Records disposal freezes and retention notices

Occasionally, prominent or controversial issues or events, or judicial proceedings have implications for the management of records held by agencies. In such cases, the Archives may support compliance requirements or an identified need to suspend Archives' records destruction permissions by issuing a records disposal freeze or retention notice. Generally, these state that agencies must not destroy any relevant records.

Current freezes and notices

There is a current records retention notice on records relating to:

  • Trade union governance and corruption; and
  • Home Insulation Program.

There are current disposal freezes on records relating to:

  • Institutional responses to child sexual abuse;
  • allegations of abuse in Defence;
  • eligibility to join a Commonwealth superannuation scheme;
  • the rights and entitlements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • the Vietnam War;
  • atomic testing conducted in Australian territories, including test sites and personnel associated with the testing.

Records related to Trade Union Governance and Corruption

The National Archives has issued a notice to a limited number of relevant Commonwealth agencies requiring the retention of records relating to:

governance and management of trade unions, related funds, organisations, accounts and financial arrangements, including payments to and from these entities and associated unlawful activities.

The notice suspends the National Archives of Australia’s permission to destroy any relevant records. Relevant records and any associated drafts and working papers cannot be destroyed using any agency-specific or general records authorities or through a normal administrative practice (NAP).

Background

A Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption was announced by the Government on 10 February 2014.

The Royal Commission was established on 13 March 2014.

The National Archives issued a Notice to relevant Commonwealth agencies on 21 March advising that all records of potential interest to the Royal Commission must be retained. The notice is in force until further notice by the National Archives.

This followed an alert to these agencies on 18 February advising that relevant records should be retained pending a formal communication from the Archives.

All Commonwealth agencies have been advised that the Royal Commission may also be interested in records of some outsourced services such as building and maintenance, transport, power or health services functions and these records should be retained.

Further information is contained in the Records retention notice.

Records related to the Home Insulation Program

The National Archives has issued a notice to relevant Commonwealth agencies requiring the retention of records relating to the Home Insulation Program. The Program is now the subject of an inquiry by the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program.

The notice takes effect on 20 December 2013 and will be in force until further notice by the National Archives.

The notice suspends the National Archives of Australia’s permission to destroy any relevant records. Relevant records and any associated drafts and working papers cannot be destroyed using any agency-specific or general records authorities or through a normal administrative practice (NAP).

Relevant agencies include:

  • The Department of Employment
  • The Department of the Environment
  • The Department of Finance
  • The Department of Human Services
  • The Department of Industry
  • The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development
  • The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • The Department of the Treasury
  • Safe Work Australia

Records related to institutional responses to child sexual abuse

The National Archives has imposed a disposal freeze on Commonwealth records likely to be required by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and any subsequent actions by the Australian Government.

The freeze takes effect on 31 January 2013 and will be in force until further notice by the Archives. It applies to all Australian Government agencies.

The disposal freeze suspends the Archives’ permission to destroy any relevant records. This means that relevant records cannot be destroyed using any agency specific or general records authorities issued by the Archives or through a normal administrative practice (NAP).

Background

On 12 November 2012 the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, announced the Australian Government’s intention to establish a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia. The Governor-General issued the Letters Patent and Terms of Reference establishing the Royal Commission on 11 January 2013.

The Archives has determined that a disposal freeze is necessary to ensure that relevant records are protected and available for the purposes of the Royal Commission and any subsequent actions by the Australian Government, for future reference and accountability purposes and to protect the rights and entitlements of stakeholders.

Information about the categories of records affected by the freeze is contained in the official Notice of Disposal Freeze (pdf, 210kb)(doc, 435kb).

The disposal freeze may also be a useful reference for State and Territory governments, and the not-for-profit and private sectors.

Commonwealth agency heads were notified on 23 November 2012 of the pending disposal freeze and were asked to protect records potentially relevant to the Royal Commission from destruction.

Records related to allegations of abuse in Defence

The Archives, in consultation with the Defence Organisation, has imposed the disposal freeze on Commonwealth records potentially related to allegations, handling and consequences of sexual and other forms of abuse in the Defence Organisation.

The freeze takes effect on 22 October 2012 and will be in force until further notice by the National Archives.

The disposal freeze suspends the National Archives of Australia’s permission to destroy any relevant records that could otherwise be legally destroyed under current records authorities issued by the National Archives and designates any relevant records as not suitable for destruction through a normal administrative practice (NAP).

Background

On 11 April 2011 the Minister for Defence, the Hon Stephen Smith MP, announced an external review of allegations of sexual and other forms of abuse that were raised following a 'Skype' incident at the Australian Defence Force Academy. In response, the Secretary of the Department of Defence engaged the law firm DLA Piper to review allegations of sexual and other forms of abuse within the Defence Organisation over a number of years and to make recommendations for further action. On 10 July 2012 Report of the Review of allegations of sexual and other abuse in Defence: Facing the problems of the past was publicly released. 

Following the release of the DLA Piper Report, the Archives has determined that a disposal freeze is necessary to ensure that relevant records are protected and available for future reference and accountability purposes and to protect the rights and entitlements of stakeholders. The Archives has identified the scope of potentially relevant records and the affected Australian Government agencies that may have these records. 

The list of affected agencies and further information about the records affected by the freeze are contained in the official Notice of Disposal Freeze (2012) (pdf, 183kb)  (doc, 308kb).

Eligibility to join a Commonwealth superannuation scheme

The Archives, in consultation with the Department of Finance and Deregulation, has extended the disposal freeze on selected personnel and superannuation records until 31 December 2015. The Archives will provide guidance on strategies for managing records associated with the freeze, and will discuss any specific concerns with individual agencies.  For enquiries, please contact the Agency Service Centre or (02) 6212 3610.

More information about the records affected by the freeze is contained in the official Notice of Disposal Freeze (2010) (pdf, 850kb) (doc, 54kb).

Summary of changes to the scope of the 2010 Notice:

  • Include personnel and relevant superannuation records of permanent employees. 
  • Limit the freeze to records of employees who were engaged prior to January 2000.
  • Include relevant policy and administrative records of all agencies.
  • Include records of medical examinations undertaken by temporary or Approved Authority employees for Superannuation Act purposes.

Background

Prior to 2000, some classes of Commonwealth employees were not required to join a superannuation scheme, but could elect to join. In April 2007 the High Court found the Commonwealth liable for damages because negligent advice about eligibility to join a scheme was given to one of these employees (the Cornwall case). These records may be needed in processing claims.

More information about the previous disposal freezes are contained in Notice of Disposal Freeze (2006) (pdf, 723kb) and Notice of Disposal Freeze (2008) (pdf, 3.02mb)

Records affecting the rights and entitlements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The Archives has extended the scope of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander records disposal freeze to include records relating to stolen wages. It is to include records relating to the payment or withholding of wages, pensions and allowances. It also includes records that contain information, policy or procedures about withholding wages, pensions or allowances from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people between 1 January 1901 and 31 December 1989 or contain information about affected individuals.

This extension applies to records created between 1 January 1901 and 31 December 1989. If agencies have inherited relevant records created prior to this period, they should also be included.

Background

In 1991 the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that the number of deaths was higher for Aboriginal people who had been separated from their families than for Aboriginal people who had not. The Commission recommended:

That Commonwealth, State and Territory governments provide access to all Government archival records pertaining to the family and community histories of Aboriginal people so as to assist the process of enabling Aboriginal people to re-establish community and family links with those from whom they have been separated as a result of past policies of the Government ...

In 1996 the National Archives implemented a freeze on the destruction of all records in its custody that could be of use to Indigenous people tracing their family and community connections.

In 1997 the Bringing Them Home report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families recommended:

That no records relating to Indigenous individuals, families or communities or to any children, Indigenous or otherwise, removed from their families for any reason, whether held by government or non-government agencies, be destroyed.

In its formal response to this report, the Government supported the indefinite freeze on the destruction of records which might be of assistance in Indigenous family reunions. In September 2000 the 1996 freeze was extended to cover records still in the custody of selected Australian Government agencies (pdf, 39kb).

In 2009, the Archives extended the scope of the disposal freeze on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander records. The extension covers records that contain information on policy or procedures about withholding wages, pensions or allowances from indigenous Australians between 1 January 1901 and 31 December 1989, or information about individuals affected by these policies and procedures. The Archives has provided a set of guidelines for agency staff (pdf, 636kb) in relation to this records disposal freeze.

The Vietnam War

In 1980 McMillan and Co, the law firm representing the Vietnam Veterans Action Association, wrote to the Prime Minister urging the preservation of all records that may pertain to the Vietnam War and persons who served in it. In response, the government issued a directive for a records disposal freeze on all records relating to the service in Vietnam of servicemen and public servants.

In particular, but not exclusively, the freeze covers records relevant to the study into the effects of herbicides and other chemicals on those who served in Vietnam. The freeze is not limited to particular types of records such as personal case files and applies to all types of records that may be relevant to future claims against the Commonwealth.

Atomic testing

Between 1952 and 1968 the British Government, with the agreement and support of Australia, carried out nuclear tests at three sites in Australia – Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast, and Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia. Both British and Australian personnel were present at these sites when testing was carried out.

In 1984, following growing public concern about the health effects of the nuclear tests, the Australian Government established a Royal Commission to investigate. To provide the Royal Commission with access to records relevant to its inquiries, the National Archives imposed a records disposal freeze on all records relating to the nuclear tests and the test sites (July 1984). This freeze remains in place today and relates particularly to records containing information about the following:

  • test sites, including their construction, use, decontamination and dismantling
  • operations conducted on the sites
  • personnel serving on the sites
  • personnel serving elsewhere in connection with the tests
  • treatment or disposal of equipment used in connection with the tests, whether located on the sites or elsewhere.
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