Access Examination

Under the Archives Act 1983, all records are available to be accessed by the public once they enter the open access period unless they contain material that falls into certain exemption categories under section 33 of the Archives Act.

Once a record has been requested by a member of the public, it needs to be examined before it is released. Certain Archives’ staff are delegated under the Act to examine records and make decisions about whether they can be released. Sometimes this is done in consultation with departments and agencies.

Under the Act we are required to release as much information as possible. Most records (96.5%) are wholly released, but a small percentage (3%) are released with some material exempted. Only 0.5% of records are wholly exempted. If we refuse access, it is usually because the records contain sensitive information or information that is not in the open access period.The information we exempt from public access falls into two broad areas:

Personal information – Some personal information may require exemption for at least the lifetime of the individual (e.g. medical histories, or details of personal relationships).
Information about the security of the Commonwealth and its residents – If its disclosure could adversely affect Australia’s defence, security or international relations (e.g. details of the design and construction of weapons, or records about intelligence-gathering, or information passed to the Australian government in confidence by a foreign entity) it will be withheld.

While most examination is completed within a month, it may take up to 90 days and sometimes longer to examine some files. If we have not given you a decision within 90 days we are deemed to have refused you access and you may appeal.

We understand that the delay in examining records may mean that some researchers no longer require access to the records they requested. If you no longer need the records you have requested, please notify us at

Progress in reducing the backlog

In October 2013, the Archives established a special access examination taskforce in the Canberra office to review and examine overdue applications submitted prior to 1 October 2013. Funding for the Access Examination Taskforce (4FTE) within the Access Examination Section, ceased on 31 December 2015. Prior to the end of December the taskforce during its three iterations resolved more than 66 per cent of the backlog of more than 20,000 applications. Only 6,729 applications remain to be processed, with just over 6,000 unique records still awaiting examination (there are a number of records that have been requested by more than one researcher). The remaining applications will be addressed within business-as-usual operational resources.

Over the past five years, applications for access have been growing at an increasing rate. In 2013-14 and also in 2014-15, the Archives received more than 60,000 applications for access to records that have not previously been available to the public – an increase in the approximately 43,000 requests it usually receives each year. Despite the concerted efforts of staff to examine items as efficiently as possible, there remain more than 24,100 current applications to be processed by the Archives. Work continues to streamline processes to improve efficiency and increase the number of items examined.

Newly opened records

No items have been processed in the last 28 days.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018