From e-mail to 'Post-It' notes covered in new Act

From e-mail to 'Post-It' notes covered in new Act

By Paul Montgomery

New legislation recently introduced in New South Wales provides the scope for email and voice mail to be considered as State records, as well as computer support logs, 'Post-It' notes, and faxes.

The new State Records Act, introduced in the autumn session this year, repeals the Archives Act of 1960. The primary function of the new Act is to lay down new rules and regulations for the management of State records by NSW Government agencies, state-owned corporations, local government, the public hospital system, and universities - so-called "public offices". Parliament and court records are also covered.

The Act defines the powers and responsibilities of the new statutory body, the State Records Authority of New South Wales, which administers the Act. This body, to be known as State Records, replaces the Archives Authority of New South Wales.

The CEOs of public offices are made responsible for: making and keeping full and accurate records; ensuring the safe custody and proper preservation of State records; maintaining accessibility to electronic records; instituting a records management program in accordance with standards and codes of best practice; and making arrangements with State Records for monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the program.

Other parts of the Act deal with exactly what and what is not a public record. The Act defines procedures identifying those records which are of continuing value, and also criteria by which records are allowed to be destroyed. The Act deals with lost records, referred to by government archivists as estrays: "official records which have been taken out of official hands".

State Records is given the power to recover estrays, both within and outside of New South Wales. The Act also allows interstate authorities to recover estrays from within NSW.

All of these new regulations will come into effect on September 1, when the Act is proclaimed, but there are two parts which will be delayed in their effect to allow government agencies to adjust to meet the new specifications (see main story).

The first concerns the control of old records which are no longer being used by the public office which created them. State Records is supposed to take control over unused records, but this does not mean that is has to take physical custody of the files. This is expected to come into force in the middle of 1999.

The second section of the Act, to be made official next January, sets down procedures for public access of records which are no longer covered by government secrecy, formalising what was known as the "30 year rule". Public offices are required to make decisions on whether 30-year-old records are able to be released, bound by guidelines to be drafted by the NSW Attorney General. For details, visit


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