Advice to agencies, ministers, Members of the House of Representatives and Senators
Red and blue books
These are incoming government briefs and are written before the election for both the government and opposition of the day.
Both briefs are archival resources of the Commonwealth. They are designated: 'retain as national archives' in class 62657 of AFDA Express Version 2 – External Relations. Where an agency creates these briefs, both must be preserved for transfer to the National Archives. Destruction of either would constitute a breach of section 24(2)(b) of the Archives Act 1983.
Machinery of Government changes
If there are Machinery of Government changes after the election, agencies will need to assess the effect on their records to ensure a smooth transition if functions are transferred from one agency to another. The rule of thumb is that the records follow the function. See Transferring information following administrative change for guidance.
For detailed information about conventions during the caretaker period, see the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Guidance on Caretaker Conventions | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (pmc.gov.au).
Ministers and parliamentarians
The records of ministers made or received in connection with their ministerial responsibilities are Commonwealth records and must be treated accordingly. The disposal of ministers' records is authorised by General Records Authority 38. It differentiates between ministers’ records, agency records and non-ministerial records.
Ministerial offices need to ensure that when a minister leaves office their ministerial records, especially those that are identified in GRA 38 as ‘retain as national archives’ (RNA), need to be placed into a Commonwealth recordkeeping system. This could be done either by transferring the records to the National Archives or to the relevant portfolio agency, which can later arrange the transfer to the National Archives.
Ministers are accountable for the records created for their current and former portfolios. Failure to capture records into a Commonwealth recordkeeping system may be considered as unauthorised disposal of Commonwealth records under the Archives Act.
Further advice on the use of GRA 38 may be found in the Quick reference guide to General Records Authority 38 – Ministers of State and the Quick reference guide on managing ministerial records.
Agencies should contact their Departmental Liaison Officers in Parliament to discuss their ministers’ records.
Disposing of records
Commonwealth records cannot be destroyed or removed from Commonwealth custody without permission from the National Archives, such as GRA 38.
Commonwealth records received from a department or other government agency on a read-and-return basis should be returned to the creating department or agency when they are no longer needed for business purposes, or when the term of office finishes.
Cabinet documents are Commonwealth records subject to the Archives Act. They must be managed in accordance with the Cabinet handbook or as directed by the Cabinet Secretariat – and the Archives Act.
If not required by the National Archives, non-Commonwealth records may be destroyed when they are no longer required or when the member leaves office. This should be done securely to protect privacy and confidentiality. Read more about the compliant destruction of Commonwealth records.
Alternatively, they can be kept for personal or reference purposes or deposited with local or state institutions such as archives, libraries or universities.
Ministers’ social media
Ministerial records created or received using social media in connection with discharging a minister’s ministerial responsibilities are Commonwealth records. These include records created or received via official and unofficial channels, accounts, apps or personal devices.
Ministerial records created or received using social media need to be captured and managed appropriately – that is, placed into a Commonwealth recordkeeping system.
The National Archives’ website and GRA 38 clarify requirements and identify all ministers’ social media records to be retained permanently as part of the archival resources of the Commonwealth.
These requirements also apply to encrypted social media messages sent via platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram. The messages must be permanently decrypted before capture into a Commonwealth information management system. Social media authors are personally responsible for ensuring that social media records created using third-party social media platforms are captured into approved government information management systems. People responsible for properly capturing social media records include:
- ministerial office staff
- agency employees
- others acting on behalf of the government, such as contractors.
Transferring Commonwealth records
Commonwealth records relating directly to official government or parliamentary business that are identified as ‘retain as national archives’ need to be kept and transferred to the National Archives. These records form part of the archival resources of the nation and are described in GRA 38 or a general records authority such as AFDA Express Version 2 issued by the National Archives.
Examples of records to be transferred to the National Archives include:
- appointment diaries
- final speeches and media statements
- daily itinerary papers
- official briefings
- portfolio related correspondence
- records of deliberations on official business
- communication via social media platforms with stakeholders including the general public.
Contact us for advice about preparing records for transfer.
The National Archives actively seeks to acquire non-Commonwealth or personal records of national significance and public interest. These include records which:
- complement the archival resources of the Commonwealth
- retain evidence of accountable government
- and provide a source for future scholarship.
Our priority is to collect personal records of governors-general and prime ministers. We may also consider acquiring records collected by other significant individuals associated with the Australian Government.
For more information see Information and records management for senators and MPs.