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What laws affect government recordkeeping in Victoria?

Victorian Government agencies come under a number of laws which regulate the creation, management and disposal of information.

The Public Records Act 1973 (PR Act) sets specific requirements for the effective management of public records, and provides the governing framework for PROV and the Keeper of Public Records.

Beyond this, both State and Commonwealth legislation establish significant legal regimes for control of government information, including in the areas of privacy, security and access to information. Further information about these laws is provided by the relevant government agency (see links). To access current legislation, go to the Victorian Legislation website.

General information about how key legislation applies to public records is provided below.

Each individual government agency will be affected differently by these laws. Your organisation should investigate how these laws apply specifically to them.


Does the Public Records Act 1973 apply to my organisation?

The PR Act applies to public officers, within a public office, who create or receive public records. PROV's elearning module Recordkeeping Essentials provides a good insight into these definitions.

Public office means:

  • any department, branch or office of the government of Victoria
  • any public statutory body corporate or unincorporated (this covers public entities that are created under legislation as a body corporate, or an unincorporated body)
  • a state-owned enterprise within the meaning of the State Owned Enterprises Act 1992 (this includes a State Business Corporation, a State Owned Company and a State Body)
  • any municipal council
  • any other local governing body corporate or unincorporated
  • a royal commission, whether established under the Inquiries Act 2014 or under the prerogative of the Crown
  • a board of inquiry or formal review established under the Inquiries Act 2014.

Where a body is established purely by a Minister or the Governor-in-Council without enabling or umbrella legislation, then it may not be a public office. Examples include certain advisory groups or committees. Entities established under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) are also typically excluded.

If you are performing functions or providing services for the Victorian government or public sector and are in doubt if you meet the definition of a public office, we encourage you to seek further advice from PROV and your manager/legal team.


A public officer refers to any person employed in a public office. Whether a person is 'employed' will depend on the circumstances. Generally, employees are workers who:

  • perform work under the direction and control of their employers who determine when, where and how they work
  • have an expectation of regular or ongoing work

And have:

  • the right to paid leave and income tax deducted by their employer.

In many cases, this can exclude independent contractors. Volunteers engaged by a public office are also not considered to be public officers.

However, once a record created by a non-employee is received by a public officer, it becomes a public record. In these cases, your organisation may need to make arrangements to ensure that any records made or received by non-employees become public records.

A public record is:

  • any record made or received by a public officer in the course of their duties
  • any record made or received by a court or person acting judicially in Victoria.

A record is defined as a document, as specified under the Evidence Act 2008. This covers any record of information, and includes:

  • anything on which there is writing
  • anything on which there are marks, figures, symbols, or perforations having a meaning for persons qualified to interpret them
  • anything from which sounds, images or writings can be reproduced with or without the aid of anything else
  • a map, plan, drawing or photograph.

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) sets out the rules governing requests by individuals for Victorian government information.

Below is a summary of FOI provisions most relevant to public records. Further information about FOI can be found on the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner website. 

PROV holds the permanent value records of a variety of Victorian government and public sector entities. These records can be ordered as digital copies (for a fee) or can be viewed in our reading rooms, for free, by anyone.

The PR Act allows some public records held at PROV to be closed to the public under specific circumstances. This includes where the records contain personal or private information or for security and anti-terrorism reasons. However, closed records held by PROV (as well as public records still in the custody of government agencies) may be eligible to be accessed under FOI laws. 

The FOI Act gives you (or in the case that someone has died, their next of kin) rights to request public records about their personal affairs, and the activities of government. PROV refers all FOI requests it received to the government or public sector agency responsible for the records, who will manage and process the application. 

As permitted under the PR Act, PROV issues special access to closed records, although this is usually only granted in exceptional circumstances. You can find out more about special access here.

For those seeking the personal records of adoptions, wards of the state/care leavers and members of the Koorie community, PROV has created specific resources and runs the Koorie Reference Service. Special support services for individuals and families seeking records are also available - see information about Victorian stolen generation services and our guide to accessing Victorian care leaver and adoptions records.

Under the FOI Act, individuals can lodge a written request for an amendment of a personal record to the government agency responsible for those records. Where a record relating to an individual person's affairs is released to them (or if they are deceased, their next of kin) they can request the correction or amendment of any part of the document if the information is:

  • inaccurate
  • incomplete
  • out of date
  • where it would give a misleading impression.

Where only an amendment of the record (either alerting the record or making an additional notation) is sought, the responsible agency may do so directly. However, if any proposed correction or amendment would result in deleting or expunging the information, or destroying the record, written permission must first be secured by the government agency from the Keeper of Public Records at PROV.

Privacy, data protection and data sharing

The Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic) (PDP Act) sets out how Victorian public sector organisation's can collect, use, or disclose personal information. Further information on how agencies can manage their privacy and recordkeeping obligations can be found the Privacy and recordkeeping obligations topic page.

The Victorian Data Sharing Act 2017 promotes data sharing across government. It provides a basis for sharing and using data for policy making and service planning, design and delivery. The Act also created the Chief Data Officer who leads the Victorian Centre for Data Insights.

This legislation is supported by the Victorian Public Sector Data Sharing Framework, which established the government's data-sharing agenda.

The Health Records Act 2001 (HR Act) regulates the collection and handling of health information. It gives Victorians rights to access records about their health which are held by the private sector and establishes the Health Privacy Principles (HPPs), which apply to both the private and public sector. You can learn more about the HR Act framework here.

The PR Act continues to apply to health records held by public offices. This means that measures taken by public officers to comply with the HPPs and the HR Act must also comply with the PR Act, including PROV's mandatory recordkeeping Standards. Where there is a conflict between the requirements, the PR Act requirements will override the HR Act requirements.

Public records under the control of the Keeper of Public Records (i.e. records transferred to PROV or held by an appointed Place of Deposit) are not subject to the HR Act or the HPPs.

Example: Deletion of health information by health service providers

The HR Act provides for HPP 4.2:

4.2 A health service provider must not delete health information relating to an individual, even if it is later found or claimed to be inaccurate, unless - 

  • (a) the deletion is permitted, authorised or required by the regulations or any other law; or
  • (b) the deletion is not contrary to the regulations or any other law and occurs - 
  • (i) in the case of health information collected while the individual was a child, after the individual attains the age of 25 years; or
  • (ii) in any case, more than 7 years after the last occasion on which a health service was provided to the individual by the provider - whichever is the later.

Public records can only be destroyed or otherwise disposed of in accordance with the Standards issued under Section 12 of the PR Act. This includes the Disposal Standard and relevant Retention and Disposal Authorities (RDAs).

RDAs specify minimum mandatory retention periods. These retention periods were informed by the HR Act requirements, although importantly, some require public officers to retain records for longer periods.

The following RDAs apply to health services and patient information, including patient information managed in the new shared database:

Deletion of false, misleading or inaccurate health information can also occur with the permission of the Keeper of Public Records, see above at 'Requests for amendment of a public record'.


Records, evidence and electronic transactions

Under the Crimes Act 1958, it is a crime in Victoria to destroy documents or anything else of any kind likely to be used as evidence in legal proceedings. It is an offence where a person, with the intention or preventing the document being used in legal proceedings:

  • a) destroys or conceals the document or renders the document illegible, undecipherable or incapable of identification, or they
  • b) expressly, tacitly or impliedly authorise or permit another person to carry this out.

In addition, public records can only be destroyed or otherwise disposed of in accordance with PROV Standards. More information about this can be found on the Destruction topic page.

The Electronic Transactions (Victoria) Act 2000 establishes that a transaction (or approval) will not be invalid simply because it was performed electronically. You can learn more about this on PROV's electronical approvals topic page. 

In accordance with the Justice Legislation Amendment (Systems Enhancement and Other Matters) Act 2021, the signing and witnessing of some types of legal documents can now be done electronically. See the Department of Justice and Community Safety's webpage for more information.

Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples