The time bomb Australia’s digital strategy fails to address

Anne Cornish

In an age where data and information reigns supreme, effective recordkeeping is the cornerstone of accountable governance. Yet, records practitioners across the country are collectively alarmed of the state of record management practices within the Australian Public Service (APS).

Despite fervent pleas from the records sector, including a letter sent by RIMPA to the Prime Minister last November, concerns have fallen on deaf ears. The recent release of the Data and Digital Government Strategy has been touted by the government as a solution, but unfortunately it falls woefully short.

Records and Information Management Practitioners Alliance CEO Anne Cornish. Image: Supplied

A recent audit sheds light on the gravity of the situation, revealing major deficiencies in how records are managed across APS agencies. This issue isn’t new; it’s been highlighted in previous audit reports and even Royal Commissions.

The recent Robodebt Royal Commission findings, for instance, underscore the consequences of poor recordkeeping, emphasising the urgent need for action and the catastrophic consequences of when these issues are ignored.

One of the primary challenges lies in managing digital records effectively.

The exponential growth in digital data has overwhelmed traditional approaches to record management. While IT solutions have been implemented, they often lack integration with sound information management principles. This oversight jeopardises access, security, and compliance with legal retention requirements.

The issue of over-retention continues to be overlooked, despite posing a significant risk, particularly when it comes to data breaches and privacy violations.

Recent breaches in organisations like Optus and Medibank highlight the urgency of implementing robust records disposal programs. Yet, despite efforts to reduce physical record holdings, little progress has been made, with storage volumes remaining stagnant.

The situation regarding digital records is even more concerning.

The unchecked growth in digital records within APS agencies highlights a pressing need for proactive measures. The failure to assess records for transfer to the National Archives of Australia (NAA) not only violates the Archives Act 1983 but also jeopardises our cultural heritage and societal memory.

The diminishing influence of records management within agencies is alarming. The absorption of records management into IT functions has led to a lack of prioritisation and inadequate resourcing.

It is crucial for agency heads to recognise the value of records and information managers and allocate resources accordingly.

The inadequacy of the Archives Act 1983 exacerbates these challenges. Enacted in an era dominated by physical records, it fails to address the complexities of the digital age. A new Act is essential to empower the NAA to regulate government recordkeeping effectively and ensure accountability to the Australian people.

RIMPA Global is deeply concerned about the state of recordkeeping in the APS. We advocate for dialogue and collaboration to modernise the Archives Act 1983 and other relevant legislation. By establishing a taskforce that harnesses industry experts we can pave the way for more efficient, secure, and accountable government recordkeeping practices.

It’s time for action. Let’s work together to safeguard our nation’s records and ensure a transparent and accountable public service for generations to come.

Anne Cornish is the chief executive of Records and Information Management Practitioners Alliance (RIMPA Global).

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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