Researchers of Australian Government records about East Timor should note the recent announcement of a ten-year reduction in the so-called ‘closed period’.
Normally, Federal Government records held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) are only accessible to the public 30 years after their year of creation.
Subject to legislation passing, from 2011 this closed period will be reduced to 20 years. However, because of the extra work required at NAA to make the records ready for release, the change will be phased in over ten years.
In practical terms, this means that records from 1983, for example – the first year of the Hawke Labor Government and a very eventful year Timor-wise - become available at the beginning of 2012 instead of the expected 2014.
The Timor records of tumultuous 1998 and 1999 will become available in 2020 instead of 2029 & 2030.
So it is still quite a wait, but a welcome development.
Mind you, this change remains subject to a caveat which applies to current records in the open period. They will be kept secret if they violate privacy or have current national security implications.
Former politicians often lodge personal collections of papers in Australian repositories like the National Library of Australia. These collections typically contain parliamentary or government records to which the standard 30 year closed rule also applies. Will the reduction of the closed period at National Archives also apply to these collections in public repositories? Watch this space.