A powerful parliamentary committee has urged government departments to ensure all records created for official government business be preserved as commonwealth records.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit published a report on the parliamentary website as the federal election campaign began.
In it, it noted that there were guidelines for public servants on the keeping of records issued by the National Archives of Australia, but that more needed to be done to ensure all communications were kept for historical purposes regardless of the format in which they appear.
Committee concerns expressed in the report, which focused on the stewardship of public resources, follow the increased use of messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and similar short messaging applications where politicians and public servants might engage in official government business but could forget to incorporate the thread in which they have participated into official records.
“The Committee points to the need for information management governance to continue to reinforce that when a record is created for the conduct of official government business — including through social media platforms and (encrypted) messaging apps — it must be duly incorporated into an approved government information management system as a Commonwealth record,” the committee said.
“The Committee highlights that information management governance must continue to ensure that there is clarity on the definition of a Commonwealth record, consistent with technological developments.”
A recommendation in the report from the committee is for the Attorney-General’s Department to report back to the committee on how existing laws dealing with the record-keeping obligations of departments provide clarification on how public servants and other professionals should deal with the creation of formal records irrespective of the technology used to create them.
Committee members also wanted the Australian National Audit Office to consider auditing the information governance frameworks of various Commonwealth entities. The committee wanted the nation’s auditors to look at organisational culture, implementation of digital policy as well as record keeping.