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The key legislative instrument defining the broad function and activities of the Museum is the National Museum of Australia Act 1980. This Act established the Museum as a Commonwealth statutory authority and, along with the National Museum of Australia Regulations 2000, defines its role, functions and powers.

The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act)  establishes the framework for use and management of resources by Commonwealth agencies and is supported by a suite of rules, policy and guidance. The framework covers accountable authorities and officials; planning, performance and accountability, use of management of public resources, appropriations and cooperating with other jurisdictions.

The Public Service Act 1999 covers the powers of the Director of the National Museum of Australia in relation to the management of human resources.