Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 62 – Retention and disposal of business records

Apologies for the lack of Newsletter during October, but the reason was a simpleone – The Australian Record Retention Manual. As you may know I am the editor ofsaid manual, and during October I live and breathe life into the document thatforms the next edition, and then hand it on to our production houses. That timehas arrived. 

For those of you who are waiting for the new edition toreach you, we are hoping to have them in the office ready for posting out at thebeginning of December. For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I amtalking about, I am going to break with tradition and tell you what theAustralian Record Retention Manual is, and whether or not you should have acopy. As you know, we don’t like to market products and services in this forum,but we are making an exception this time, and the reason being is thelegislation that forms a considerable part of the document.
As the editor ofthe manual I am constantly amazed at how much of our working lives is impactedupon by records management and the legal ramifications of failing to managethose documents properly. It doesn’t matter what sector you are in, you canguarantee there’s at least one piece of specific legislation telling you whatrecords and bits of paper you should or should not be keeping, and of course thepenalty if you get it horribly wrong. And believe it or not it can sometimescost you more than money, as some of the corporate giants can testify. RememberAnsett? Well poor record keeping sealed their fate, and almost the fate ofVirgin Blue. Quite simply their record keeping system could not keep up withcompany growth, only quick thinking by the company kept the operations going.But others were not so lucky. 

Inthis Issue we will be looking at:

  • What is the Australian Record Retention Manual (ARRM) (and do I need a copy?)
  • The law is an ass

What is the Australian Record Retention Manual (and do I need acopy?)
To answer the last question first, the answer is no. If youare part of a Government department you do not need a copy of the ARRM – and theanswer is simple, you should be using the General Disposal Authorities (GDA’s)that have already been developed, along with your approved Retention andDisposal Schedule. If you remember those Record Keeping Plans (RKP’s) (btw Ilove acronyms !!) I spoke about in the August 2003 edition of InformationOverload – only 50 of the then expected 254 Retention and Disposal Schedulesrequired in Western Australia had been approved. I am expecting that number tohave changed quite dramatically since that time. But I am also aware that anumber of departments have amalgamated and a few others have been split intodifferent components, so never a dull moment for our State Records Office, and Iam sure the same can be said for the other SRO’s within Australia.

You also don’t need to buy a copy of the manual if you are willing to gothrough the thousands of pieces of legislation that currently exists within theAustralian system and to decide which of the pieces impact on your organisation.Am I being facetious? Actually I’m not. At Information Enterprises (IEA) we havea legal librarian who has the rather unenvious task of doing just that for us,so we do know what it takes to undertake the task, and believe me when I say I’mglad Kelly does that part of the job for me.

Which brings me to an interesting point. For a large country with not manypeople in it, we seem to have a huge number of pieces of legislation – and insome cases, each state has it’s own version of the same piece of legislation,sometimes with quite different requirements. This of course can be a nightmarefor organisations that have offices in more than one state and territory. By theway if that is you – then we would recommend you keep your records for thelongest prescribed period – just in case. As with all kinds of insurance, youdecide on the level of cover that you want and hope you never have to use it.And so it is (to a certain extent) with regards to record keeping, or moreimportantly record retention and disposal.

But that doesn’t really tell you what the Australian Record Retention Manualis, because it is far more than just a list of legislation that we haveabstracted and indexed.

The manual started out life in 1980, yes 27 years ago as a set of suggestedretention schedules for the business sector. Created by the Paperless OfficeFoundation, it was taken on a couple of years later by Mike Leigh after thePaperless Office Foundation ceased operating. In 1987 a second edition of themanual was produced, and after several iterations Mike Leigh decided to hang uphis pen and Information Enterprises Australia acquired the rights to thepublication. That was back in the year 2000. Since that time, the manual hasbeen produced on an annual basis, in a variety of formats, with the hardcopyedition still being the most popular one we produce. We had hoped to move themanual onwards into an online environment during 2007, but that has yet to cometo fruition.  And the reason is a simple one. The document is extremelycomplex.

So what does the Australian Record Retention Manual contain apart from thoseseveral thousand pieces of legislation?

The Australian Record Retention Manual contains informationon:
Section 1: What is a record?
Section 2: Categories of recordand their value to an organisation
Section 3: What is recordsmanagement?
Section 4: Components of a records managementprogramme
Section 5: Standards and Benchmarks
Section 6: An Introductionto the Record Retention Programme
Section 7: Implementing a Record RetentionProgramme
Section 8: Australian Record Retention Schedule
Section 9:Specific Records Groups (SRG’s)
Section 10: Introduction to Minimum LegalRetention Requirements, Legal Compliance and Duty of Care
Section 11:Introduction to the Laws of Evidence
Section 12: Introduction to Limitationsof Actions
Section 13: Index of Business Groups and Law Groups
Section 14:Index of Laws by State
Section 15: List of Laws
Section 16: Changes tolaws since last edition

Which is all very well, but what does it mean?

Well in the simplest of terms, The Australian Record Retention Manual (ARRM)provides you with the tools that you need in order to create an efficient RecordRetention and Disposal system. The manual comprises six distinct parts covering:

  1. An introduction to records management and the components of a records management programme;
  2. Records management standards and benchmarks – A great deal of work has been, and is still being carried out by the records management industry worldwide in order to try and formalise good records management practices, in addition research work being carried out in the library and information sectors and the archival institutions are producing results with regards to the preservation of material, especially electronic material. The manual highlights the most significant work currently being done in this area.
  3. The Record Retention Programme;
  4. How to develop a Retention and Disposal Schedule for any type of organisation, including a number of sample schedules that you can use for the basis of your own R&D schedule, saving you time and money;
  5. The Legal Aspects of Record Keeping, including an introduction to the Laws of Evidence and Limitations of Actions; and
  6. The Laws Relating to Retention and Disposal of Records – Broken down by subject groupings of business groups and law groups, by individual states and territories and the complete list of laws;

Each law is abstracted to provide vital information regarding:

  • The businesses affected.
  • The records affected.
  • The prescribed retention period.
  • The penalty for non-compliance.

Which brings me onto the next point quite nicely.

The law is an ass
Given that we have several thousandpieces of legislation in the manual, there has to be some strange and ratherobscure pieces of legislation. And the answer is of course. Therefore I havechosen one piece of legislation from each state and territory to demonstrate notonly how legislated we are in Australia, but the many different areas that areaffected. Whilst these examples may not impact on you directly, it just goes toprove that it does not matter who you are or what you do, there will be somekind of legislation that will impact on you in some way, shape or form.

1563 (Fed) SPACE ACTIVITIES ACT 1998, Sections 11, 15:
(a) (A) Persons wholaunch a space object from a launch facility in Australia; (B) Persons whooperate a launch facility in Australia
(b) (A) Launch permit (s.11); (B)Space licence (s.15)
(c) (A) and (B) Not indicated (suggest permanently)*
(d) (A) Up to 100,000 PU (Corporations); Up to 600 PU or 10 yearsimprisonment, or both (Individuals); (B) Operating a launch facility inAustralia without a space licence is not an offence, however, a person who doesis liable to a civil penalty.  If the Federal Court is satisfied that the personhas contravened a civil penalty provision they may order the person to pay afine of up to 5000 PU (Corporations) or up to 500 PU (Individuals) (sections80-82)

Note: A penalty unit in Federal terms is $110. So please be aware of thatwhen you are building your launch pad in your back yard.

1371 (ACT) DOMESTIC ANIMALS ACT 2000, Sections 6, 9, 14-15:
(a) Owners,carers and keepers of domestic animals
(b) (A) Registration of dog (s.6); (B)Registration of dog tag must be worn by dog (s.15)
(c) (A) and (B) Notindicated (suggest permanently)
(d) (A) Up to 5 PU; (B) Up to 3 PU for dognot wearing tag in public place; Up to 5 PU for a person other than the keeperof the dog who takes a registration tag off a dog without permission from thekeeper of the dog; Up to 5 PU for a person who allows a dog to wear a tag thatwas not registered to that dog

Note: A penalty unit is $100 in the ACT
Does this mean the dog is liablefor the fine if it does not wear its tag in a public place? If so, remember totake the fine out of its allowance.

1648 (NSW) WEAPONS PROHIBITION ACT 1998, Sections 7, 20:
(a) (A) Personswho use or possess a prohibited weapon; (B) Weapons dealers; (C) Theatricalweapons armourers
(b) (A) Permit (s.7); (B) Weapons dealer permit (s.20); (C)Theatrical weapons armourer permit (s.20)
(c) (A), (B) and (C) Not indicated(suggest permanently) *
(d) (A) Up to 100 PU or imprisonment for 2 years, orboth (on summary conviction); Up to 14 years imprisonment (on conviction onindictment); (B) and (C) Up to 100 PU or imprisonment for 2 years, or both (onsummary conviction); Up to 7 years imprisonment (on conviction onindictment)

Now are you going to admit that you’ve bought that AK47 or not? No, thoughtnot.

(a) Operators of special function vehicles
(b) Records including recordsof the special function vehicle; the dates and times during which it is used;the full name and residential address of the driver during those periods andtheir drivers licence number; details of each booking and hiring made; and anyother records as may be required as a condition of the operators licence (s.4)
(c) Not indicated other than the record should be kept in a safe place atthe principal place of business of the operator
(d) $3,000

I wonder how many people who operate stretch limos have a “safe and secure”filing system?

1944 (Qld) DRUGS MISUSE ACT 1986, Sections 43D-43E:
(a) (A) & (B)Persons who supply a controlled substance under a relevant transaction to anyoneelse; (C) Persons who own a controlled substance or has possession of acontrolled substance for the purpose of supplying the substance under a relevanttransaction
(b) (A) Obtain from the recipient the documents and the evidenceof the recipients identity and keep this together with any other document aboutthe supply of the controlled substance under the relevant transaction (s.43D);(B) Relevant transactions register to be kept showing details of the relevanttransactions; and, if the person has to report the loss or theft of a controlledsubstance under section 43E, the reporting of the loss or theft to a policeofficer (s.43D); (C) If the substance is lost or stolen they must report theloss or theft to a police officer within 2 days after the person finds out aboutit (s.43E)
(c) (A) & (B) To be prescribed by regulation.  The DrugsMisuse Regulation 1987 prescribes a retention period of 2 years (section 9); (C)Not indicated
(d) (A), (B) & (C) Up to 20 PU (First offence); Up to 40 PU(Second or subsequent offence)

So all you drug dealers out there, can you make sure you keep your records upto date. They will help the law enforcement agencies crack down on all theusers, and potentially the people who need to steal in order to feed theirhabits. Oh, and if you are intending to purchase said drug items, please don’t“borrow” some one elses ID !!
A Penalty Unit is $75 – $100

1652 (SA) OPAL MINING ACT 1995, Sections 7, 18:
(a) Persons who prospectfor precious stones
(b) Precious stones prospecting permit (s.7)
(c) Notindicated (suggest permanently) *
(d) Up to $5,000

1162 (Tas) TAXATION ADMINSTRATION ACT 1997, Sections 60-64:
(a) Alltaxpayers
(b) All records that are necessary to enable the person’s taxliability under a taxation law to be properly assessed (s.60)
(c) 5 yearsfrom the date it was made or obtained by the person or the date of thecompletion of the transaction to which it relates, whichever is the later
(d) Up to 500 PU (Corporations), Up to 100 PU (Individuals)

A penalty unit in Tasmania is $120, I’ll let you do your own maths.

2057 (Vic) CRIMES ACT 1958, Sections 253-255:
(a) Persons who know that adocument or other thing of any kind is, or is likely to be, required in evidencein a legal proceeding
(b) If they either destroy or conceal it or render itillegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification or expressly, tacitlyor impliedly authorizes or permits another person to destroy or conceal it orrender it illegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification and thatother person does so and acts as described above with the intention ofpreventing it from being used in evidence in a legal proceeding(s.253-s.255)
(c) Not indicated
(d) Up to 3000 PU or up to 5 yearsimprisonment, or both

Hands up those of you who haven’t changed a document recently? A penalty unitis $100

1581 (WA) PROFESSIONAL COMBAT SPORTS ACT 1987, Sections 16-17, 24, 27-28, 33,35, 44-45, 47-48, 52:
(a) (A) and (C) Boxers; (B) Industry participants; (D)Persons who promote, arrange or conduct a boxing contest; (E) Medicalpractitioners who attend boxing contests; (F) Persons appointed by theCommission to record the boxing contest
(b) (A) Registration certificate(s.16-s.17); (B) Registration certificate (s.27-s.28); (C) Medical record book(s.35); (D) Permit (s.44-s.45); (E) Record the results of a medical examinationconducted on a boxer before the contest on a form approved by the Commission(s.48); (F) Records of the boxing contest and the result of the boxing contest(s.52)
(c) (A), (B) and (D) Not indicated (suggest permanently) *; (C), (E)and (F) Not indicated
(d) (A) $1,000 and imprisonment for 9 months; (B) Up to$10,000; (C), (E) and (F) Not indicated; (D) $2,000 or imprisonment for 12months, or both
Note: Previously called “Boxing Control Act 1987”

As always something to think about, and yes we will be back to normalpublishing schedule of Information Overload with the next edition.

Oh and if you would like to obtain a copy, more information is available viaour website –