Public Access to the Archives

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

What is the role a government agency in the provision of access?

The government agency responsible for records in State Records custody has two roles:

  • to make decisions on public access to their records (known as access determinations)
  • to consider variations to their access determinations when requested by members of the public.

Making Access Determinations

An access determination can 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.

For further details about this process, and our guide to making access determinations, please see our Access to Official Records page.

Varying Existing Access Determinations

Role of the researcher

To view restricted records researchers must obtain written permission from the government agency that is responsible for that series of records (State Records provides this information to researchers).

This can be done by completing the Access Authorisations Letter ProForma, and submitting it to the agency concerned.  Alternatively, a researcher can email the agency directly and ask for an email or letter containing the access authorisation to be sent to State Records or to themselves.

It is recommended that the researcher attach a brief explanatory letter to the ProForma explaining their request.

Role of the agency

Having received a request, the government agency must consider whether to grant or refuse access.

If the agency approves the request, they can complete the Access Authorisation Letter ProForma (see above) or prepare a letter of authority.

Any agency letter of authority must contain:

  • exact references to the records, including series, unit or unit date ranges (usually supplied by the researcher)
  • where known, item level file or volume descriptors
  • the period of time for which the access authorisation will remain valid.

The agency should also stipulate any conditions limiting further use, copying or publication of the contents of the records.

Access authorisations from agencies may also take the form of emails sent to the researcher or to State Records.  Any email must contain the data listed in the dot points above.

Is access under the State Records Act 1997 the same as access under the Freedom of Information Act 1991?

No - while both Acts provide a mechanism to allow members of the public to access records they work in different ways.

Access under the State Records Act 1997 

Access requests under the State Records Act 1997: 

  • do not attract a fee
  • do not require action within legislated timeframes
  • can be responded to simply by email or signing the Access Authorisations Letter ProForma provided by the researcher.

Access under the Freedom of Information Act 1991

Some agencies prefer customers to lodge a Freedom of Information (FOI) application form, also known as Making a Request for Access form, in order to request information.

The FOI process may attract a fee for the customer and require action within specified timeframes.  In addition the agency will need to retrieve the records from State Records custody and grant access at its own premises.

Further information

For further information about public access to records please see our Access to Official Records page and our Freedom of Information pages.

Back to the top