The humble Post-It note has emerged as a powerful weapon used by the Australian Public Service to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny and Freedom of Information laws.
The use of the ubiquitous yellow stationery has become widespread in Commonwealth workplaces as an aide memoir for bureaucrats which, unlike formal file notes, can "fall off" official records when the information threatens to embarrass their department.
Record-keeping in government departments were thrown into the spotlight last week when one of the nations' most senior public servants told a Senate Committee that he had lost his notes of a highly politically sensitive meeting.
Opposition and Greens senators seeking access to the file note kept by Attorney General's Department Secretary Chris Moraitis were disappointed when the Canberra veteran told them the document, notes of a meeting with Human Rights Commission Chief Gillian Triggs, had been in a briefcase he had lost.
But former APS insiders have told Fairfax the requirements for public servants to keep full notes are often "observed" by jotting relevant information on Post-It notes and sticking them to the file.
"The benefit of a Post-it note is that it can fall off a folio in a file whenever you want it to fall off," one veteran of several departments said.
"It's not FOI-able then, there's no form of record.
"Somebody might say 'I'm sure I saw a Post-It note on that file' but if it can't be found, if it's not there, then it doesn't exist."
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Public service sources say the preference for sticky-notes to proper file notes emerged at the Department of Foreign Affairs in the wake of the Australian Wheat Board foreign bribery scandal in the mid-2000s.
The practice spread rapidly across the bureaucracy, encouraged in some cases by middle and senior managers who took the view that "less is definitely more" when it comes to record keeping.
The former insider said formal note-keeping as mandated by The Archives Act was often seen in departments as an act of self-preservation rather than a formal duty of a public servant.
"If you want to cover your arse, if you want to make sure that it's your version of that meeting, of that phone conversation is recorded, that's when you make sure that you open that note," the source said.
A DFAT spokesman said his department's record keeping policy was consistent with its legal requirements under TheArchives Act.
"The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's record keeping policy is consistent with The Archives Act and the advice and direction set out by the National Archives of Australia," the spokesman said.
"The department keeps records of significant business related activities.
"Records can be in many formats as long as they meet the criteria of significant business activities."
The Attorney-General's Department did not respond to questions.