Help with prime ministerial research

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

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

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.

Personal records

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

Record searches

The National Archives' collection mainly consists of records from Federation in 1901 to today. There are more than 40 million records in our collection.

Go to RecordSearch

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
  • 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:

A record may also have an access status of either:

  • not yet examined
  • closed

These records are not immediately accessible, but you can apply to access them. To do this either:

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.

Citations

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.

Research guides

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:

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