National Archives under threat from ‘Digital Deluge’

Australia’s national strategy to identify and retain essential government records is buckling under the complexity and cost of dealing with an exponential growth in data, according to a new report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

This audit examined the effectiveness of the National Archives of Australia’s implementation of the 2022 Building Trust policy as well as management of information assets (records, information and data) at two selected agencies, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM).

It gave the NAA and PM&C a scorecard of “partly effective” while the ANMM was found to have ineffective management of information systems and a lack of appropriate governance.

Before a record can be transferred to the NAA, federal agencies must first appraise the record against the relevant records authority to decide if it should be transferred or destroyed. This process is known as ‘sentencing’.

The ANAO Report found that “Check-up survey data indicates a rapid increase in digital information and records held in entities awaiting sentencing, known as the ‘digital deluge’.”

“Over time, this trend may represent a risk to the comprehensiveness of the National Archives.”

“ - the volume of digital records held by federal agencies has grown on average by 328 per cent a year, from 51 Terabytes in 2013, to over 314,000 Terabytes in 2022; and

“- the proportion of records held by entities reported as ‘unsentenced’ rose from 69 percent in 2019 to around 93 per cent in 2022.”

The ANAO found that while this trend may represent a risk to the comprehensiveness of the National Archives, the National Archives’ risk register “does not identify a risk for the lack of sentencing of records by entities.”

The NAA’s CheckUp Surveys are submitted annually by federal government agencies and rely on data these agencies have chosen to volunteer.

The ANAO report found that “Assurance and verification arrangements over the accuracy of entity reporting have not been changed since the National Archives agreed to the previous Auditor-General recommendation to do so and remain a risk.”

The report found deficiencies in the NAA’s efforts to oversee the management of information and records at federal government agencies, using information obtained by volunteered reports.

“There is little verification of entity reports and the audit found errors in these reports. This reduces the reliability of the National Archives’ assessment of progress and reporting to Australian Government ministers and other stakeholders.

“There is no performance measure in place to monitor entity compliance with a key, mandatory policy and legislative requirement for entities to transfer ‘retain as national archives’ information assets as soon as practicable, or within 15 years of creation, to the care of the National Archives and there is evidence that this requirement is not being met.”

From 2019 to 2021, the NAA developed a policy known as Building trust in the public record: managing information and data for government and community.

As part of developing the Building Trust policy the NAA identified a series of risks. However, the ANAO report points out “The risk register does not include a risk that entities’ reporting may be inaccurate.”

It criticised the unwillingness of the NAA to utilise information that would enable it to identify agencies that were potentially not complying with obligations under the Archives Act.

“The National Archives has no process to engage and follow up entities that are not transferring RNA records in accordance with the requirements of the Archives Act and the actions and requirements of the Building Trust policy. There is a risk that RNA records may be inadvertently destroyed, corrupted or lost in the absence of actions on the part of entities, with the support of the National Archives”

(RNA records are categories of records that have been identified in a records authority and are no longer used on a regular basis.)

The NAA responded that it will look at “better ways to systematically collate and analyse information to efficiently indicate in an entity is at-risk to ensure early engagement.”


Check Up reports provided by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) were found to include inaccuracies and the department had no electronic management systems for documents classified above 'protected'.

“Shared drives remain in use with some controls. The effectiveness of the controls is not monitored or assessed. The main record-keeping system (ShareHub) has recently been upgraded to enable better appraisal and sentencing of records.”

“In January 2023, PM&C implemented a new record-keeping solution, ‘Records365’. As at April 2023 over 430,000 ShareHub records and files had been ingested into R365 and 200,000 of these had been sentenced using the system. Approximately 2.6 million records are currently held in ShareHub which are planned to be progressively ingested and sentenced during 2023.

“PM&C policy on managing digitally … requires that any records classified as confidential, Secret and Top Secret must be retained in hard-copy form. This is because ‘there are currently no electronic [information management] systems available within PM&C to manage material classified above Protected.’

“Partly due to its inability to sentence ShareHub records, PM&C has transferred only one digital asset to the National Archives since 2019. PM&C considers the lack of transfers is mainly due to National Archives using an unclassified network to manage the transfers and as a result only unclassified files being available for transfer; and that a transfer ‘freeze’ was in place. Nine instances of paper files and one of ‘3 Dimensional records’ have also been transferred from PM&C to the National Archives over this time period.”

Australian National Maritime Museum

The ANAO report found that “The Australian National Maritime Museum’s (ANMM’s) management of information systems is not effective, lacking appropriate governance and support for staff. It has not transferred any records to the National Archives since the ANMM’s establishment in 1991, and in this regard is non-compliant with the Archives Act 1983 (Archives Act).

“The ANMM does not have enterprise-wide structures, committees, or accountabilities for information management. Risks to information assets are not identified and key policy documents are in draft or absent. There is insufficient guidance and support for ANMM staff in the use of the document management system.

“Training and guidance in the use of the ANMM’s electronic document management system is insufficient. The sentencing, disposal and transfer of information to the National Archives is not compliant with the requirements of the Archives Act. There is frequent use of shared drives to hold records.

“The ANMM became aware that no records had ever been transferred in July 2022 when the records manager contacted the National Archives and asked for details of past transfers. The National Archives advised that ‘there have been no transfers of any format to the National Archives from the Australian National Maritime Museum’.

The ANMM’s most recent records manager commenced in June 2022 and left in December 2022

“The ANMM’s Check-up survey response accurately reported that it had not transferred records to the National Archives. Several other parts of the ANMM’s response regarding information governance risk management were not accurate.”

The ANMM responded “it is aware that it has not been able to prioritise information management in the last few years” and effectively blamed this on limited funding.

“We note the report identified our Collection Management System as well managed. Maintaining this system and ensuring the veracity of the information stored in this system remains a key focus for the Museum.

“Policies and procedures are being updated and system upgrades are planned as resources allow. The ANMM is committed to improving its information management systems and has taken actions to improve information management practice within available resourcing.”

The agency has committed to “continue working to improve governance and reporting arrangements for information management and will endeavour to improve documentation of its Check-up survey response.”

ELO, the ANMM’s document management system, had not been updated since 2018 and there was no support agreement in place with the service provider.   

“The absence of such an agreement limited the ability of ANMM staff to receive training in ELO or manage the system. Staff were unable to delete records or containers created in error potentially affecting data reliability and accessibility. In November 2022, the ANMM and the service provider established a support agreement. “

The ANMM has committed to upgrading both the ELO EDRMS and its collection management system (TMS).

The full report is available HERE