Why we refuse access

Under the Archives Act 1983, the public can access most Commonwealth records in the open access period. Most records are released in full. Less than 2% are partially released. A very small percentage, about 0.25%, are fully withheld. This happens when all of the information is exempt.

We record the reasons for withholding information in RecordSearch. When information is withheld we will tell you which part of the Act requires us to withhold the information.

The categories of exempt information

Sometimes, we refuse access to information that is in the open access period. You'll find legal information about our reasons in the Archives Act.

Access may be refused if releasing the information would:

  • damage Australia's security, defence or international relations – s33(1)(a)
  • reveal confidential information provided to the Australian Government by a foreign government or an international organisation — 33(1)(b)
  • negatively affect Australia's financial or property interests, where releasing the information would not be in the public interest – 33(1)(c)
  • be a breach of confidence – 33(1)(d)
  • interfere with the law – 33(1)(e)(i)
  • provide details about a person who has provided confidential information to the Australian Government or a witness under the Witness Protection Act 1994 – 33(1)(e)(ii) and 33(1A)
  • endanger the life or safety of any person – 33(1)(e)(iii)
  • prejudice the fair trial of a person – 33(1)(f)(i)
  • disclose law-enforcement methods – 3(1)(f)(ii)
  • threaten public safety – 33(1)(f)(iii)
  • unreasonably disclose information about someone's personal affairs – 33(1)(g)
  • threaten the commercial value of trade secrets or other information – 33(1)(h)
  • damage a person’s lawful business or professional affairs 33(1)(j)
  • breach legal professional privilege and disclosure would not be in the public interest – 33(2)
  • release information which cannot be disclosed under a Commonwealth, state or territory taxation law – 33(3)

If the whole record contains this type of information its access status will be noted on RecordSearch as 'closed'. If only a portion of the record is exempt, the access status will be 'open with exception'. If it is practical, you may have access to any part of the record that is not exempt.

Is access refused for other reasons?

Access to records will be refused if the records are not in the open access period.

If you request access in a certain form, for example as an original record or a video tape, we must generally give you access in that form.

In some cases we may offer you access in a different form. For example, if a record is fragile we may offer you access to a copy instead.

If we refuse access in the form you request we must explain why and you can appeal. You cannot appeal if we refused access because the record is not in the open access period.

Concerns about information that has been released

The National Archives has an Access Examination Policy that explains how we manage the release of personal, professional and business information about individuals.

Under the Archives Act we must release as much information as possible. If you have concerns about information that has been released, please email us at publicrelease@naa.gov.au or contact us via the form below.

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Where to get help

Staff in our research centres can help you or you can ask us a question.