Media release: Monday, 26 November 2018
The National Archives has issued instructions for the management of Ministers' records, General Records Authority 38 for Ministers of State, which sets out the records that must be maintained by a Ministerial Office as a mandatory obligation under the Archives Act 1983.
David Fricker, Director-General National Archives, says, 'We issue binding standards across government to ensure that official records are kept to an evidentiary standard and are protected from unauthorised alteration or destruction. Protection of records – whether in paper or digital form – is the foundation of integrity, accountability and transparency of government decisions and actions.
'General Records Authority 38 ensures the records of Ministers and their staff are appropriately created, maintained and accessible. This clarification is particularly important now, as Ministerial offices conduct more and more business on digital platforms.'
General Records Authority 38 – a legal instrument made under the Archives Act – sets out the requirements for keeping, destroying and transferring records of former and current Australian Government Ministers and their staff.
At a time when so many Australians are discussing trust in their public institutions, the Records Authorities issued by the National Archives provide confidence that standards of accountability are being maintained. General Records Authority 38 enables Ministers to accountably dispose of records of short-term value, while ensuring records of high significance are preserved by the National Archives for future access.
Implementation of the Records Authority supports Ministers' effective management of the records of their decisions and actions, particularly when leaving office or changing portfolio, and will ensure they are able to meet legal compliance obligations in relation to Commonwealth records created in the course of carrying out their official duties.
Excluding personal, party political or electorate documents, records of a Minister's office are the property of the Commonwealth and therefore subject to the Archives Act. These include briefings, final speeches, social media postings (such as tweets and WhatsApp messages), media releases, portfolio-related correspondence, records of major decisions, ministerial diaries, itineraries and records of official visits.
Mr Fricker says, 'In a recent Senate Estimates hearing, it was made clear to me that there was little understanding among Ministers regarding their obligations and responsibilities in relation to ministerial records. General Records Authority 38 will address this ambiguity, helping to restore the public trust in government and rebuilding faith in our democracy.'
The National Archives ensures the essential records of the Australian Government are created and retained – to serve as evidence of the decisions and actions of the Commonwealth, and also as the nation's memory that connects Australians with their identity and history. As a result, the National Archives plays a vital and fundamental role in the democratic process for all Australians, now and into the future.