Retention and disposal authorities, destroying records and transferring archives.

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The State Records Act 1998 creates a statutory framework for authorising the disposal of State records and for deciding which records will be retained as State archives.

Under the Act, State Records NSW, through the Board of the State Records Authority NSW, can give permission for the disposal of records. State Records NSW may require records to be retained as State archives, permit the destruction of records or, in certain specific cases, permit the transfer of records from NSW Government ownership to private or other ownership.

Disposal is usually authorised through retention and disposal authorities issued by State Records NSW following their approval by the Board of the State Records Authority.

Note: The State Records Act 1998 prohibits the unauthorised disposal of State records, A penalty of 100 penalty units (currently $11,000) may be imposed for breaches of the disposal provisions of the Act.

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Records retention and disposal authorities

A retention and disposal authority is a formal instrument that identifies:

  • minimum retention periods before records can be destroyed
  • records which are required to be transferred as State archives.

Copies of retention and disposal authorities approved by State Records NSW are available on our records retention and disposal authorities page.

Most functions performed by NSW public offices are covered by a records retention and disposal authority. Please contact us at if you believe your organisation does not have coverage. it is likely there is an existing authority that can be approved for your organisation.

If we confirm that there is a gap, you will need to obtain authorisation from State Records NSW. See the following for more advice:

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Digital disposal

Retention and disposal authorities cover records and information regardless of the medium or format in which they are created. With many organisations now conducting their business in a fully digital environment, digital disposal is a core component of disposal. As with disposal of paper records, digital disposal requires thorough analysis and documentation. However in the digital environment it must be conducted across a very broad range of systems and technologies, often on a large scale and with compressed timeframes.

Digital systems collect and generate vast amounts of data. Despite innovations in data storage techniques and decreasing per-unit prices for digital storage media, proper management of this information over time will require analytical and defensible disposal processes. This is because:

  • there are specific limitations on the periods of time public offices can hold certain types of data for privacy and other reasons
  • digital disposal includes processes to identify records which will be transferred as State archives. Ideally, a core component of systems holding high value records and information should be functionality to enable that information to be specifically identified.
  • management overheads for digital systems, such as security, search, and discovery, mean that the cost of storage is only one component of the long term cost. The cost and complexity of these factors is increasing rather than decreasing.
  • digital systems accumulate vast volumes of system metadata in their routine operations. While a lot of this metadata is important at the time it is produced, a majority of it does not have long term value.

Building digital disposal capability should be part of your organisation’s records and information management strategy, and should focus on core systems and high value/high risk records and information. For more information, see Designing, Managing and Implementing Systems, particularly Identifying and Managing High Value and High Risk Records and Information and Effectively Managing the Migration of Digital Records.

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Normal administrative practice

The State Records Act provides a number of means to lawfully dispose of State records. Mostly this is through the retention and disposal authorities mentioned above. Another means is in accordance with the normal administrative practice provisions of the Act which allow for the disposal of certain types of facilitative and duplicate records. Please see Normal administrative practice for more information.

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Disposal alerts

From time to time State Records NSW may issue Disposal alerts.

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Implementing retention and disposal authorities

The implementation of records retention and disposal authorities is important to support the efficient and effective management of government records in all forms. Regular and systematic use of retention and disposal authorities will result in benefits to public offices and to Government by:

  • reducing the costs of records storage
  • reducing the time and cost associated with finding specific records when they are needed and
  • minimising the risks arising from illegal or unmanaged destruction of records and from inadvertently keeping records that should be destroyed.

Records designated as State archives, and which are no longer in use for official purposes in the agency, should also be routinely and systematically transferred to Museums of History NSW care to ensure their preservation as part of the State's heritage.

For further information and guidance see Implementing a retention and disposal authority.

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Disposal of personnel and committee records

See additional guidance relating to the disposal of:

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Transferring archives

See the Agency Services section of the MHNSW website for information about transferring records as State archives

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Destroying records

The destruction of State records should always be authorised. This means the destruction of the records is either permitted under a current retention and disposal authority issued by State Records NSW or under the 'normal administrative practice' provisions of the State Records Act 1998.

For further advice and information on requirements see Destruction of records.

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Recovering State records that have strayed

Government records held in private ownership or possession without appropriate authorisation are referred to as ‘estrays’. The State Records Act 1998 provides for the recovery of estrays back to official control. See Estrays: recovering State records that have strayed for more information.

Published April 2014 / Revised February 2015 / Updated November 2022

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