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Author: Government recordkeeping
Background to the project
An upcoming election is a busy time for Victorian government agencies—PROV included.
When Parliament is dissolved in advance of an upcoming election, the Victorian Government (VG) goes into Caretaker mode. This has many implications for what kind of work can be done by the Victorian Public Service (VPS), and the biggest responsibility we have at PROV is to assist the departments to prepare their Cabinet-in-Confidence (CiC) records for transfer.
In preparation for the 2018 State Election, PROV and the Cabinet Office worked together with the departments to successfully prepare and transfer their own digital CiC records—records of the first term of the Andrews Government—to PROV for the first time in VG history. Hardcopy records were also prepared and transferred in record time.
What are Cabinet-in-Confidence records and which ones are transferred to PROV?
CiC records are created by the Cabinet Office and the departments. Some of these records are required to be retained as State Archives, including cabinet minutes and agendas, cabinet committee reports, and submissions from ministers.
When a term of government is ending, all permanent CiC records created during the previous four years must be ready to transfer to PROV as soon as the election outcome is known. This process is coordinated by the Cabinet Office in the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), with advice and support from PROV. These records contain important evidence of government decision-making, so it’s vital that they are preserved for future generations.
CiC records can contain highly sensitive and confidential information. This means that, unlike the majority of VG records in PROV custody, they are not available for public access as soon as they are accessioned. In the Public Records Act 1973 there are several sections that allow for records to be temporarily closed to public access. CiC records are covered by section 10 of the Act, which allows records that containing confidential information to be closed for a specified period—records such as Cabinet deliberations, trade secrets, and those protected by legal professional privilege. Applying section 10 doesn’t close the records indefinitely, however. The closure period for CiC records is 30 years, after which they will be opened to public inspection.
The transfer process
Over a four year term of government many CiC records are created. They must be identified, arranged, accurately listed, and labelled. The records are arranged by portfolio—such as water, early childhood education, or police—and year. to support future access. CiC records need to be prepared for transfer according to their format, with different processes required for hardcopy versus digital records. While Caretaker mode begins just a few weeks in advance of election day, departments must begin preparing the records far earlier than this to ensure they are ready for transfer once the election outcome is known.
Caretaker convention has been that CiC records are only transferred to PROV if the government changes, however the work to arrange, describe and package records for transfer is significant regardless of the election outcome. This year all departments agreed to transfer their records even if the government was returned.
While CiC records may be created by many government agencies, it becomes the responsibility of the major departments to collect and prepare records from their portfolio agencies. In the lead up to November 2018, PROV and the Cabinet Office worked with seven departments to facilitate the CiC transfers:
- Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources
- Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
- Department of Education and Training
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Department of Justice and Regulation
- Department of Treasury and Finance
- Department of Premier and Cabinet.
From this, six of the seven departments transferred some or all of their records in digital formats, and four of the seven transferred physical records.
Last year there was an extra hurdle that we haven’t had to manage during previous CiC transfers—at PROV we have been undertaking a huge amount of work to update all our internal systems, including the archival management system that catalogues all the records in our collection, and the Digital Archive that allows us to store and make available permanent digital records. A lot of the work we usually do to facilitate new transfers has had to be put on hold until the new systems are up and running. As the impact of this work was known ahead of time, PROV and Cabinet Office staff made contact with the departments eighteen months in advance of the 2018 State Election to make sure that the public service was prepared for their fast-approaching recordkeeping obligations, and that PROV would be able to assist them.
After this initial communication, members of PROV’s Appraisal and Documentation team and Anne Burch of the Cabinet Office kept in contact with the records managers in each department to provide ongoing advice and support as they prepared their records. This included site visits by PROV staff and Anne to conduct spot checks. The Collection Management team at PROV were also involved in providing departments with advice on processing and packing the physical records to archival standards.
This careful planning meant that, despite the obstacle of not having our systems operating at election and transfer time, this project became the quickest ever transfer of CiC records to PROV post-election. All records were in PROV custody within one week of election day.
About the physical records transferred
|Physical records snapshot:
The majority of the PROV collection is in physical formats—files, papers, volumes, plans—and despite the move towards digital technology, many recent records are still coming to PROV in these formats. CiC records are no exception.
After packing the records in accordance with PROV advice on archival quality storage and finalising the accompanying Record Description Lists, the boxes were held by the departments until the outcome of the election was known. After the election, the records were brought to PROV to be accessioned into the collection and stored in the repository.
About the digital records transferred
Digital records snapshot:
A shift to more departments transferring their records either mostly or entirely in digital formats has meant that digital records are becoming a major part of new transfers. This was not the first time that CiC records had been transferred digitally, but as more departments switch to digital-first records management plans, there were more of these records to come in than ever before.
VG agencies are required to produce digital archival records in a custom format known as a VERS Encapsulated Object (VEO)—this ensures that records are in a long-term preservation file format, and that they have enough descriptive metadata attached so that they can be accessed and understood years into the future.
In past CiC transfers PROV and the Cabinet Office had to take the lead in turning digital records into VEOs, but in 2018 for the first time each department transferring digitally created and tested their own VEOs. Once these records were ready, they were saved on secure hard drives in the custody of DPC until the election, at which point they were formally transferred to PROV for testing and validation. If any errors are identified, departments are responsible for fixing the errors and submitting a corrected set of VEOs to PROV. Once this process is complete, PROV will formally accept custody of the VEOs as the final authoritative version of the records.
Despite the challenges involved in organising such a large, multi-departmental project, the CiC records transfer turned out to be very successful and the quickest post-election CiC transfer PROV has ever conducted.
PROV would like to thank Anne Burch and her colleagues at the Cabinet Office and all the VPS staff whose hard work on this project—over 18 months of identifying and preparing the CiC records—enabled the completion of this transfer project in record time.