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Tuesday, 11 February 1986
Page: 97

(Question No. 546)


Senator Reynolds asked the Minister representing the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, upon notice, on 16 September 1985:

(1) To what extent are confidential records of Government Departments being destroyed by burial at public rubbish dumps.

(2) Is it a breach of the Australian Archives Act for confidential records to be buried.

(3) When will proper facilities be available in all Commonwealth Offices for the adequate destruction of confidential documents.


Senator Ryan —The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Commonwealth Departments are individually responsible for the disposal of their own confidential records. Confidential records of the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment are destroyed by burning in accordance with departmental security instructions.

(2) While Commonwealth records may be destroyed only if their destruction is authorised under section 24 of the Archives Act 1983, the Act does not specify the means by which records may or may not be destroyed, nor does it give the Australian Archives the authority to so specify. Under section 24 authorised destruction action must be either required by another law or approved by the Australian Archives.

Provided the destruction of Commonwealth records has been so authorised agencies may destroy records without further reference to the Australian Archives. However, under existing disposal procedures agencies are required to provide to the Archives information on records destroyed and are requested to provide information on the methods used. In addition, in relation to classified records specifically, agencies are responsible for ensuring that destruction is carried out in accordance with departmental security instructions as required in the Protective Security Manual. The Manual defines ``destruction'' as meaning that the documents are so mutilated that it is impossible to ascertain their contents. That requirement may be met by various methods, the main ones being burning, pulping, pulverising and shredding.

(3) The provision of facilities for the destruction of confidential documents does not fall within the portfolio responsibility of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment. However, the Australian Archives does provide advice, when requested to do so, on the availability of destruction facilities (including its own facilities).