New Act to ensure record keeping

WITHIN two years it will be illegal for a WA Government agency to misplace or destroy files it should be keeping.

The State Records Act, which came into effect on January 1, requires all Government agencies – including local governments – to create a records management plan to ensure the right records are kept for the correct period of time. Even Parliament must fall into line with the Act.

However, the WA Police Service may be able to dodge the Act. Under Section 23 of the Criminal Investigation Bill – dubbed the Bikie Bill – the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General have the power to by-pass the State Records Act.

Agencies have two years to put together a plan that adheres to principles and standards due for release next month.

The State Records Commission – made up of Auditor General Des Pearson, Freedom of Information Commissioner Bronwyn Keighley-Gerardy, the State Ombudsman and John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library manager Kandy Henderson – has to approve each plan and oversee agencies’ adherence to it.

Breaches of the Act will be reported to Parliament and the relevant public servant risks a fine of up to $10,000.

The new law should be a boon for record management consultants, however, with the Government’s strict stance on outsourcing, some consultants are asking where the money will come from.

Companies tendering for Government contracts will need to follow the record-keeping principles of the agency offering the tender.

The law’s need grew out of the WA Inc Royal Commission that found some WA Government departments had destroyed vital records and senior public servants had failed to keep adequate records.

Indeed, nearly every Royal Commission held in WA has raised questions of improper record keeping.

State Records Office director Chris Coggin said the Act was unique in Australia.

“The closest state to WA in terms of the Act is New South Wales, but the concept of a record-keeping plan is quite new and the fact that the State Records Commission reports to the Parliament is unique.

“The Act addresses accountability issues for CEOs and sets out the principles that will govern how agencies manage and dispose of their records.”

Mr Coggin’s office is running courses to help Government agencies deal with their obligations under the Act. Those courses are also open to private businesses.

Records management consultant Laurie Vandendorff is concerned that some agencies will struggle to meet the needs of the Act because there is a drought of records managers in WA.

“There should be a lot of activity in the records management sector, but the Government has no money to pay for consultants,” Mr Vandendorff said.

Records Management Association of Australia councillor Neil Granland said the association supported the law because it helped ensure vital documents were kept.

“People can’t just destroy documents or lose them on purpose. The WA Inc Royal Commission showed us this. Missing documents there were a huge cost to the community,” Mr Granland said.

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