Records authorities and disposal

Business information and records created and maintained by Australian Government agencies, regardless of format, are Commonwealth records. Section 24 of the Archives Act 1983 prohibits the unauthorised disposal of Commonwealth records. The National Archives can provide authorisation in the form of a records authority for your agency.

Records authorities support decisions about keeping, destroying or transferring information and records. The process of creating a records authority identifies the minimum retention period for information and records.

Records and retention periods are based on:

  • accountability requirements - to ensure agencies comply with legislative or regulatory directions.
  • ongoing business needs - records required for day to day operations.
  • community interests - supporting rights and entitlements and long-term historical and cultural purposes.

What is a records authority?

Records authorities enable agency staff to work out how long records need to be retained and when a records will be due for destruction or transfer to the National Archives.

Records authorities contain descriptions of record types and specify the minimum retention periods applying to them. There are two types of records authorities. These are:


Regular authorised disposal will reduce the costs of storing and managing information and records no longer required for business purposes.

Disposal of a Commonwealth record according to the Archives Act 1983 may mean:

  • its destruction
  • the transfer of its custody or ownership
  • damage or alteration

This includes the physical destruction of paper records, the deletion of data from business systems, the transfer of records to another agency as the result of machinery of government change, or the transfer of records to the National Archives of Australia.

Under Section 24 of the Archives Act 1983 disposal of records can take place without breaching the Act if it is:

  • approved by the National Archives
  • required by another law
  • a normal administrative practice (NAP)

Section 26 of the Archives Act 1983 refers to a particular category of Commonwealth records that are over 15 years. These records may not be altered or added to without authorisation from the National Archives.

Occasionally the National Archives suspends its records disposal permissions by issuing a records disposal freeze or retention notice. This action means that your agency must not destroy records, which are relevant to certain events or circumstances, even if records authorities allow such destruction.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017