Understanding prime ministerial records
We have 3 main types of records on prime ministers.
You can only access National Archives records that are in the open access period.
Commonwealth records document the official business of each Prime Minister, Cabinet and government agency. The National Archives holds the most significant Commonwealth records.
You can access most Commonwealth records once 20 years have passed from the year they were created. This is when they enter the open access period.
Cabinet notebooks are Commonwealth records created by senior public servants during meetings of Cabinet or Cabinet committees. They record the deliberation of Cabinet in more detail than other Cabinet records. We hold these records, but they do not exist for all prime ministers.
You can access Cabinet notebooks once 30 years have passed from the year they were created. Find out more about Cabinet notebooks.
Prime ministers create many other records, such as diaries, speeches, records of their electorate, photographs, videos, files about significant issues, newspaper clippings, press releases and correspondence.
We hold some of these personal records of prime ministers. Many others are kept in libraries, archives or museums in Australia and overseas.
Access conditions for different prime ministers' personal records vary. However, most of the personal records we hold are available once 30 years have passed since the year they were created.
Using the archives
The National Archives' collection mainly consists of records from Federation in 1901 to today. There are more than 40 million records in our collection.
We've selected some significant records from our collection for each prime minister. These include images, documents and other items.
If you are looking for further records, please see:
Access to records
You can view a record when it has an access status of either:
- open with exception
This means that the record is wholly or partly in the open access period and has been cleared for public access.
If the record you want is either 'open' or 'open with exception', you can:
- view on RecordSearch if a digital copy is available
- order a digital copy
- view the record at a research centre
A record may also have an access status of either:
- not yet examined
These records are not immediately accessible, but you can apply to access them. To do this either:
- submit an access application online
- contact us with the details of the record
We will examine the item and notify you about access within 90 business days.
In some cases, we cannot clear the record for public access or may need to withhold certain parts. If this is the case, we will let you know in writing.
References to archival records differ from references to books or other types of published material.
See citing archival records for examples of how to write:
- an abbreviated citation for footnotes and captions
- an expanded citation for a bibliography or an endnote
Finding records at other institutions
Other institutions in Australia and overseas hold collections on particular prime ministers.
We've listed these institutions, as well as any reference guides for further research, for each prime minister.
These guides can help researchers to find records relating to both prime ministers and their partners. They describe records held by the National Archives and other archives, libraries and institutions, including:
- official records, letters and diaries
- photographs and memorabilia
- oral histories, films and other audiovisual materials
We have created research guides for several Australian prime ministers: