Records Management in Australia

By Stephens, David O. | Records Management Quarterly, January 1994 | Go to article overview

Records Management in Australia


Stephens, David O., Records Management Quarterly


Records management (as we know it today) originated in the United States during and after World War II, spread to many of the English speaking countries, and has developed as a management practice in several of these countries--including Australia. This edition of "The World of Records Management" is devoted to the "Land Down Under." In the paragraphs that follow, we will examine the general characteristics of records management in Australia, the professional association activity there, the records management vendor community, and other aspects of the records management situation. Records management is very nearly, if not absolutely, as advanced in Australia as it is in North America, and in some areas it may be fair to say that the Australians lead the way. I will attempt to point these areas out as we proceed, but first, some background information to define the climate for records management in this nation of some 17 million residents.

Australia has many characteristics that are very favorable for the development of records management. The five major ones are:

(1) A large and sophisticated economic system. Among the world's largest free-market economic systems, Australia ranks tenth; its 1992 Gross Domestic Product was $240 billion, and it ranks seventh in the number of companies it has that are among the 1,000 largest businesses in the world -- it has twenty such firms. These facts are significant because this type of economic system provides a favorable climate for the development of a broad-based community of advanced records management programs. Large corporations which create substantial quantities of records have both the incentive and the means to implement records management programs in order to manage their records in a professional manner. (2) A governmental and legal system conducive to records management development. As in the United States and Canada, Australia's national government developed a records management program through its National Archives, and this program served as a model for the development of similar programs at lower levels of government and in the private sector as well. Moreover, Australia's legal system is, like its counterparts in North America, based on English common law--a legal system that creates a favorable legal climate for the development of records management because it establishes a permissive/open environment towards the use of new information technologies. Under this legal system, businesses are free to use any type of record-keeping system they choose unless the government enacts statutes or regulations which impose restrictions on the manner of record-keeping. In Australia, the government imposes few such restrictions. (3) A long tradition of organizational support for record-keeping systems--the "Central Registry Systems" inherited from Great Britain. As a former British colony and member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Australia inherited the "registry" type of record-keeping system, which has enjoyed longstanding support as an established administrative practice and which continues to be widely used today. Although these filing systems are currently undergoing rapid change in Australia (they are being decentralized and computerized using records management software), they have brought about a relatively high quality of records management. This is because registry filing systems are usually operated in a manner that provides total life cycle control over organizational records--from creation to final disposition--in a highly disciplined filing environment.

(4) The fact that records management has, to a considerable degree, evolved from the archival profession into its own distinct professional field of endeavor, with separate recognition by management. This writer believes that it is difficult for records management to realize its full potential as a management discipline unless it evolves from the archival profession into its own independently recognized professional endeavor.

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