Stuff and nonsense in Border Force record-keeping: Report

The Auditor-General has launched another scathing indictment of record-keeping practice in the Australian federal government, following a wide-ranging investigation into the Australian Border Force (ABF), a mega agency created in 2015 through the merger of the border control functions of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

While the scope of the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report was quite broad, it specifically found that “record keeping continues to be poor” at the new merged agency and it agreed with the department’s own assessment is “that its records and information management is in a critically poor state.

“Inadequate record keeping has been a persistent theme in the ANAO’s audits of the department. Since July 2010, seven audit reports of the department have identified issues with record keeping, with three of the reports having made specific recommendations aimed at improving the department’s record keeping, to which the department agreed.”

“As far back as 2005, a report into the unlawful detention of Ms Cornelia Rau found evidence of a record keeping system that is seriously flawed.”

“The problems and their solutions are known to the department, and it has an action plan to address them, although numerous previous attempts to do so have not been successful.”

The ANAO uncovered fragmented systems and manual records, with use of the agencies TRIM EDRMS not mandated and staff not properly trained.

“In accordance with its usual practice, the ANAO sought the department’s assistance in locating key documents which were referred to in other documents.

“In some cases, the ANAO was able to subsequently locate the documents through its own searches of the department’s systems, although key records forming parts of series were not able to be located. In a significant number of cases, the department was unable to locate the documents.

“Searches are made difficult by the fact that although the department has an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS) called TRIM, many staff do not use it, preferring to store documents in ‘network drives’ or local area networks (LANs) which are not designed or approved for electronic document storage, retention or retrieval. The department’s inability to locate some documents requested was not assisted by a high turn-over of senior staff, leading to a loss in corporate memory.

“The ANAO found numerous non-personal network drives with names which give no indication of their contents such as ‘Random useful stuff’, ‘old stuff’, ‘Ministerial stuff’ and simply ‘stuff’.

“The department is aware of the record keeping issues. A November 2016 submission to the Executive Committee entitled Records and information action plan 2016–20 stated: Since 2006 at least 17 reviews of various aspects of records and information management (IM) have been completed, all of which identify significant scope for improvement.

“An assessment of the collective review recommendations confirms a consistent theme throughout each; a lack of sustained follow through, which in turn has left the Department’s IM in a critically poor state.

“The department has 200 million documents stored in network drives (estimated to be growing at 55 per cent per year), 238 million records in TRIM, 553 000 cartons (or 241 ‘shelf kilometres’) of paper-based files and an ‘unknown quantity’ of records stored in emails.

“These issues aren’t new and have been highlighted in various reviews over the last decade resulting in:

• Poor decision making and advice to key stakeholders or for individuals

• Failure to comply with legislative requirements due to poor information and records managements policies, systems and practices

• Failure to deliver on strategic objectives and priorities (risk and crisis management).

“Unless urgent and significant action is taken to address the record keeping problems and issues which have previously been repeatedly identified, the ANAO continues to consider that there is a risk to the department’s core functions,” the report concludes.

The full ANAO report is available at