Author: Government recordkeeping

Despite the amount of time we spend each day reading and sending emails, by some estimates around 28 per cent of our day, we allocate little of that time contemplating how we should manage them.

Here the Public Records Office's Alan Kong, Manager Standard and Policy, shares three facts all Victorian Government staff should remember when writing emails: 


Your corporate emails are public records.

They are the precious gems that relate to the business of your agency and must be retained for a period as determined by legislation. Examples of corporate emails:

  • communication between staff where a formal approval is recorded
  • direction for an important course of action
  • business correspondence received from outside the agency.

Another type of work email are those used to facilitate agency business but which are not required to be retained (consult your internal policy). These emails may be ephemeral records and may be able to be destroyed as part of your Normal Administrative Practice. If you are unsure, talk to your records team.  


Make no mistake, emails are the smoking gun!

In 2012, the then Victorian Auditor General and Victoria’s Deputy Ombudsman, independently, told a seminar of Victorian records professionals that, while their investigations looked at all relevant agency records, the smoking gun was always in the email (as records).

Without exception, emails form the key planks of a modern investigation and feature prominently in the final report. An example of such an investigation is the Debelle Royal Commission* in South Australia which resulted in the setting up of an independent review of the South Australian State Records Act.


Email systems are not so perfect (from a records management perspective)

It’s important to understand that email systems are not developed from a record keeping perspective. Some email systems allow users to edit stored copies of emails that have been sent or received, the management of disposal is often non-existent and finally, access of records is a nightmare. Think about it, when someone leaves the organisation, what happens to their emails in the inbox?

If emails are not actively managed as records, it can impede on your organisation's business dealings, cost money in search and retrieval, and put your organisation at risk. So regardless of how your agency decides to manage these records, the approach must be a proactive one. It’s important to check your internal record keeping policies and strategies to reduce these risks. Good recordkeeping systems, practices and programs support and facilitate effective and efficient management of government business and service delivery.

Most importantly remember, treat your emails with the respect they deserve.


* Royal Commission 2012-2013 Report of Independent Education Inquiry