Senators and members of the House of Representatives create and receive large amounts of information and records as part of their duties. These may relate to ministerial, parliamentary, party political, electorate, professional or private activities.
Information that relates directly to official government or parliamentary business, such as the role of a minister of state, parliamentary secretary or other office holder, is a Commonwealth record and subject to the Archives Act 1983. Other office holders include the presiding officers, Leader of the Opposition, shadow ministers and chairs of parliamentary committees.
Commonwealth records need to be maintained as evidence of government or parliamentary business, to protect the rights and entitlements of Australians and the government, and as part of Australia’s heritage.
The most valuable Commonwealth records are kept permanently by the National Archives of Australia as part of the archival resources of the nation.
Information and records should be managed properly so they will be available when needed for business and accountability purposes and to meet community expectations.
What are Commonwealth records?
Information and records come in many different formats. Today they are predominantly digital and include email and other correspondence, documents, spreadsheets, social media, websites and data sets. They may be on desktop computers, mobile phones or other devices, in the cloud or on storage media such as a DVD or USB thumb drive.
Commonwealth records in ministerial offices include:
- correspondence written or received by a minister
- Cabinet papers
- briefings and advice from departmental and ministerial advisers
- social media communications, such as postings on official ministerial Facebook and Twitter accounts
- master copies of speeches given in the capacity of minister
- ministerial media releases.
For further advice on managing information and records of ministers of state, including prime ministers and parliamentary secretaries, please refer to General Records Authority 38: Ministers of State (GRA 38). The National Archives has also produced a supporting quick reference guide on using GRA 38 and a quick reference guide on managing ministerial records.
Cabinet papers should be managed in accordance with the Cabinet handbook.
Other office holders, such as members of the opposition front bench or chairs of parliamentary committees, might also hold Commonwealth records such as departmental briefings or records created or received in their official capacity.
Records not made or received in connection with the official duties of senators or members are not subject to the Archives Act, but should be managed to ensure they can be retrieved when needed.
These non-Commonwealth records are considered to be personal records of the senator or member concerned and may include:
- information or records concerning the senator or member’s electorate matters, including correspondence with or on behalf of constituents and electorate office management
- information or records relating to private matters of the senator or member (eg personal correspondence, private papers, personal photographs)
- staff, finance and office management records (excluding those relating to ministerial offices)
- information or records of party political matters, such as party organisation, leadership and caucus records.
The National Archives actively seeks to acquire non-Commonwealth or personal records of national significance and public interest, 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 Commonwealth Government.
Information and records should be created to document all business activities. Many are created automatically as part of business activities, but others need to be created deliberately. This includes records of meetings, discussions and decisions or instructions given verbally.
You may need to record:
- what happened, when it happened or who was involved
- what was decided or recommended and by whom
- what advice or instruction was given
- the order of events or decisions.
Organising and titling records
Records should be organised in a way that enables easy retrieval. A logical folder structure or file plan that is understood by everyone in the office will ensure that everyone knows where to keep records and where to find them.
The highest level folders or containers should group together major issues or categories such as research interests, constituent correspondence, parliamentary committees, visits, press clippings, speeches, invitations and staffing, finance and office administrative records.
Lower level folders should be used to keep together information that relates to individual topics or subjects using a simple system such as subject or name in alphabetical order, or a numbering or date system.
The National Archives advice on managing information and records in network drives includes advice on setting up a folder structure or file plan.
Good folder and file titles are the key to ensuring information and records can be found when they are needed:
- Titles should be meaningful so that everyone can understand what the record is about. Avoid vague terms like 'miscellaneous' or 'general', and spell out abbreviations and acronyms that are not commonly used.
- Titles should include details to distinguish between similar records, for example a date, version or time period.
- Titles should be consistent with elements such as subject, name or date in the same order and format.
This short video from the National Archives provides more information about good titles.
Capturing social media records
Ministerial records created or received using social media (via official and unofficial channels, accounts, apps or personal devices) in connection with discharging a minister's ministerial responsibilities are Commonwealth records.
These ministerial records need to be captured and managed appropriately, before being transferred to the National Archives, as archival resources of the Commonwealth, in accordance with General Records Authority 38 - Ministers of State (GRA 38).
Please refer to managing social media for more advice on managing and capturing social media records.
Commonwealth records cannot be destroyed or removed from Commonwealth custody without permission from the National Archives. 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.
For informing decisions to destroy or otherwise dispose of Commonwealth records created or received by ministers of state, including prime ministers and parliamentary secretaries, please refer to the General Records Authority 38 - Ministers of State (GRA 38).
Non-Commonwealth records may be destroyed when they are no longer required or when the senator or member leaves office. This should be done securely to ensure privacy and confidentiality are protected. Alternatively they can be kept for personal or reference purposes or deposited with local or state institutions such as archives, libraries or universities.
How the National Archives can help
The National Archives offers guidance and advice on our web site, including short training videos:
- What's in a name? – Outlines three simple steps to title information and records so they can be easily found.
- Managing emails – Identifies the value of email and provides advice in managing this vital record.
- Keep the knowledge: make a record – Explains information and records management responsibilities and basic principles.
We can provide additional assistance to Senators, Members or their staff if required. Enquiries or requests should be sent to the National Archives' Agency Service Centre.
The National Archives provides a range of advice that is targeted for Australian Government agencies and some of this contains information useful for members, senators and their staff. This includes:
- Managing information and records in network drives – This advice provides some guidance on setting up a record plan or folder structure.
- Quick reference guide on managing ministerial records – This advice provides practical guidance on managing records created by ministers.