia where they were transcribed, and the transcript was sent to Norfolk Island within three days.
Series: A4635
Quantity: 0.65 metres
Recorded by: 1977–78 Royal Commission on Norfolk Island (CA 2032)

Committee of Inquiry into Telecommunications Services in Australia

The Committee of Inquiry into Telecommunications Services in Australia was announced in September 1981 following a report by McKinsey and Company into Telecom’s management structure and its functions and statutory obligations. Public hearings were held between March and May 1982 in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, and the towns of Mt Isa, Blackall and Burketown (Queensland) and Katherine and Nhulunbuy (Northern Territory).

Submissions were received from 150 organisations and individuals. The commission was also known as the ‘Davidson Committee’ and the ‘Telecommunications Inquiry’.

CASSETTE RECORDINGS OF PUBLIC HEARINGS, 1982
Sydney
This series consists of seven cassette recordings of public hearings conducted at Mt Isa, Burketown, Blackall and Nhulunbuy.
Series: A5715
Quantity: 0.09 metres
Recorded by: 1982 Committee of Inquiry into Telecommunications Services in Australia (CA 3419)

Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam

The Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam was also known as the ‘Agent Orange Inquiry’ or the ‘Agent Orange Royal Commission’. The commission investigated the use of chemical agents during the Vietnam conflict and the effect on the Australian personnel exposed to them. It also investigated the operation and administration of the Repatriation Act 1920, the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) Act 1962 and other relevant Acts, in the light of claims by Australian personnel of disabilities caused by exposure to chemicals.

SOUND RECORDING OF RADIO PROGRAM CONCERNING THE ROYAL COMMISSION, 1984
Sydney
This series consists of one 7" audio tape of a program broadcast on 27 February 1984 by 2NCR–FM, the radio station of the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education, Lismore. The program is an interview of Graeme Ellis, counsel assisting the Royal Commissioner, Justice Evatt.
Series: C1517
Quantity: 0.13 metres
Recorded by: 1984 Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam (CA 3461)

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