Ombudsman’s Report “Investigation into the Storage and Management of Ward Records” – RIM Professionals Australasia Media Statement

RIM Professionals Australasia MEDIA RELEASE

Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia (RIM Professionals Australasia) recognises the importance of managing records for the protection of human rights and ensuring accountability & transparency.  

The Ombudsman’s Report “Investigation into the Storage and Management of Ward Records” highlights the devastating impact caused by DHS’ failure to meet its legal obligation to properly manage ward records.

DHS’ poor record keeping practices have impeded wards from accessing their own records through FOI to reconnect with their family members[1].  These poor practices may have also compromised legal claims by wards for alleged crimes and applications for compensation since these records have been rendered unavailable due to the lack of identification of the content of this vast collection[2].

The difficulty in locating such records was even used by parliament to justify not establishing a compensation scheme for wards who suffered while in care:

One of the problems, if we were to go down this track, would be actually locating records. Legal systems being what they are, it would be difficult to try to come up with the evidence that would be needed to mount a case to say that you were in fact the one who had all of these things happen to you. The record-keeping, I would suggest, was not fabulous…records are rarely in the one place’.[3]

The government has known about these issues as far back as 2004, when they were raised publicly in the Forgotten Australians Report[4].  The report details records of children in care being prematurely destroyed rendered incapable of identification or lost.  This is despite the legal requirement to manage them according to specific standards[5].

Care leavers poignantly described the hardships they face when their own records could not be found in the Forgotten Australian’s report:

Not only did I lose my identity, but I lost my Mother, my Father, Brothers and a sister, my family home, my bedroom, my toys, my family photos, my school friends at St Kevin’s at Cardiff, Aunties, Uncles, my hometown friends and connections education all blown away like points off the stockmarket just as through it never existed. (Sub 360)

As a ward of the State I find it very degrading to be told by the Government that we have to confront the institution where I was sexually abused to try and find out information about myself. I feel that there should be a Government body who would act on our behalf. This is not just for myself, but for all the boys in the same situation who have to go to different institutions where terrible memories exist, to grovel for information.

(Sub 211)[6]

RIM Professionals Australasia supports the Victorian Government’s return to a focus on integrity through the proposed review of the Freedom of Information Act and the inclusion of document destruction as an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) consideration, in line with criminal penalties in the Crimes Act 1958.

However any changes to the FOI Act are ineffective due to the current government’s failure to address deficiencies with the Public Records Act 1973 (the Act). The Act is the very legislation that compels government to create, manage and maintain full and accurate records as evidence of Victorian Government business according to rigorous standards.

This failure is in stark contrast to the judiciary’s approach where making records unavailable through neglect, omission or intentional acts of commission in the latter case, via document destruction comes with heavy criminal penalties.  (Crimes Act 1958)

Despite RIM Professionals Australasia directly corresponding to the Premier’s office in September 2011 with details of the number of  government  breaches of record keeping legislation [7] (more than 300 in 5 years) detailed in Victoria’s integrity offices reports, the Public Records Act 1973 (the act)  has yet to be reviewed.

The Act currently has limited oversight, no enforcement or compliance monitoring, no defined community complaints process and mediocre penalties for the destruction of a public record, 5 penalty points. ($524) [8]

Government’s failure to address these long known issues has a significant cost to the community, particularly its vulnerable and disadvantaged members such as wards.

With government continuing to outsource more of its business to private industry, and conducting business through the web – Can Victorian government assure RIM Professionals Australasia and the greater community that current care leavers will not face the same difficulties in 5,10, 15 years?

The Premier is also the current Minister of the Arts and hence responsible for the review and modernisation of the Public Records Act 1973 in line with  current evidence law requirements,  business practices and technologies.  

 

Clearly a review of the Public Records Act 1973 and its current record keeping regulatory model is long overdue.

Lastly it’s imperative that we learn from the mistakes of the past. The Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Child Care Services in Victoria (Norgard report) stated as early as 1976 that:

 The Social Welfare Department’s present provisions for record-keeping and for reviewing the progress of its wards require thorough overhaul. Inefficiency in these fields can result in real – sometimes permanent – harm to individuals. [9]

The record-keeping standards in children’s homes were also evaluated:

Some organizations document children’s progress and social relationships most competently; in others, little may be known of children and their families except what exists in the memories of senior staff. It is still possible in some organizations for much effective knowledge of a child’s past to vanish with a retiring staff member.   The Committee recommended mandatory annual reviews of children in care to prevent children becoming ‘lost in the system’.[10]

RIM Professionals Australasia recognises that well managed records ensure that the documentary evidence of the devastating and traumatic history of the Forgotten Australians is neither lost nor ever forgotten.


[2]  See report by Ryan Carlisle and Thomas- http://www.clan.org.au/images/CLANconferencepaper.pdf

 

[3] Hansard 9th November 2011.

[5] www.prov.vic.gov.au

[6] http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/clac_ctte/completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/report/c09.pdf

[7] A Victorian Auditor General’s Office audit report, Records Management in the Public Sector Audit (2008), and

RIMPA raised these concerns in a letter to which incorporated an analysis of the Victorian Auditor General’s reports (2005 – 2011) in September 2011. This analysis demonstrated that record keeping compliance breaches are prolific (in excess of 300 references), reoccurring and have high risk implications for government agencies, the community and outsourced organisations.

 

[8] A Victorian Auditor General’s Office audit report, Records Management in the Public Sector Audit (2008

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