The intent of the Archives Act 1983 (Cth) (the Archives Act) is that all records subject to the Archives Act are to be publicly released unless they contain information that falls within one of the exemption categories in section 33 of the Archives Act.
This is expressed in section 31(1A)(1) which provides that the National Archives, 'must cause' Commonwealth records in the open access period that are in the custody of the Archives or of a Commonwealth institution, other than exempt records, to be made available for public access.
The Archives Act requires the Archives to publicly release Commonwealth records in the open access period. At the same time the National Archives has the obligation to ensure that information that needs continuing protection is not released. It is a matter of balance for staff who hold the appropriate delegation to make decisions on access. The need for balance was clearly articulated by the then Attorney-General the Honourable Gareth Evans in the Archives Bill 1983 (Cth) Second Reading Speech to the Senate, for and on behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment the Honourable Barry Cohen MP:
"It is expected that under these arrangements the great majority of Commonwealth records more than thirty years old will become available …Inevitably, however, in the interests of personal privacy, good government and security, some exemptions will have to be applied and these will be very similar to those provided under the Freedom of Information legislation. However, it is expected that relatively fewer records will be withheld under Archives legislation because this deals, in the main, with older records."1
With the phased transition from 30 to 20 years for the release of Commonwealth records initiated under amendments to the Archives Act in 20102, the reduction in the open access period places an even greater onus on the National Archives to balance public access rights, openness of Government, privacy, security and national interest.
The objective of this Policy is:
- to set out the Archives' policy for applying exemptions pursuant to sub-section 33(1)(g) for information relating to the personal affairs of any person;
- to set out the Archives' policy for applying exemptions pursuant to sub-section 33(1)(j) for information relating to the business or professional affairs of any person; and
- to promote the management and release of Commonwealth records in an efficient, effective, economical and ethical way.3
This Policy represents the culmination of several years of research, consultation, revision and trial in changing the way access examiners deal with the release of information about individuals in accordance with the provisions of the Archives Act.
This Policy applies to decision makers that have a delegation pursuant to section 8 of the Archives Act to make decisions on section 33 exemptions ('Decision Makers').
It is the Archives’ policy that Decision Makers may apply more than one section 33 exemption to material being examined.
Policy for Section 33(1)(g) Exemptions
Section 33(1)(g) protects personal privacy by providing that a record is exempt if it contains information or material that would involve the unreasonable disclosure of information relating to the personal affairs of any person (including a deceased person).
Decision Makers may exempt information or material pursuant to section 33(1)(g) where:
- it includes information or material relating to the personal affairs of any person; and
- the Decision Maker determines that the disclosure of the information or material would involve an unreasonable disclosure.