Providing access to original records

Under the Archives Act 1983, we give the community, researchers and government access to original records of the Australian Government.

Under the Act, you have a right of access to Commonwealth records that are in the open access period.

The Act applies to most records except:

  • those of the courts
  • some records of the Parliament
  • some records of governors-general
  • some records held by other national collecting institutions, such as the Australian War Memorial and the National Library of Australia

You can access most other records in the open access period. We examine all records before we release them to identify sensitive information that needs to be withheld. See the Exempt Records section below.

You can either access the records online or visit one of our research centres in each capital city.

Public access

If you are researching your family history, or want to learn more about important historical events, you can view original records, including documents, maps and audio-visual material, in our research centres in each capital city.

You can also search our extraordinary collection of archival records through our website.

Access for researchers

Whether you are researching a book, working on your PhD, or simply enjoy the thrill of the research chase, you can access our extraordinary collection of archival records.

The Archives Act 1983 gives researchers access to most Commonwealth Government records that are in the open access period.

For exempt records, or records not in the open access period, you might be able to apply for special access.

Access for students

The National Archives holds a treasure trove of information to help with your civic, citizenship and Australian history assignments.

Start by visiting VRROOM, our website dedicated to online resources for students and teachers.

Learn more about government policies, decision making and cabinet papers by searching our extraordinary collection of archival records.

You can also access original documents, maps and audio-visual material, in our research centres in each capital city.

Exempt records

Some records cannot be released because of the type of information they contain.

This falls into 2 broad categories:

  • Personal information, such as medical history, might be exempt for at least the lifetime of the individual.
  • Government information might be exempt if its release could badly affect Australia’s defence, security or international relations.

Access to records for government agencies

Authorised staff from government agencies can access records that have been moved to the National Archives.

You can get digital copies of unclassified paper records through the Agency Digitisation Service (ADS).

You can arrange to view classified records, or records in formats not covered by the ADS in one of our research centres under official access.

In some cases it may be possible to borrow original records where a digitised copy or research centre access is not acceptable. Please contact our Lending Service for advice.

Special access to records

For access to exempt records, or records not in the open access period, you might be able to apply for special access.

You might qualify for special access if you are:

  • a former governor-general, minister or senior public servant
  • an authorised biographer of one of these people
  • writing major works of national significance
  • a person who has left personal records with the National Archives.

If you qualify for special access, this means you can access records that are not in the open access period, or that are not publicly available.

You will need to fill in an application form for special access.

If you are writing an authorised biography of a former governor-general, federal ministers or senior Australian Government public servant, send your application to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

If your research is for a a major work of national significance, send your application to the Australian Government agency or agencies that control the records.

Discuss your project with the relevant agency before you make a formal application.

In making its decision an agency will usually consider:

  • your intention to publish
  • your qualifications, including previous publications
  • the benefits and costs to the Australian Government of granting special access
  • any sensitivity related to the records involved, including defence, international relations or national security
  • any effects on individuals
  • the privacy of individuals