Access to official records

The State Records Act 1997 ensures that the public have ready access to official records within State Records custody, subject only to specified exceptions or restrictions.

The government agency responsible for a series of records makes a decision on their public access to safeguard privacy and confidentiality.

Records containing low level personal information, such as school attendance will usually be restricted from general public access for 30 years. Records containing more sensitive personal information, or material that is commercially confidential, might be restricted for 60, 80 or 100 years.

For more detailed information on how agencies determine access restriction periods, please refer to the Public Access Determinations Guideline.

Types of access

Government agencies, in consultation with State Records, decide at what point particular records can become available for viewing by the public. These decisions are called access determinations. An access determination may do one of three things. It can:

• declare an official record open to public access immediately

• declare it to be open to public access after a specified number of years since its creation

• declare it to be closed to public access indefinitely.

Access restrictions

Unrestricted and open records

When searching for or ordering records via our catalogue ArchivesSearch, you will find that the access determination for many records is described as unrestricted or open. Records classified as unrestricted or open may be viewed at our Research Centre, or copies may be requested. Charges for copies are outlined in regulations under the Act. For more information about copying charges, see Copying and Digitisation.

Restricted and part-open records

The access determination for some records will be described as restricted or part-open. Open records within a part-open series may be accessible with the assistance of Research Centre staff.

Records may be closed to public access until a specified number of years have passed because they contain information of commercial value or personal information, the sensitivity of which diminishes with time. The more sensitive the personal information the longer it will remain closed to public access.

Government agencies must advise State Records about specific laws that prevent or restrict the public from accessing the records the agency is transferring to our collection. These laws are put in place to prevent information becoming available that is particularly sensitive and are intended to protect the privacy of individuals. Examples include:

• Children's Protection Act 1993

• Adoption Act 1988

• Guardianship and Administration Act 1993

Requesting access to restricted records

To view restricted records, researchers must obtain written permission from the government agency that is responsible for managing their access. In some situations this may involve a formal application under the Freedom of Information Act 1991. All applications made under this Act should be directed to the relevant agency responsible for the records. Research Centre staff are able to provide advice on the process of applying for access.

Records may be closed indefinitely as a result of ongoing conditions in legislation or because they contain information that is covered by legal professional privilege.

Records restricted for preservation purposes

The State Records Act 1997 also permits the Director of State Records to close a record to public access for preservation purposes. This may be necessary if the record is too fragile to be handled and in need of conservation, or if the risk of mishandling or damage carries too significant an impact for the State. In such cases copies of records are provided where available.

Back to the top