Disposal of Commonwealth records in the absence of an agency-specific records authority

This advice is for Australian Government agencies that do not have, or are in the process of developing, agency-specific records authorities covering their unique business functions. It contains practical tips for the disposal of certain types of Commonwealth records.

Notes:

  • 'Records' is used as a collective term to cover Commonwealth data, information and records.
  • The advice covers the disposal of records in both analogue and digital formats.

Disposal and destruction of records

Disposal is defined as a range of processes associated with implementing decisions such as retention, damage or alteration, deletion or destruction of records. Disposal may also include the migration or transmission of records between systems, and the transfer of custody or ownership of records.

Destruction is the complete and irreversible physical erasure of the record which ensures that the record cannot be reconstituted or reconstructed. In addition, any treatment or modification of a record that would prevent obtaining of information from that record that could previously have been obtained from that record is considered to be destruction.

Section 24 of the Archives Act 1983 provides that Commonwealth records can be destroyed:

  • as required by a specific law
  • with the permission of the Archives or in accordance with a practice or procedure approved by the Archives (ie. records authorities)
  • or in accordance with a normal administrative practice (NAP) that the National Archives has not disapproved.

Authority to destroy certain records

The National Archives authorises disposal of Commonwealth records for the purposes of the Archives Act 1983 by issuing agency-specific Records Authority (RAs) and General Records Authorities (GRAs). 

In the absence of a specific law or of an agency-specific records authority covering the disposal of your agency’s unique records, you can manage the disposal of certain Commonwealth records by using:

  • National Archives’ general permissions:
    • GRAs for the destruction or transfer of records of some common business activities, such as accredited training, grant management, outsourcing, scanning of original records, advisory bodies, etc.
    • AFDA Express version 2 for the destruction and transfer of records relating to the administrative functions performed by Australian Government agencies. This general records authority covers 15 common administrative functions. Examples include financial management, personnel management, procurement, ICT, and work health and safety.
  • Your agency’s Normal Administrative Practice (NAP) process - that the National Archives has not disapproved - for the destruction of low-value information, duplicates, externally published material, and unofficial information. 

The regular use of these three disposal permissions will help your agency to: 

  • identify records of national significance relating to common administrative functions 
  • avoid problems of managing and storing certain records for longer they are needed
  • carry out an accountable and timely disposal process.

Remember: Your agency cannot dispose of any records documenting its unique business function(s) in the absence of any specific law or until the National Archives issues an agency-specific RA to your agency.  

The exception is when some common business activities described in GRAs (eg. research & development) are core activities for an agency.

Disposal of digital records

The disposal of digital records requires particular consideration and thorough analysis and documentation. In the digital environment, disposal is conducted across a broad range of systems and technologies where information is vulnerable to alteration. Our Compliant destruction of Australian Government information advice describes what to do before destroying records, what compliant destruction is, methods of destruction and how to record disposal decisions.

Document the destruction of records

You need to document the destruction of records and keep this information as evidence that they were accountably destroyed, in compliance with section 11 of the Archives Regulations 2018

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