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 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.

In 2019–20, the National Archives released over 711,000 records, including more than 40,500 that were requested by the public.

About 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.

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.

As of 30 June 2020, there were approximately 22,450 applications still to be processed by the National Archives.

This includes 19,500 applications that have not been completed within the statutory 90-business-day consideration period.

The National Archives has referred 3,130 records (which are subject to 6,350 applications) to relevant Australia Government agencies for advice on any continuing sensitivities.

Examination progress of applications submitted each financial year, as at 30 June 2020

Application progress by financial year from 2009 to 2020.
 

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

2019-2020

38,269

2,772

72

274

462

3,448

45,297

2018-2019

40,237

3,296

500

446

473

1,346

46,298

2017-2018

35,231

3,486

461

586

489

3,072

43,325

2016-2017

33,605

5,275

277

448

4,962

2,046

46,613

2015-2016

44,788

4,874

688

696

1,412

1,019

53,477

2014-2015

42,776

9,155

534

1,078

1,360

1,209

56,112

2013-2014

48,483

6,063

528

864

2,290

2,379

60,607

2012-2013

40,727

4,677

259

804

1,458

303

48,228

2011-2012

47,269

5,766

275

868

1,858

1,878

57,914

2010-2011

38,032

5,033

246

163

1,453

0

44,927

2009-2010

46,058

5,423

174

122

1,407

0

53,184

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 22,450 applications currently being processed, more than 13,900 applications were made by only five individuals

Breakdown of number of applications by high-volume applicant group, as at 30 June 2020

Breakdown of the number of applicants per quantity of applications
 

Number of applicants

Number of applications

Applicants with 500 or more applications

4

13,967

Applicants with between 100 and 499 applications

12

2,089

Applicants with between 25 and 99 applications

64

3,098

Applicants with between 1 and 24 applications

1,365

3,822

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 1.5MB)