Fourteen [some say sixteen] years of hard work, intrigue, lobbying, trials, tribulations, compromise and FINALLY Launch on 6 March 2002.
This article is based on the records and recollections of the author and not an authorised RMAA document.
The period is 1986-88 and the then Shadow Minister for Cultural Affairs & Heritage Policy the Hon. Phillip Pendal MLC for the Liberal/National Coalition Opposition, led by the Hon. Barry MacKinnon MLA, is being lobbied by individuals and professional bodies to provide legislation, once in power, to set up an independent State Archive Authority.
The lobbying was successful and eventuated in a 1989 policy document formulated by the Coalition titled “Liberal Cultural Affairs & Heritage Policy”, which stated on page 2: “The Coalition would;
1. introduce a Western Australian Archives Act;
2. make adequate resources available;
3. give the Agency responsibility for records management for the whole of the Government service;
4. allocate funds to conserve rapidly deterioration records and film;”
A Copy of this document was supplied courtesy of the Hon. Phillip Pendal MLA.
Little did anyone realise the storm that was to follow and how relevant the policy document would be to the findings of the Report of the Royal Commission into the Commercial Affairs of Government and Other Matters released in 1992.
The legislation in place at the time was the Library Board of Western Australia Act 1951[Library Board Act] which provided for the management of State or Public records under Section 30. Of that Act.
2. The houses in action! “The Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament in Western Australia [WA]”.
In October 1992, the then Labor Government introduced a Bill, the Royal Commission [Custody of Records] Bill, 1992 to, in effect, remove the provisions of the Library Board Act 1951 and allow the Royal Commissioners to destroy records related to the inquiry.
A meeting with the Hon. Phillip Pendal was requested by some individuals under the cover of darkness with the purpose of highlighting the implications of the proposed legislation.
In addition the Records Management Association of Australia [RMAA], the Australian Society of Archivists [ASA] and others took immediate action to make the Hon. Phillip Pendal aware of the extent, and the importance of this legislation. The legislation contained provisions to override the powers of the Library Board of WA, the State Archivist and the process for the management of the retention and disposal of records within the Western Australian Government.
We are advised that during the debate in Parliament during the period 22 October to 1 December 1992 that an unusual event occurred. The Parliamentary process was suspended for several hours to enable the Hon. Phillip Pendal to discuss the proposed amendments to the legislation in the Legislative Council with the four Independent members of the Legislative Assembly. The outcome was that the four Independent members in the Legislative Assembly voted to reject the Royal Commission [Custody of Records] Bill, 1992 as presented by the Government. The four Independent members in the Legislative Assembly supported the amendments proposed by the Opposition that had been passed previously in the Legislative Council, where the Coalition Opposition had the numbers. Full details of the debate are available in the Western Australian Parliamentary Hansard of Thursday 22 October 1992, again on Tuesday 24 November 1992 when the Royal Commission [Custody of Records] Amendment Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council and discussed, and again on the Tuesday 1 December 1992.
Copies of Hansard are available for reference purpose at the Battye Library 3rd Floor of the Western Australian State Library located in the Alexander Library Building, Cultural Centre, Northbridge, WA 6003.
3. Fallout from the revelations of the WA Inc Royal Commission:
The aftermath of the Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Commercial Activities of Government and other Matters was that the Liberal/National Coalition extended their interest in Records Management and issued a “January 1993, Coalition Arts Policy”.
The Policy on page 23 states:
“The State Archives: The State Archive that currently runs as part of the Library system will be established under its own Act of Parliament. An additional legislative power will ensure that no government or Ministerial documents are allowed to go missing or be destroyed – a concern expressed to us by professionals over the WA Inc Royal Commission documents.”
A Copy of this document was supplied courtesy of the Hon. Phillip Pendal MLA.
The new Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Peter Foss QC, MLC, issued a Discussion Paper New Public Records Legislation for Western Australia in 1994. [The Hon. Phillip Pendal MLC had been passed over for a Cabinet Appointment in 1993. He resigned from the Liberal Party in 1995].A copy of this document is available from @ Laurie Varendorff
The Minister launched the Discussion Paper at the RMAA WA Branch Annual General Meeting [AGM] in July of 1994. The document was eagerly consumed by professional bodies and others, and when read, appeared to be a fait accompli on the matter rather than a discussion document. The RMAA WA Branch formed a sub committee, of which I was a member, to address the issues raised in the Discussion Paper. The RMAA WA Branch published its response to the Ministers Discussion Paper, a Position Paper titled “An independent state records office in Western Australia” in 1994. “A copy of this document is available from @ Laurie Varendorff
The RMAA WA Branch sought support for the cause of best practice records management from Professor Leslie Marchant, a long time friend and supporter by inviting him to write an article for the RMAA INFORMAA Quarterly. The article was published under the title of “The alteration of the Westminster System of government and the threat to public records collections in Australia” in 1994. Professor Marchant was a sometime advisor to, and a friend of the Premier, the Hon. Richard Court MLA and it was felt that Professor Marchant's input might be of value. It was felt that the article by Professor Marchant had a positive effect on the Liberal/National Coalitions attitude toward best practice management of Public Records.
4. The Commission on Government [COG] was constituted.
The Commission on Government Act was established in 1994 with the five Commissioners appointed in August 1994.
The RMAA took the opportunity to address Reference Nine of the Commission’s brief “The setting up of a Separate and Independent State Archives Authority [Public Records Office]” with a submission to the Commission on Thursday 26 October 1995 presented by myself. The presentation was supported by Associate Professor, Allan Peachmant of the Curtin University of Technology who addressed issues of accountability and the implications if these issues were not addressed.
The Chief Executive Officer [CEO] and State Librarian of the Library and Information Service of Western Australia [LISWA], Dr Lynn Allen defended the proposed model as outlined in the 1994 Discussion Paper. Dr Allen at an official meeting advised that she took no notice of the concerns of professional bodies as they were only defending their privileged position and their input was of no value to her.
NOTE: Full details of the proceedings of the Commission on Government [COG] in respect TO CHAPTER 7; INDEPENDENT ARCHIVES AUTHORITY is available on request to @ Laurie Varendorff
5. The period 1995 through 1998.
This period, 1995 through 1998, can best be described as the lull before the storm. As a Councilor of the RMAA WA Branch, I held the view that the RMAA WA Branch was only able to get the ear of the Opposition and was ignored by the Government of the day. The RMAA WA Branch provided ammunition to the Opposition by raising issues to question or embarrass the government. In the paper presented by me to COG and compiled with assistance and input from other WA Branch Councilors we highlighted this concern with the Commissioners.
The presentation stated:
For example during the period of the Labor Governments of Brian Burke, Peter Dowding and Carmen Lawrence there was an interaction between the then Opposition with the Records Management Association of Western Australia to highlighting areas of concern and neglect in regard to the issues of Records Management practices within the State. Today we again tend to be interacting with the Opposition rather than the Government in power on this issue. It would appear that the Association is fertile ground for the provision of questions on records management issues for the Opposition of the day. Due to this situation, the Western Australian Branch of the Records Management Association tends to be seen as being in an adversarial role with the Government of the day. We are aware that this is not a desirable position to be in and the Association would prefer to be looked upon as a vital professional resource by the Government of the day, one which is willing and competent to assist them with the improvement of the management of records in this State. Good record keeping is the cornerstone of accountability and the Records Management Association of Australia wholeheartedly supports any move by any political party to further this issue, which is so important to the electorate.
I presented this philosophy to the WA Branch Council and received recognition of the desirability of such a strategy. The RMAA WA Branch attempted on a number of occasions to obtain an appointment with the Minster for Culture and the Arts. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the details as outlined in the RMAA’s Position Paper of 1994. The requests went unanswered and we were ignored or told that once the legislation was tabled in Parliament we would have a chance to debate the content.
6. An attack on the situation as a concerned citizen.
In late 1997, I took it upon myself to write to the Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Peter Foss QC, as a private, concerned citizen with no reference to my membership of the RMAA.
In a letter to the Minister dated 11 December 1997, I stated the following:
I wish put forward the case that it would be in the interest of this State of Western Australia for you to spread the net much wider than to limit the input for the revision of this Act to the intellectual knowledge of the staff involved in the internal operations of the Public Records Office of LISWA for the writing of guidelines for the review of the Act or the distribution of the currently formulated revisions to a few select Ministers and thus their Departments for comments which again is a closed circuit environment and does not take advantage of the wider body of expertise external to that of Western Australian Government employees.
Only good can come from a widening of input from interested parties such as the Records Management Association of Australia (RMAA), the Australian Society of Archivists, the Records and Information Management Liaison Group (RIMLG) of the Western Australian Government Records Managers, Local Government Records Management body and interested professional individuals or organisations who collectively consist of a broad depth of knowledge in this professional area such as the Curtin University Department of Information Studies, the Edith Cowan University Department of Library and Information Studies, the Law Society, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) and others.
I received a reply from the Minister dated 6 February 1998 advising that I would get a chance to be involved in the Democratic Process once the Bill was tabled in the Parliament.
I replied to the Minister, in part as follows:
On receipt of your letter dated 6 February 1998, I was most disappointed with the content of your reply. It is mainly a form letter, which I have seen on several occasions originating from your Office.
I question your statement with regard to the “due democratic process” as detailed in your second last paragraph. From the start in 1994 when you distributed your Discussion Paper for comment, every input (including the recommendations of the Commission on Government Western Australia and the earlier finding of the Western Australia Royal Commission as detailed in Report No 2, Part 2, December 1995 Chapter 7.2, The Western Australian Royal Commission into Commercial Activities of Government and other Matters) to the process has been met with arguments from your Office expounding why the input is irrelevant and the case outlined in your Discussion Paper is your only course of action. You have continually ignored external input to the process. Your reference to the “due democratic process”, where after the Bill is tabled it becomes a public record is incorrect in that it has always been a public record and it is its tabling which renders it available to public view.
You and I both know that the chances of effecting major change to the legislation at this late stage in the cycle is most unlikely. In correspondence dated 27 January 1998 on your behalf to a professional colleague of mine a statement in the letter pre-empts the situation of decision making by the Parliament of Western Australia by stating that “your understanding that The Library and Information Service of Western Australia will continue to be the home of the Public Records Office is correct”. This statement is possibly prejudicing the Parliamentary process, as the legislation has not yet been to Parliament for its acceptance, rejection or change. The Parliament is yet to discuss the issue and based on this letter your view of “due democratic process” really comes to light based on this pre-emption of the situation. Your Discussion Paper, states objectives for a particular position, which you continue to hold without change, is ignoring all professional input to your model and its shortcomings. The intention of your Office to have its way with your proposed model being implemented is possibly interference in the “due process of Parliament”.
I draw your attention to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s investigation of the changes to the Archives Act for the Commonwealth of Australia. Not only did the Commission vigorously seek wide ranging input of various opinions via the distribution of an Issues Paper 19 it, unlike your process, has sought input from the widest possible audience. It published the assessment of its preliminary views via a Draft Recommendations Paper 4 DRP4 December 1997.
The Australian Law Reform Commission held public hearings in each state capital and elsewhere and it invited further input and comment before proceeding with the writing of a Final Report due by 31 March 1998.
These procedures are totally variant from that in the Western Australia process where the legislation has been formulated behind closed doors by the very organisation which by public comment has only one option your “Discussion Paper 1994”. Your claim of “due democratic process” while requesting comment and then ignoring that input flies in the face of a real democratic and sensible process being pursued as per that of the Commonwealth via the Australian Law Reform Commission.
I again draw your attention back to the US environment, as previously made known to you as an attachment to my letter of 11 December 1997, where total exposure to the needs of input from, and the listening to divergent and opposing views which would provide legislation of the highest level, as being a desirable process. The US model is an open democratic process and at odds with that of the current Western Australia environment where all knowledge comes from your Office on this issue.
In early 1998, I took it upon myself to write to every WA politician. These letters highlighted the lack of consultation the Minister for Culture and the Arts was allowing, in respect to issues detailed in the above letter. These letters caused the Minister to write to all Liberal/National Coalition members explaining why I was writing to them on the issue and outlining his position in respect to the proposed legislation and the consultative process that had been involved.
7. The legislation “the State Records Bill 1998” is tabled in Parliament in October 1998: The hare was up and running.
The Government tabled the State Records Bill 1998 in the Legislative Assembly on the 21 October 1998.
The RMAA WA Branch immediately sets up a Sub Committee to address the legislation. A meeting was arranged with the Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Sheila McHale MLA and we discussed our concerns with her in respect to the Bill. Ken Ridley, the then WA Branch President headed the meeting with the Shadow Minister. This situation changed after that meeting with Ken Ridley withdrawing from the Sub Committee due the potential conflict of being a WA Public Servant and all that implies in dealing with politicians of either persuasion.
I had been contacted by the Office of the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Geoff Gallop MLA with respect to my personal views on the Discussion Paper of 1994 and had entered into discussions with his Office. On the tabling of the Bill, I again contacted the Office of the Leader of the Opposition. I was referred to the relevant Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Sheila McHale.
The RMAA WA Branch Sub Committee now comprised of me as Chair with Neil Granland, Margaret Pember, and Vicky Wilson as members. A meeting was arranged with the Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts, on the 4 November 1998 at Parliament House to discuss the legislation and the RMAA’s concerns with aspects of its content. Vicky Wilson, Margaret Pember, and I attended the meeting where we outlined the RMAA’s broad concern in respect to the legislation.
The RMAA Branch Council considered a proposal put forward by Ken Ridley, the then WA Branch President to appoint a lobbyist to assist in dealing with the legislation. Branch Council supported the allocation of funds for a lobbyist and Barry MacKinnon was identified as a candidate. He was chosen because he was a seasoned politician, had been leader of the Opposition and was still involved with the National/Liberal Coalition.
An initial meeting was held with Barry MacKinnon on the 16 November 1998 where I explained the RMAA’s position. After about thirty minutes, Barry advised that the only chance for success in our proposed endeavour was for continued and ongoing persistence by the RMAA for the cause of improving the legislation and the result we were attempting to achieve. He cited instances where he had worked for five or more years for particular causes without achieving success. This lack of success was due to a lack of commitment by the parties involved. He advised that he personally could not make things happen but he could assist, direct and advise us in the process and where possible open doors to the appropriate people to allow us to present our case. He advised that if the commitment was not sustained that the RMAA WA Branch should not waste its money as it would be a lost cause.
He advised that Records Management was of as much interest to politicians as ticks on sheep.
He also advised that politicians had three main core driving interests:
1. To be elected;
2. To be re-elected, and;
3. To stay elected.
He found it difficult to see how the State Records Act 1998 could be presented to politicians to make an argument to hone in on these three core-driving interests. I advised Barry that the RMAA had set aside funds to lobby the Government and that we would like him to take on the role irrespective of the bleak picture he painted in respect to our possibility of achieving success. I committed personally to sustain the level of involvement that Barry indicated would be required to get the results for which we were aiming.
After much discussion at the RMAA WA Branch level, Vicky Wilson formulated a letter dated the 23 November 1998 addressed to the Minister for Culture and the Arts, detailing 11 points of major concern and 20 minor amendments that the RMAA wished to have incorporated into the proposed legislation. The sub committee followed up the letter on the 24 November 1998 with a request for an appointment with the Minister as a matter of urgency to discuss the points detailed in our letter.
We arranged an initial meeting with the Hon. Phillip Pendal and Dr Liz Constable MLA, both Independent members of the Legislative Assembly on the 20 November 1998. This meeting took place at Parliament House along with Barry MacKinnon, Vicky Wilson, Margaret Pember and I. At the meeting, a decision was made that the Hon. Phillip Pendal would put forward amendments to the legislation based on the thirty-one changes identified in the letter to the Minister for Culture and the Arts.
On the 8 December 1998, Hon. Phillip Pendal tabled in the Legislative Assembly a list of amendments.
Barry MacKinnon then went to work opening doors for us. The Minister for Culture and the Arts had yet to agree to meet with the RMAA sub committee. Based on our previous experience and lack of success since 1994 it looked as though a meeting was not possible. I had tried numerous times by phone, fax and email to obtain a time for a meeting via the Ministers appointment secretary, but to no avail. Due to this lack of success, we had Barry MacKinnon approach the Ministers Office on our behalf, and magically, almost instantly, we had a meeting scheduled for the 25 February 1999 with the man himself, the Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Peter Foss QC.
Another meeting was held with the Hon. Phillip Pendal on the 24 February 1999 at Parliament House with Vicky Wilson and I, along with the Opposition’s Parliamentary Draftsperson, Ann Blake to streamline, and where necessary, alter the wording of the previous amendments. We also agreed on the approach to take at the meeting with the Minister scheduled for the following day.
The next day was the 25 February 1999 and the big meeting with the Minister for Culture and the Arts, at his office at Dumas House in West Perth. On the day everything appeared to go wrong. To start with, the meeting was put forward half an hour. Vicky Wilson was unavailable and Neil Granland stepped in for her at the meeting. We waited nearly half an hour for the Director of the Public Records Office, Chris Coggin, who was to attend the meeting. After waiting 25 minutes and without Chris Coggin, Barry MacKinnon, Neil Granland and I were ushered into the Minister’s Office.
It was an interesting meeting of the now Minister and his previous boss, Barry MacKinnon, who had been Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party. Obviously, there were some old scores to settle with the Minister dressed casually in his shirtsleeves and the three of us sitting like obedient servants in suit jackets. Barry MacKinnon played the ‘Yes Minister’ to a tee, much to the delight of Peter Foss who was grinning from ear to ear and appeared to be enjoying every minute.
It seemed to me at least, that this audience had been given, not for the benefit of the RMAA and its need to discuss its position in respect to the State Records Bill 1998 but to make sure Barry MacKinnon knew who was now at the top of the heap and in charge. The RMAA was the unintended beneficiary of this situation in that it allowed us to obtain an audience with the Minister that provided a beneficial outcome.
That issue aside, Barry MacKinnon had prepared us for the meeting and we had come armed with five major points to discuss. They were as follows:
Item 1. Independence of the Commissioners, Clause 53 Membership;
Item 2. Resourcing the Commission, the 2nd reading speech and publicly stated commitment;
Item 3. No exemptions e.g. the three exempt bodies, the Water Corporation, Western Power & Alinta Gas;
Item 4. Penalties, COG recommended $20,000.00 and 2 years jail for individuals and Corporations $20,000.00; and
Item 5. The 75-year rule for certain documents, Clause 43 Archives containing exceptionally sensitive information.
We opened the discussion by advising the Minister that our preference was for our previously stated position, and that was for the total independence of the Public Records Office from LISWA with a direct reporting role to Parliament in line with the recommendations of COG.
What did we achieve?
Item 1. We expressed the opinion that the makeup of the Commission was flawed, a retired Judge [Foss replied, what did we expect? a live one. “Ha, Ha”], a retired Public Servant and an Academic. We stated that the RMAA saw these appointments as hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. Foss replied that he was not happy with the make up of the Commission himself. We asked what his preferred option was. He replied that he had wanted the Auditor General, the Ombudsman and the Information Commissioner [FOI]. We indicated that the RMAA would be happy with that lineup. Foss replied after consultation with his assistant, Nick Wood that they were not available and had refused to take the positions. We asked that if the RMAA could get the three parties to agree to become the three Commissioners would he agree to put them in the legislation. Foss agreed that he would, but that we would be wasting our time as they had already refused. We again pushed the point. If we could get them on board would he alter the legislation to include them; he indicated that we had a deal.
Item 2. Yes, the Government would resource the Commission, but that it would be subject to the normal Annual Budget Process.
Item 3. Foss advised that if we dug our heels in on the inclusion of the three exempt bodies we could forget the legislation as it would be shelved and not see the light of day. The Minister had tried to include the three exempt agencies but his Cabinet Colleagues would rather kill the Bill before agreeing to the exempt agencies being included in the Act. He was happy for us to talk to the Hon. Colin Barnett MLA, the Minister responsible for Energy and Dr Kim Haynes MLA, the Minister responsible for the Water Corporation on the matter, and wished us luck in our endeavour.
Item 4. Penalties. Foss agreed to look at the penalties issues in respect to increased penalties and jail terms, but doubted that the matter would receive support.
Item 5. The RMAA believed that a 25-year maximum or 30-years, as per Federal legislation should be the maximum with the exemption of Aboriginal records.
Chris Coggin arrived at the latter part of the meeting and was seated in the background away from the main discussion group.
At one stage when the Minster was praising the CEO and State Librarian, Dr. Lynn Allen, the Minister advised that if anyone could obtain appropriate funding for the proposed Public Records Office in response to our [Item 3.] as detailed in the above paragraph, that it would be a natural for Dr Lynn Allen to be able to find the additional funds required.
It had been the view of the RMAA and many others over a number of years that the Public Records Office [PRO] had been starved of funding within the overall LISWA financial environment. Here was the Minister advising us of his belief that all was currently well in the funding area for the PRO with a potential for improvement in the future with the good grace of Dr Lynn Allen.
The RMAA 1994 Position Paper stated the following:
We note, with some concern, that the Records Management Office has been consistently understaffed and under resourced since its inception in 1989 and that the Library and Information Service of WA (LISWA) has been unable, or unwilling to secure funds to support records management in this State. Addition funds have been “found” to support other LISWA operations.
On the advice of Barry MacKinnon, that nothing has been discussed until it is put in writing, we wrote to the Minister the same day confirming our discussion and our perception of what had transpired and what both parties had agreed.
We followed this advice on all occasions that meetings were held with officials on behalf of the RMAA on the legislation.
Barry MacKinnon then proceeded to arrange meetings, first with the Ombudsman, Mr Murray Allen, then the Auditor General, Mr Des Pearson and finally the Information Commissioner [FOI], Ms Bronwyn Keighley-Gerardy. Neil Granland and I, along with Barry MacKinnon met with the Ombudsman and he agreed to undertake the position of Commissioner for the State Records Commission. He had two caveats:
1. That a process was implemented that did not constitute a conflict of interest with the position of Ombudsman and,
2. That no additional costs would be absorbed by his office.
Neil Granland, Barry MacKinnon and I met with the Auditor General with effectively the same result. Vicky Wilson and I met with the Information Commissioner [FOI] and found her most interested in the position. Our scheduled half hour meeting extended to one and quarter hours with Vicky and I having a most enlightening and meaningful meeting and discussion with the FOI Commissioner.
The outcome of the three meetings was such that the RMAA reported to the Minister that all three parties were willing to be Commissioners on the State Records Commission.
We were less successful in obtaining meetings with the Hon. Colin Barnett, the Minister responsible for Energy and Dr Kim Haynes, the Minister responsible for the Water Corporation. The Hon. Colin Barnett declined to meet with us and advised that he was happy with the legislation as it stood and that we should be. Dr Kim Haynes referred us to the Chief Executive Officer of the Water Corporation to discuss our concerns. As the Chief Executive Officer would have no direct political bearing on the legislation, we declined the offer. The decision not to meet with the Chief Executive Officer of the Water Corporation was based on advice from our lobbyist Barry MacKinnon.
While all of this activity was in play the RMAA membership were ready and waiting to carry out a mass mailing by all members to their respective local Politician and for the RMAA to start a media campaign to influence the Parliament to act on the legislation. Based on advice from Barry MacKinnon that a mass mailing and media activity could hinder, rather that assist our cause at that moment we held off. Barry MacKinnon advised that while we were progressing, however slowly, on the political front that we should keep the mass mail and media campaign in reserve to be used if all else failed. Neither activity could be guaranteed of success. The way politicians react to mass mail campaigns is unpredictable; it could work for you, or against. As for a media campaign, once you go to the media, they run the agenda, not you, and the result may not be what you had planned and the final outcome would be dependent on an uncontrolled press.
Meanwhile the Public Records Office was renamed the State Records Office [SRO] on the 7 April 1999.
In early July 1999 we contacted the Ministers Office to query the progress of the legislation. Mr Nick Wood, the Ministers assistant advised that a submission was being presented to Cabinet requesting a change to the legislation with the insertion of the Ombudsman, Auditor General and Freedom of Information [FOI] as the proposed three State Records Commissioners.
On 6 July 1999 we wrote to the Minister thanking him for the advice that the Auditor General, the Ombudsman and the Information Commission were being recommended to Cabinet as the three Commissioners concerning the Bill. We wished him success in his submission to Cabinet and requested that he advise us of the outcome of the submission at the appropriate time.
On 3 August 1999 a meeting was held at the Hon. Phillip Pendal’s office with the Hon. Phillip Pendal, the Hon. Sheila McHale, Vicky Wilson and myself where a passing of the baton, as it were, in respect to the main focus of the action on the State Records Bill 1998 occurred. The process of managing activities in respect to the legislation would now rightly pass from the Hon. Phillip Pendal to the Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts. The Shadow Minister would now make the running with the legislation and managing the amendments on the notice paper, with the Hon. Phillip Pendal playing a supporting role.
The role that the Hon. Phillip Pendal and the RMAA would play in the process were discussed and agreed. This was, I believe, one of; if not the defining moment in having the Bill improved. Full credit goes to the Hon. Phillip Pendal for his taking the initiative for the Labor Opposition to make the main thrust and for him to operate in the background and to the Shadow Minister in agreeing to the change.
Not all was over by a long shot and even though we were confident, things went very quiet and we were unable to get any information as to what was occurring. On 22 September 1999, we wrote to the Minister, advising him of the press reports in Victoria where a newspaper article detailed the following: 22 Sep 1999. Jeff Kennett and his Ministers are shredding thousands of confidential documents as the government faces possible defeat, in an effort to highlight poor records management practice and the need to push the WA legislation through as soon as possible and also to maintain a dialogue with Minister.
Partly due to the urging of the Director of the Public Records Office, Chris Coggin we again wrote to the Minister on the 1 November 1999. We urged the Minister to set up a web site for the Public Records Office similar to, and of a similar high standard to that of the Australian National Archives and all other Australian State Records and Archive Offices plus several International Records Management and Archive sites and provided him with a listing of the web addresses.
We had heard that the legislation had been withdrawn. At first, this was taken as a bad sign, but later, on further consideration we reasoned that the Government would need to redraft the legislation to include the change in the identity of the three commissioners. We heard nothing from the Minster, as communication between him and the RMAA had ceased.
8. A second front appears.
The revised legislation the State Records Bill 1999 in draft form was circulated to the CEO’s of a selected number of Departments for comment. Most Records Officers that saw the document had only hours to respond. In most instances, the Records Officers of Departments were unaware of the document being circulated and very few were given the opportunity to respond.
The upshot of this distribution was to create a group of CEO’s in the Senior Executive Service [SES] who were opposed to the legislation. It was postulated that they objected to its anticipated impost on their organisations in respect to resourcing and the need for additional unbudgeted funding and if one were a cynic, additional accountability and corporate scrutiny. In a discussion with a public servant, I was advised that the Bill would not see the light of day due to the growing opposition in the SES. The SES was determined not to let the legislation, in any form, pass in the Parliament. We relayed this information to our political contacts.
At about the same time I was in Parliament on a totally unrelated matter and in the course of a discussion with an employee of Parliament I asked what their, opinion was on the passage of the State Records Bill 1998. The answer I received was completely unexpected and shocked me. I was advised that the legislation had no chance of being passed, as people with power did not wish to see it passed. I interjected with the comment that I was led to believe that the Deputy Premier the Hon. Colin Barnett was in favour of the legislation. I was advised that this person was not referring to the Deputy Premier or the Premier but to persons who held the REAL POWER. I asked to whom the person was referring and I was advised that that my contact did not wish to say anything further on the matter. This conversation set me back ten years and I was at a loss as to know how to manage the information I had just received. Myth or fact? Puffed up presumption or shadowy power figures, it was a heady brew.
Our political contact the Hon. Phillip Pendal was in hospital at the time convalescing from a bout of pneumonia and was out of the loop for several weeks or even months. I contacted Dr Liz Constable and advised her of my recent conversation. She was surprised at my revelations and advised that she would pursue the matter in the absence of Hon. Phillip Pendal. I also made the Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts and our lobbyist Barry MacKinnon aware of my newfound knowledge.
As there was nothing that I believe that I could do personally and doubted that the RMAA would be in a position to address these two new hurdles we left it to the politicians and others to see what could be done to neutralise the situation.
I reported the situation to the RMAA WA Branch Council. A cloud of despair descended over the whole project, and the persons involved.
I am still unaware, to this day, of what occurred behind the scenes to turn this situation around.
To add to our confusion the leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party the Hon. Geoff Gallop reshuffled his Shadow Ministry and appointed the Hon. Tom Stephens MLC as the new Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts. We believed that we had a good working relationship with the previous Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Sheila McHale and now we had another person to whom we had to present our cause and to explain our position.
An appointment was made for the 28 October 1999 for two representatives from the RMAA sub committee to meet with the Hon. Tom Stephens. Vicky Wilson and I were to attend but on the day, Vicky was unavailable and Neil Granland and I attended the meeting along with the Hon. Sheila McHale.
The meeting turned into a potential disaster with the Hon. Tom Stephens expressing his strongest objection to the legislation in any configuration. This impasse went on for some twenty minutes and it appeared that we had lost the support of the Labor Opposition in regard to our stand on the legislation and also the previous support that we had received from the Hon. Sheila McHale.
It suddenly occurred to the Hon. Sheila McHale, Neil and I that the Hon. Tom Stephens was not talking about the State Records Bill 1998 but another piece of legislation on the statute books in respect to the restructuring of the Library Board, the Culture, Libraries and the Arts Bill. The RMAA had no direct interest in this legislation and for that matter; we had our hands full dealing with the State Records Bill 1998. There was an apology from the Hon. Tom Stephens at his error with embarrassment all round.
The meeting came to a close without the new Shadow Minister being aware of the RMAA’s true position on the legislation. It was agreed that the Hon. Sheila McHale would meet with the Hon. Tom Stephens and brief him on what had occurred to date and provide full details for him to consider in respect to the State Records Bill 1998. The Hon. Sheila McHale was still managing the legislation for the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.
It is probably timely to comment that there was ongoing interaction between the Australian Society of Archivists [ASA] WA Branch on what the RMAA sub committee was doing during the period from late 1998 through to the passage of the legislation in November 2000. We kept the spokesperson for the ASA, Ms Lise Summers informed of our progress and setbacks as she did in respect to the ASA activities. It was a good, though not necessarily perfect interaction between the two professional bodies.
Over the two plus years there also were personal and private discussions held between the Director of the Public Records Office, Chris Coggin and myself in which both of us believed that we could be of assistance to each other in furthering the mutual aim of having the legislation passed by Parliament. We had differing objectives and differing sets of rules and guidelines to follow but each of us had a burning desire to have the most appropriate legislation possible put in place for the benefit of the Government and citizens of Western Australia. The RMAA had its barrow to push and Chris on his side had his job in presenting the official position of the then Public Records Office, LISWA and the Minister, irrespective of his personal views on the matter. The relationship between the RMAA WA Branch and the Director of the then PRO and later the SRO over the period 1994 through 2002 were cordial and interactive. As with the interaction with the ASA this also was a good, though not perfect relationship between the two parties.
On the 1 November 1999, we wrote to the Minister, in respect to the variance in penalties between the State Records Bill 1998 and the Acts Amendment [Evidence] Bill 1999.
The letter was worded as follows:
At our meeting of the 25 February 1999, we raised several issues with you in regard to the above legislation. The issue of penalties as listed below was discussed:
Section 74. Confidentially and Section 75. Offences
The Records Management Association of Australia requests that the Penalty of $10,000 provided for in both of these sections to be revised to the penalty called for by the Commission on Government [COG] Report, which called for a penalty of $20,000 and or 2 years imprisonment.
Based on our discussion you obtained advice from the Parliamentary Counsel's Office dated 4 March 1999 ref. PCO95/6179 Min No. 53531. The advice from the Assistant Parliamentary Counsel, Mr Patrick Tremlett was; “I question whether imprisonment should be an option for such an offence given its nature, the other sanctions that could be imposed on the people to whom the clause applies, and the existence of the Code offence." For Section 74. And a similar response for Section 75. With an additional comment: "In my view $10,000 is an adequate maximum penalty for the simple offences in the circumstances." We would draw your attention to the word SIMPLE in this last sentence.
We would now draw your attention to the Bill currently listed for debate in Parliament, Acts Amendment [Evidence] Bill 1999. The area of interest is on page # 9 line 15 of 10. Section 73A replaced (6) A person who signs a certificate for the purposes of this section knowing it to be false or misleading in any material particular commits an indictable offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for 7 years. I would draw your attention to the penalty for this offence 7 YEARS.
Based on our previous discussions on the matter of penalties in the State Records Bill 1998 it is our considered opinion that the penalties indicated in the Acts Amendment [Evidence] 1999 if appropriate for the offence indicated is in conflict with the advice provided by the Assistant Parliamentary Counsel, Mr Patrick Tremlett dated 4 March 1999.
If as indicated the penalty of, 7 years is appropriate for the Acts Amendment [Evidence] Bill 1999 it would appear that the penalties provided for in the State Records Bill 1998 may not fit the degree of the offence.
We would seek your investigation in regard to the apparent variation in penalties as listed above. It is our opinion that the type of actions covered by Sections 74. And 75. of the State Records Bill 1998 could inflict a greater harm on the Public of Western Australia and its Government than the provision of false evidence as covered by the section (6) in the Acts Amendment [Evidence] Bill 1999.
The Minister for Culture and the Arts, who was also the Western Australian Attorney General, replied that the penalties for the State Records Bill 1998 and the Evidence Act 1906 did not stand in isolation. If an offence occurred that was applicable to the two areas at issue, then the individual in question could be dealt with under both of the Acts and the penalties could be cumulative e.g. a penalty of a $10,000.00 fine, plus 7 years in detention would be available as penalties under the two Acts.
On the 17 November 1999, the Hon. Sheila McHale was invited to speak at an RMAA breakfast meeting held at the Matilda Bay Restaurant in Crawley. The Hon. Sheila McHale, the then Shadow Minster for Health who was handling the legislation for the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly provided the hundred or so attendees the Oppositions point of view in respect to the State Records Bill 1998 and accepted questions after her presentation. The presentation was excellent and the RMAA members were now up to date on the Oppositions position in respect to the legislation.
On the 25 November 1999, the Hon. Peter Foss QC, advised, in response to a question in the Legislative Council from the new Shadow Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon Tom Stephens the following:
(1) The State Records Bill 1999 and the State Records (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1999 were second read in the Legislative Assembly on November 24 1999. As the legislation involves the appropriation of funding, it is necessary to introduce the Bills into the Legislative Assembly.
(2) Changes have been made which will add to the strength of the proposed State Records Commission. Members of the independent Commission will now include the State Ombudsman, the Information Commissioner [FOI] and the Auditor General. The fourth member of the Commission will be a person with record keeping experience from outside government. This new composition will ensure the absolute independence of the Commission and will maximise its effectiveness.
The Government has also accepted a number of amendments proposed by the Hon Phillip Pendal, and these have been incorporated into the new Bills. These include the need to provide for electronic scanning of documents, allowing for community input if an archive is to be destroyed, establishing standards to cover the outsourcing of record keeping functions, and the necessity for the Director of State Records to report any breach or suspected breach to the State Records Commission. Arrangements have also been made to ensure that the parliamentary records will be subject to a similarly transparent and accountable process as for Government records.
The legislation does not establish a separate, independent State Records bureaucracy. Not only is this likely to lead to another group who cannot be forced to be efficient, but it is also bad in theory as the bureaucracy would supervise its own work. It would be as if the financial activities of Treasury were performed by the Auditor General.
The model proposed in the legislation ensures that there is no need of an additional bureaucracy to be created, other than a basic secretarial support structure for the work of the independent Commission.
The last sentence of the third paragraph of the above statement from Hansard on the 25 November 1999 may have been the arrangements that neutralised the situation and the advice that we had receive previously from my Parliamentary contact re the persons with REAL POWER. We appeared to be on the road to finalisation and once again, our hopes were high. We achieved some wins with the inclusion of some of the amendments that the Hon. Phillip Pendal had placed on the notice paper on 8 December 1998 but we had been unable to address the issue of removing the exemption given to the three exempt bodies, the Water Corporation, Alinta Gas, and Western Power.
The RMAA in conjunction with input from the Labor Opposition, the Hon. Phillip Pendal, Dr Liz Constable, Barry MacKinnon and others decided that the new State Records Bill 1999 was a document, though not perfect, was legislation that we could honourably support. Based on this agreement we contacted all interested parties advising them of our support of the legislation, with reservations, and urging them to back the legislation with their bipartisan support.
In March 2000 a letter was drafted and sent to all interested parties and in particular, the Labor Opposition, Independents plus the Australian Democrats, and the WA Greens [with the latter two parties holding the balance of power in the Legislative Council] advising them of the RMAA’s support, with reservations, for the revised legislation the State Records Bill 1999.
The letter included the following paragraphs:
“The State Records Bill 1999 in its current form, though not perfect in the eyes of the RMAA, WA Branch, is much improved legislation from that of the State Records Bill 1998. The State Records Bill 1999 incorporates many of the issues detailed in the amendments put forward by the Hon. Phillip Pendal MLA.
The State Records Bill 1999 is, in the assessment of the RMAA, WA Branch, of sufficient merit for us to recommend its support for acceptance as it is currently formulated. We would therefore request your support of the legislation when it is introduced into Parliament.”
About this time, the Premier the Hon. Richard Court had a Ministerial reshuffle and we now had a new Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Michael Board JP, MLA.
Such changes are always unsettling and we asked ourselves, where is this thing going? Do we start again? How do we strike up a rapport with the new Minister?
The RMAA sub committee are again plunged into despair, is there ever to be a State Records Act?
However things were not as down as they may have seemed. Our contacts, the Hon. Phillip Pendal, and our lobbyist Barry MacKinnon were both friends of the new Minister. Back in their Liberal Party days both the Hon. Phillip Pendal and Barry MacKinnon had worked at the party level to get Michael Board elected as the Member for the seat of Murdoch. Based on these personal relationships we calculated that we were in a better position to interact with the new Minister than the previous situation that we had, or so we envisaged!
A meeting was arranged after some delay with the new Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Michael Board JP, with the assistance of Barry MacKinnon. Vicky Wilson, Barry MacKinnon, and I met with the Minister on 8 March 2000 along with the Director of the State Records Office, Chris Coggin. The meeting touched on new ground, as it was obvious by the questions posed by the Minister that he had a long way to go in his understanding of the State Records Office, the legislation and the issues at hand. He queried why Western Australia needed new Records Management legislation if the FOI legislation had everyone in fear of doing the wrong thing and not documenting what possibly should have been.
All of the attendees including Chris Coggin, but probably with the exception of Barry MacKinnon left the meeting in a negative mood.
There was some serious soul searching to be done, where to now? How to get back the lost ground?
The Hon. Phillip Pendal came to the rescue, again. Due to his relationship with the new Minister, he was in a position to discuss the merits of what was occurring and over time the Minster appeared to warm to the task of supporting the legislation.
The process of influencing the Government, Ministers and Senior Executives continued with the RMAA WA Branch conducting a one-day seminar on 14 June 2000 titled "e-COMMERCE or e-CHAOS? Managing records in the new millennium".
The invited speakers were Justine Heazlewood of the Public Records Office of Victoria, Dr Ross Wilkinson of the CSIRO, Des Pearson, Auditor General of Western Australia plus Marita Keenan, John Townsend, Arthur Wilson and Mervyn Joseph with the Minister for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Michael Board JP opening the event. All WA Government Ministers were invited to attend the event and we indicated in the invitation that if they were unavailable, that their CEO’s would benefit by their attendance. No Ministers or CEO’s attended but we did get good attendance from WA Government Organisations with the information flow down from Ministers advising the need for someone to attend. One hundred and thirty six people attended and the Hon. Phillip Pendal, a friend of the Minster attended and was seated next to him. This seating arrangement provided an opportunity for the Hon. Phillip Pendal to prompt the Minister when Justine Heazlewood mentioned the million dollar figures in her presentation in respect to the Victorian VERS Project.
It was felt that the seminar had a desirable effect on the Minister as well as providing an insight into what was happening in Victoria with their VERS Strategy and the associated significant level of funding associated with the initiative.
Again, we entered a time of waiting when nothing seemed to be moving forward, or so it appeared.
From June 2000, several approaches were made by the Hon. Phillip Pendal to have the legislation brought before the Legislative Assembly. The Minister for Culture and the Arts advised that the leader of the Legislative Assembly the Hon. Colin Barnett and Deputy Premier would not allow a time slot in the Parliamentary schedule for the Bill to be debated. The Hon. Phillip Pendal then approached the Leader of the House on the matter and was advised in the same vein. The reason was that there was important legislation to be passed and the Hon. Colin Barnett would not allow 20 or more hours to be wasted in debate based on his understanding that the Opposition was opposed to the legislation. The RMAA had, back in March 2000 advised all parties of its qualified support of the legislation and the Hon. Phillip Pendal asked the Hon. Colin Barnett if he could get the Opposition to agree not to drag out the debate on the legislation would he bring on the Bill in the Legislative Assembly.
We were subsequently advised that a bidding war then arose between the two with the Hon. Phillip Pendal offering to get the Bill debated in four hours and the Hon. Colin Barnett demanding one hour. A deal was struck based on the Opposition and other Independents not dragging out the debate on the legislation in the Legislative Assembly for not more than two hours.
The hare was up and running again. We were advised that the legislation would be discussed in the Legislative Assembly on 12 September 2000 starting at 2:00 pm. I duly arrived at the Public Gallery at the chosen hour only to find that the Legislative Assembly started its business at 2:00 pm and it would be some time until it got to the State Records Bill 1999. I decided to wait and while following the proceedings, both the Hon. Phillip Pendal and the Hon. Sheila McHale noted my presence in the Public Gallery. One of my RMAA colleagues later joined me and we then awaited the debate of the legislation.
The Hon. Phillip Pendal came to the Public Gallery and invited me to sit in the special Speakers Gallery at the rear of the Chamber in the Legislative Assembly. I declined as I had an associate with me, but the main reason was that the Director of the State Records Office, Chris Coggin was sitting in the Speakers Gallery at the rear of the Chamber available to support the Minister on issues, should they arise. I did not wish to give the impression that I was there supporting the other side, as it were, in case any misunderstanding or unintended injury to prestige occurred.
The Hon Sheila McHale made an excellent speech as did the Hon. Phillip Pendal. The Western Australian Parliament web site has details online of Hansard page 1052/5 and 1056/1 Tuesday 12 September 2000 with details available @ WA Government Parliament Hansard
For those who wish to read all of the action in respect to this legislation you can visit the above web site and ask the question “State Records Bill”. You will receive 92 hits starting from the introduction of the legislation into the Legislative Assembly on 21 October 1998 and “State Records Act” where you will receive 36 hits starting on 22 October 1998. There is some limited crossover but these hits will supply you with the full Hansard report, word for word, from 1998 to the present.
One of the changes between the 1998 and the 1999 versions of the legislation was that a change had been made to extend the period that Departments had to comply with the new Act from two years to five based on lobbying by the SES. The Minister in response to a question from the Hon. Sheila McHale in respect to this change advised the he was willing to insert two years and not five years as in the current 1999 version. The SES people must have seen red when made aware that their hard fought for amendment had been altered, and reduced back to two years without a fight, or refusal to budge from the stated position, by the Minister.
During the debate the Hon. Phillip Pendal was having a dig at the Hon. Colin Barnett who was absent from the chamber at the time. While he was speaking the Hon. Colin Barnett returned to his seat and reacted to what was being said. The Hon. Phillip Pendal recalled later, in horror, the fact that he may have unwittingly hit a soft spot with the Hon. Colin Barnett and by his inadvertence might have caused the legislation to be withdrawn.
Not so, all’s well that ends well.
The State Records Bill 1999 received passage in the Legislative Assembly with one or two minor amendments on this day, 12 September 2000.
It was champagne all around at the news of the passage in the Legislative Assembly. We thought that we had it made.
The wheels came off again! The Premier called an election and suddenly all interest in getting the Bill through the Parliament went out the window.
The hatches then went up. Somewhere it was decreed that nothing controversial was to be progressed or discussed in either House which might damage the government’s chances for re-election. The shadow of Barry MacKinnon’s three principles came savagely into their own and back to bite us where it hurt most.
Again the soul searching questions, where to now? What to do? All appears lost!
A meeting with the Hon. Phillip Pendal was quickly convened. The leader of the Legislative Council the Hon. Norman Moore BA, Dip Ed, MLC was not on friendly terms with Hon. Phillip Pendal due to a long held grievance. The Hon. Peter Foss who was the person responsible for the legislation in the Legislative Council appeared to have become gun shy and would not bring on the legislation, probably at his leaders direction.
What appeared to be a lost cause now looked more like an unmitigated disaster. There was no movement anywhere, and we had no clear idea of what to do next.
I was informed that my local Member and Liberal Party representative, the Hon. Derrick Tomlinson MLC was a close friend of the Hon. Peter Foss QC, and on good terms with, and had a friendly professional relationship with the Hon. Phillip Pendal. This friendship extended back many years to when the Hon. Phillip Pendal was an MLC in the Legislative Council and a member of the Shadow Ministry of the Liberal/National Opposition.
There was more work to do. I contacted my local Member the Hon. Derrick Tomlinson and explained the situation to him. The Hon. Phillip Pendal also had a word to the Hon. Derrick Tomlinson on the matter. The Hon. Phillip Pendal sent a memo to all members of the Legislative Council, urging them to bring on the legislation prior to the adjournment of Parliament and before the upcoming election.
A letter from the RMAA was sent to all members of the Legislative Council, in synchronisation with, and supporting the memo from the Hon. Phillip Pendal that supported the passage of the legislation. The letter advised the members that the legislation now had bipartisan support [a wording that was decided on earlier, to be pushed at all cost, even if it may have been slightly untrue. It worked!] and in addition urging them to have the State Records Bill 1999, due to its critical importance to the State, placed on the notice paper before Parliament adjourned, and definitely before the election.
Whatever happened concerning this rearguard action, we receive an unexpected telephone call from the Office of the Leader of the Legislative Council the Hon. Norman Moore BA, Dip Ed, on the morning of Wednesday 15 November 2000 advising that the State Records Bill 1999 was on the notice paper for debate later that day.
We were made aware that the Director of the State Records Office, Chris Coggin had also received a similar telephone call. Chris Coggin’s message required him to be in the Legislative Council by noon.
When you read the transcript of Hansard for 15 November 2000 you would be forgiven for not knowing that a deal had been done and that there was bipartisan support for the legislation. The Members in the House appeared to be tearing each other to shreds. I for one am very glad that I was not in the Public Gallery at the time. Based on the wording that I later observed in Hansard in respect to the debate on the day, I am certain that I would have broken down in tears at the thought that there was no way that the legislation would be passed.
I was wrong, the Bill did get support and was passed in the Legislative Council, but not how I had envisaged the debate and its passage. Who cares how the politicians play games that we do not understand in both these places?
The RMAA and the people of Western Australia finally have our legislation, for good or ill.
In a discussion with Barry MacKinnon, he hit me with a sobering statement and the realisation dawned that another hurdle remained. Yes, the legislation had now passed both houses but was still not law. Barry MacKinnon advised that it would not be the first time that Parliament had passed legislation only to have it sit for years and in some cases forever, without receiving Royal Assent and passing into law. More work to do. Back to the keyboard and send a letter off to the Minster asking when the legislation would receive Royal Assent. We received no reply. The legislation was eventually proclaimed in the new Parliamentary Session on the 27 November 2001, more than one year after the passage of the legislation on 15 November 2000 in the Legislative Council though the legislation received Royal Assent in December 2000. The 15 November 2000 was, I believe, the last session, if not the last day of business before parliament was prorogued for the election of February 2001.
The RMAA and others went into party mode. We now had the legislation we had been working towards since the late 1980’s. On 21 December 1999, the RMAA decided to thank all of the politicians involved in the process. We invited them to join us in a toast to the success of the passage of the legislation by providing them with an excellent bottle of Western Australian red to celebrate the occasion. Wine, purchased and suitably packaged which included a letter thanking each of the individuals for their input and for their assistance with the passage of the legislation was readied for delivery.
The letter was worded as follows:
On behalf of the members of the Western Australian Branch of the Records Management Association of Australia (RMAA) we wish to congratulate you and your Party on the Assent of the new State Records Act.
In appreciation for your untiring effort and support over many years in the progress of the legislation to its fruition, our Association invites you to join us in toasting the passage of the legislation by accepting a bottle of Christmas cheer to fulfill this toast.
The RMAA, WA Branch assures the new State Records Commission of its unqualified support and offers to make its experience and expertise available to the Commission if called upon for professional advice. We wish you a happy and enjoyable Christmas.
I personally delivered the bottles of wine and the letter to all concerned, at their respective Electoral or Ministerial Offices.
The general feeling in the electorate was that the Liberal/National Coalition would be retuned at the election of February 2001. To the surprise of all the Labor Party with Dr Geoff Gallop MLA as leader was elected to govern the state for the next term.
Where did this leave the State Records Act 2000? Would it be implemented? Would the Labor Party now in power wish to alter the legislation to incorporate those areas on which they argued in favour for a number of years? If changes to the legislation were in the offing, the implementation of the State Records Act 2000 could be delayed for several years.
The RMAA sent a letter of congratulation to the new Minster for Culture and the Arts, the Hon. Sheila McHale MLA on her appointment in which we also requested a meeting with her at her earliest convenience.
A meeting was convened for 30 May 2001 and attended by the Hon. Sheila McHale and her personal assistant plus the Director of the State Records Office, Chris Coggin, Neil Granland and myself at Parliament House. We went to the meeting prepared with seven issues to discuss and they were as follows:
1. What is the current situation with the State Records Act 2000 and when will it be proclaimed?
2. Will the government be proclaiming the act with its current wording?
3. Will funding as detailed in the legislation be increased to allow for the Commission and the State Records Office to carry out their roles?
4. The Department for Trade and Commerce has, as we understand the situation, a policy unit responsible for information management. How is this section of the Office of Communications and Information Management mesh with the role of the State Records Office?
5. In its recent "Discussion Papers on the future directions for LISWA 2002-2007" which includes a paper from the Director of the State Records Office titled "Generators, Guardians and Gatekeepers: The function and role of recordkeeping and the State Records Office of Western Australia" [Chris Coggin] on page 4, 7 outlined a concept in respect to the management of Records and Archives. In reading the document, it would appear that the only reason for Records Management is to support the Archive activities of the State Records Office. If this is the view of the State Records Office then the Records Management function of that body should be transferred elsewhere and be separated from the Archive activity.
The paper "Generators, Guardians and Gatekeepers” is available online @ Generators, Guardians and Gatekeepers should the reader wish to obtain a complete understanding as to why question [5.] was posed of the Minister.
In your speech in the Legislative Assembly on 24 Nov 2000 while in Opposition, you indicated the need for a separation of the Public Records Office from LISWA. What is the Ministers current position?
6. When will the State Records Office receive the resources it requires to allow it to provide facilities and direction similar to that of the NSW State Records Office, the Victorian Public Records Office and National Archive Authority? These web sites and the web site of the UK PRO shows what could be achieved if appropriately resourced.
7. Is there a need for a whole of Government approach on the issue of appropriate Records Management in the WA public sector?
The Minster addressed each of the seven items and the outcomes were as follows:
1. The State Records Act 2000 is in the administrative process of proceeding to its proclamation with a high degree of priority. The selection of the forth Commission is in progress with a recommendation anticipated to be presented to Caucus for approval within the next two weeks. The proclamation of the Act in respect to the appointment of the four Commissions would then proceed. It is anticipated that the process for the Commission to document a guideline for the wording of a Record Keeping Plan and its proclamation will be completed within three months of the proclamation of the appointment of the Commissioners.
2. The State Records Act 2000 as it is now enshrined in legislation will proceed without any changes to the current wording.
3. Funding for the State Records Commission and the State Records Office is current being negotiated within Government in context with the 2001/2002 State Budget.
4. That the issue of the role of the Department of Commerce Trade and its Office of Information and Communications in respect to its responsibility for policy matters for Information Management within the Western Australian Public Sector will be investigated.
5. That the RMAA WA Branch will document its concerns in regard to the recently distributed document from the Library and Information Service of Western Australia LISWA titled "Discussion Papers on the future directions for LISWA 2002-2007".
6. That the issue of the provision of a web site for the State Records Office will be addressed.
7. That the issue of a Whole of Government approach to the issue of appropriate Records Management in the WA public sector would receive consideration.
The meeting with the Minister was cordial and constructive, both Neil Granland and I came away believing that the RMAA was well positioned to work with the Minster, the State Records Commission and the State Records Office on a professional and constructive basis into the future.
In July 2001, the RMAA invited the Minister for Culture and the Arts, to speak at the Annual General Meeting [AGM]. On the evening the Minster announced that the fourth Commissioner had been selected and would be announced shortly. The Minster further announced the separation of the State Records Office from the Library and Information Service of WA [LISWA] which was greeted with shouts of joy and applause from the 120 persons in attendance. The State Records Office would now report directly to the Director of the Ministry for Culture and the Arts, which is the same reporting relationship as that of LISWA.
There was an Official Launch of the Recordkeeping Principles and Standards and the State Records Office Website on 6 March 2002.
On 13 March 2002 the Minister for Culture and the Arts, advised the Legislative Assembly the following in respect to THE STATE RECORDS COMMISSION, PRINCIPLES AND STANDARDS being gazetted. The excerpt from Hansard is documented below:
MS McHALE (Thornlie - Minister for Culture and the Arts) [12.10 pm]: I am pleased to inform the House that the State Records Commission published its first set of state records principles and standards in the Government Gazette on 5 March 2002.
Have we finally reached the end of the chase and the hare gone to ground? What did the RMAA learn over the period 1994 through 2002?
1. That we were babes in the woods in respect to our understanding of what was involved in having legislation initiated and put in place.
2. That the process was extremely involved, slow going and very hard work.
3. That the RMAA had no idea of what it had let itself in for in working to improve the legislation.
4. That the result was worth all of the effort over time. And;
5. That there is still more to be accomplished.
In many statements, speeches and announcements over a number of years, by politicians, government executives and senior public servants of the principle of seeking professional input from a wide ranging constituent including Professional Organisations such as the RMAA, ASA and others has been expounded as a being the holy grail and that this process would be followed.
It is regrettable that in respect to the above situation, that action speaks louder than words. To my knowledge, since the passage of the State Records Bill 1999 on 15 November 2000, not once have the RMAA or other professionals associated with Records Management in this State, or elsewhere [with the possible exception of internal government employees] been invited to provide input to the strategy for the Management of Records in the Public Sector of Western Australia. It may be argued that the State Records Advisory Committee [SRAC] has input from Professional Organisations and Records Management Professionals, and that is true. It should be recognised that the SRAC replaces the Special Committee on Public Records [SCOPR] that had been in existence and operating since 1996. This committee has no input to the decision making process for the strategy for Records Management Standards and Guidelines in Western Australia and is responsible solely for the approval or rejection of Disposition Schedules submitted by WA Government Agencies.
The State Records Commission [SRC] held its inaugural meeting on 14 Aug 2001, and insofar as I am aware, has yet, and this is relevant to the point above, to seek external input from any Professional Organisations or Records Management Professionals. The SRC appears to rely solely on the State Records Office [SRO] staff for its advice. It is acknowledged that the SRC did seek, via the SRO, input from 809 heads of government organisations by way of a request for comment on the broad principles and content of the Recordkeeping Plan, with an extremely short timeframe to respond, only 22 government organisations responded (a 2.72% response rate). The response was intended to assist in the formulation of the SRC’s Principles and Standards. The SRC, again through the SRO then circulated an exposure draft standard for the Recordkeeping Plan to 406 heads of government organisations; again only 21 responded (a 5.17% response rate). It is obvious by the low response rate that either 1. There is a lack of interest by the heads of government organisations or 2. The response times made available are inappropriate to address the criteria concerned. I would suggest the latter. The previous practice where the SRO held regular meetings with RM Consultants, Educators and other like professionals, which provided some interaction between the SRO and the profession have been abandoned some two years ago.
This in no way indicates that input from the SRO is flawed. I am certain that the SRO staff provide, excellent, though I would contend, restricted input to the situation due to the nature of the SRO operations. A wider canvassing of divergent views and input from Records Management [RM] Professional Organisations and individual RM Professionals could yield a richer vein of knowledge and valuable applied experience to assist the Commission in their deliberations.
The Professional Organisations and individual Records Management Professionals await the day that, in the interest of best practice Records Management for the State of Western Australia that their experience and expertise is tapped so as to maximise and utilise the input from all available resources of this critical professions, which has the potential to contribute to improved efficiency and accountability for all concerned.
The Act provides for the SRC to establish advising committees. It would appear to be an invaluable step in the improvement of the quality and range of input to the SRC’s deliberations for the establishment of one or more committee/s whose mandate is considerably broader than that of the limited role provided by SRAC, to be instituted.
The passage of the State Records Act 2000 along with the separation of the SRO from within the LISWA structure have been an excellent advancement in the area for best practice Records Management in the Public Sector in Western Australia. It will take some time for the benefits of the new legislation and support structure made available by the government to find its way into the day to day work practices at the Agency level, based on the Records Plans instituted by each Agency. It will be a pleasure to be able to carry out an audit of an Agency in the not too distant future to find best practice records management being the rule, rather than the exception.
Laurie Varendorff ARMA
Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president and national director, has been involved in records management for 30 years. He has his own consulting and training business near Perth, Western Australia, and has tutored in recordkeeping and archival storage and preservation at Perth’s Edith Cowan University. Phone: +61 (0)8 9291 6925; mobile: 0417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff
SPECIAL NOTE: Use of this article by publishers, commercial, government, or educational organisations requires a financial agreement to be negotiated with Laurie as the copyright holder for this work.