Releasing records for access

When a record is requested by a member of the public, National Archives staff examine the record for any sensitivities and make a decision on its release.

Examiners use guidelines on interpreting and applying the Archives Act 1983 and take into account:

  • which agency created the record
  • the circumstances under which the information was created or obtained
  • the age of the information.

Under section 35 of the Act, the National Archives has formal arrangements with Australian Government agencies responsible for national security, defence and international relations. These agencies advise the National Archives on any information in records that remains sensitive.

How many records does the National Archives release?

Under the Act we are required to release as much information as possible.

Close to 98% of records in the open access period are released without any exemptions. Records enter the open access period 20 years after they are created. 

1.5% of records are released with some material exempted. Only 0.5% of records are fully exempted and not released to the public.

If we withhold any information from a record, we will give the applicant our reasons in writing.

During 2020–21, the National Archives released more than 280,000 records, including 40,000 requested by the public.

How long does it take to examine records for release?

Examining a record usually takes around 10 days for non-complex records. However, complex records can take longer. 

If we have not given you a decision on a record within 90 business days, we are deemed to have refused you access. You can appeal this decision.

We understand that delays in examining records may mean that you no longer need access to the records you have requested. In this case, please notify us at ref@naa.gov.au.

Progress on access applications

The National Archives receives tens of thousands of applications for access every year.

At 30 June 2021, the National Archives had 20,331 current applications still to be processed.

This includes 18,252 applications that have not been completed within the statutory 90-business-day consideration period.

The National Archives is currently consulting with relevant Australian Government agencies for advice on any continuing sensitivities with respect to records requested in 5,410 applications.

Examination progress of applications submitted each financial year, current to 30 June 2021

Financial Year

Applications where records released without exemptions

Applications where records released with some exemptions

Applications where records wholly exempt

Applications where records withheld pending advice from agencies

Applications withdrawn by applicant

Applications still to be processed*

Total Applications received

2020–2021

42,309

2,136

152

440

1,007

1,133

47,177

2019–2020

39,281

3,323

82

393

1,554

664

45,297

2018–2019

40,621

3,429

212

386

532

1,118

46,298

2017–2018

35,636

3,515

191

543

792

2,648

43,325

2016–2017

33,737

5,327

268

387

5,002

1,892

46,613

2015–2016

44,945

4,871

677

571

1,458

955

53,477

2014–2015

43,073

9,176

541

897

1,325

1,100

56,112

2013–2014

48,840

6,003

526

1,174

1,741

2,323

60,607

2012–2013

40,482

4,681

258

342

1,872

233

48,228

2011–2012

47,430

5,759

286

826

1,782

1,831

57,914

2010–2011

38164

5127

238

128

1270

0

44927

Why are so many applications not processed within the 90-business-day period?

There is no limit on the number of applications that can be lodged or records that can be requested by one person.

A few high-volume or complex applications lodged by a handful of people, which may require referral to Australian Government agencies, can tie up most of our limited resources. This leaves us with less capacity to process the non-complex access requests made by the vast majority of applicants.

Of the almost 22,331 applications currently being processed, more than 12,000 applications have been made by only 5 researchers.

Breakdown of number of applications by high-volume applicant group, as at 30 June 2021

 

Number of applicants

Number of applications

Applicants with 500 or more applications

5

12,882

Applicants with between 100 and 499 applications

11

2,108

Applicants with between 25 and 99 applications

50

2,478

Applicants with between 1 and 24 applications

1,527

3,363

How is the National Archives reducing application processing time?

We are streamlining our processes to improve efficiency and increase the number of records we can examine and release.

Legislative changes to the Act came into effect in 2019. These changes let us better manage high-volume access applications by allowing staff to service more low-volume applications and proactively examine more records for public release.

See the list of recently released records (PDF 2.1MB).

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