When to use the Freedom of Information, Archives and Privacy Acts – Fact sheet 110

To see Commonwealth government records which have not previously been made public you will normally need to apply for access under either the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) or the Archives Act 1983.

Access under the Freedom of Information Act

Use the FOI Act if you want access to records that are not in the open access period. You only have a right of access to records not in the open access period if they relate to your personal affairs or if they are necessary to help you understand records to which you have already had access. You may also use the FOI Act to request the correction of your personal information in government records if it is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading. The FOI Act applies to the records of most Commonwealth government agencies but a significant exclusion are the records of the intelligence agencies. Send your application to the agency holding the records. Agencies must notify you of a decision within 30 days and you may appeal if access is refused.

Access under the Archives Act

Use the Archives Act if you want access to records that are in the open access period. The National Archives administers the Act and to obtain access you must apply to the Archives, even if you think the records may still be with the department or agency that created them. There is no application fee and access is provided without charge. You only pay if you want copies of the records. The Archives may only refuse you access on grounds set out in the Archives Act.

More information about obtaining access under the Archives Act is given in the following fact sheets:

The Archives Act also provides for accelerated and special access. Accelerated access is public access granted to classes of records before they are in the open access period. It is granted at the discretion of agencies and is rarely given.

Special access is a type of privileged access given to approved individuals. Those who meet the necessary criteria are given access to records that are not available for general public access. For more information ask to see the leaflet about special access.

The Privacy Act

The Privacy Act 1988 does not provide a right of access to records. This is already provided by the FOI and Archives Acts. What the Privacy Act does is impose strict controls on the way government agencies may handle personal information; it also regulates the handling of Tax File Numbers and the practices of credit reporting agencies. The Act imposes legal obligations on agencies and gives you the right to complain to the Privacy Commissioner about how your personal information is collected, stored, disclosed, amended and used. The Act also reinforces your right (provided by the FOI Act) to request the correction of your personal information if it is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading.

Avenues by which you may seek access to Commonwealth government records

flowchart showing avenues for seeking access to Commonwealth government records

Flowchart showing avenues by which you may seek access to Commonwealth government records (rtf, 65kb)

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