Machinery of government changes

See our on-demand video and accompanying slides about processes and protocols to be observed following administrative change.

Latest Administrative Arrangements Orders

IPAA/NAA Machinery of Government Changes (video)

Transferring records following administrative change

Ensuring that the records follow business

  • Business activities and functions may be transferred between agencies as a result of administrative change.
  • The records relating to any such business activities or functions should also be transferred.
  • Records authorities that cover the transferred records can be used by the gaining agencies.
  • In some cases, agencies can jointly control records.
  • An agency should contact the National Archives if it has gained control of records held in the Archives.
  • Websites that are about to be changed should be captured for transfer to the Archives.

An administrative change refers to a change in the way that government business is allocated between agencies. It is also known as machinery-of-government change. Administrative change often happens after elections, but it can also occur at other times. There are four types of administrative change:

  • transfer of business from one agency to another
  • transfer of a whole agency from one portfolio to another
  • transfer of business to or from another government jurisdiction
  • abolition of an agency, with its business being absorbed by its central or head office.

When any of these happen, the records relating to those business activities need to go to the agency that will be doing the work. When the government privatises or outsources agencies or business, the issue of transferring ownership of records also arises.

What happens to the records?

The basic principle to remember with any administrative change is that records follow business. Records relating to the business that is being transferred should go to the agency that will be continuing the work. Agencies that are losing business need to surrender control and transfer records to the agencies that are gaining the business.

If the records are maintained in electronic systems, formal arrangements regarding access, security, compatibility and servicing contracts must be agreed to between the losing and gaining agencies. This could include handing over storage media (eg magnetic tapes or optical disks) or computer systems to the gaining agency.

If there is little or no compatibility between the electronic systems of the respective agencies, transfer could be complicated. For example, the losing agency may be required to provide some form of contractual service to the gaining agency to maintain an electronic system.

The following guidelines will assist agencies that need to lose or gain records. These guidelines are not format-specific, they apply to all records that have been created as a result of business, irrespective of whether they are paper-based or digital.

If your agency is losing some business activities

  1. Identify the records that relate to the business. This includes records that are current, non-current, stored in-house, in external storage and in the Archives custody. If the records are part of a general or corporate records management system (sometimes known as a general correspondence series) you will need to search the indexes or lists (control records) and consult with staff in the affected business areas to identify records for transfer to the gaining agency. If the records are maintained in a separate system (or series) your agency will be able to pass the records and any control records in their entirety to the gaining agency.
  2. Consider the control records. If the record series is handed over in its entirety, indexes and all other control records should be included. If only part of the record series is required, do not divide indexes or control records. Instead, give the gaining agency a copy of the relevant parts of the index. Make sure all control records are annotated to reflect the movement of the records.
  3. List the record types to be given to the gaining agency. Consider if it is necessary to list individual record items for accountability purposes.
  4. Provide the gaining agency with:
    1. copies of the Archives transfer documentation for records in the Archives' custody or records in the custody of a service provider.
    2. copies of any current or previously issued records authorities (previously known as records schedules or records disposal authorities) that relate to the transferred records.
    3. details of storage, maintenance or other charges imposed by the National Archives or a service provider for which the gaining agency will take responsibility, including statements of outstanding debts.
    4. an arrangement for splitting accounts that may occur in the middle of a billing or account cycle.
  5. Arrange the physical transfer of the records with the gaining agency.
  6. Discuss with the Archives the possible transfer of sentenced archival records no longer required for current business use.

If your agency is gaining some business activities

  1. Discuss arrangements for transfer of records and associated documentation with the losing agency.
  2. Check any received records for completeness against the control records, indexes and other lists or information supplied by the losing agency.
  3. Decide on records management arrangements for continuing administration of the new business. Give particular consideration to the appropriate management of digital records.
  4. Retain the records in their original series. Inherited records should not be top-numbered (or renumbered) into current or new series because the original context of the records will be changed and, therefore, potentially lost. Ensure that you can retrieve records by referring to the control records supplied.
  5. Confirm with the losing agency which records are held by the Archives and service providers. Ensure you receive the relevant documentation, including information about charges, contracts and outstanding debts for which you may have to take responsibility. Ensure agreement on any splitting of accounts between the agencies.
  6. If you have become the controlling agency for records that are in the Archives, provide us with the names of agency officers who are authorised to access the records (see below for information about 'controlling agencies').

If records are needed by both your agency and another agency

For records purposes, an agency 'controls' the records that document the business or functions it undertakes and is known as the 'controlling agency'.

The Archives will seek input from controlling agencies when making decisions about the management of records that have been transferred to the Archives, including custody, access and disposal. For advice on how to retrieve or view records that have been transferred to the Archives, see Access to records held by the Archives.

If a series of records has some items in it controlled by one agency and other items are controlled by another agency, you can either:

  • split the series so that each agency takes the items that it controls; or
  • keep the series intact and formally arrange for one agency to hold the records on behalf of the other, recognising that one agency controls certain items and the other agency controls the others.

If the series is in the custody of the Archives, we will register both agencies as being controlling agencies.

In rare cases, specific record items may relate to the business or functions of not one but two agencies, and so the two agencies jointly control the records. In such cases, you can either:

  • copy the records, with one agency holding the originals and the other taking the copies; or
  • formally arrange for one agency to hold the records on behalf of the other, recognising that both agencies control the records.

In such a case, archival records which have been sentenced against a current records authority should be transferred to the Archives with both agencies being controlling agencies. In these circumstances you should discuss with the Archives the possible transfer of sentenced archival records no longer required for current business use.


During the first week after the revised administrative arrangements orders are issued, agencies should work out what needs to be done to align their information and records management with the new arrangements and contact other agencies where necessary. After a month, agencies should have completed any arrangements for transferring the control of records and, where necessary, made the actual transfer of records.

Using Records Authorities

Gaining agencies will need to consider whether or not there is a previously issued records authority (RA) that covers the records that have been gained. A gaining agency will have a number of options available:

  • continue to use all or part of any previously issued RA gained from the losing agency
  • consult with the National Archives about amending the gained RA if there are changes in the nature of the core business or the records management requirements have changed
  • consider whether the records are covered under an existing general records authority (eg AFDA).

Records authorities issued from July 2000 are available. You may be asked to provide details of your current agency core business and existing practices as background to your query.

Archiving websites after an administrative change

Administrative changes usually result in the redevelopment of government websites. As websites are considered a record documenting the interaction between an agency and the Australian public, a snapshot of the old and new sites should be taken and lodged with the National Archives in accordance with entry 1935 of the Administrative Functions Disposal Authority or entry 20329 in AFDA Express General Record Authority (pdf, 401kb).

Further advice on managing web resources is contained in Archiving Websites: Advice and Policy Statement (pdf, 58kb) (doc, 62kb) and Archiving Web Resources: Guidelines for Keeping Records of Web-based Activity in the Commonwealth Government (pdf, 200kb).

Further information

Please contact the Agency Service Centre if you have any queries.

The Australian Public Service Commission has produced a publication Implementing Machinery of Government Changes to assist agencies.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2016