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The New Zealand Treasury Revealed

Auckland University Press
Media Release

The New Zealand Treasury Revealed

Hon Dr Michael Cullen will launch next week a new book Treasury, the official commissioned history of our most important department of state, founded with the nation in 1840.

Author Malcolm McKinnon says, “In the 163 years since then the Treasury has not even undergone a name change” although its original task of looking after the government’s finances “if no longer its only task, remains a task” .

There were two major developments from Treasury’s somewhat humble beginnings – there were only four staff twenty years later in 1860 who basically just “paid the bills” – the advent of financial management or control of other departments’ spending in the 1920s and that of economic management in the 1960s.

“By 1971 Treasury had also acquired a role in the provision of economic advice: advice about the economy as a whole, not just the government’s finances, which was provided by economic rather than financial experts, economists rather than accountants,” notes McKinnon.

“This role has continued to the present day. The nature of this ‘economic management’, as it was called, changed markedly over time, in parallel with changes in circumstances and economic thinking, change being most evident to the public in 1984. During and after that year, not only did economic management acquire a visibly neoliberal cast, but financial management was also comprehensively overhauled.”

Devised in three parts, “Clerks”, “Accountants” and “Economists”, Treasury reveals the changing character of Treasury responsibilities and the growing professionalism of its officials from 1840 to 2000.

In a rich and textured story, McKinnon uncovers the perennial jousting of public servants with politicians, and charts the rise and fall of the accountants in the middle years of the twentieth century, and the rise and rise of the economists in more recent times.

He shows the impact on Treasury of changes in the political scene and of powerful figures like Nordmeyer and Muldoon, and of events in the world economy like the Depression of the 1930s.

Not always grey bureaucrats, colourful figures stride the pages, one secretary was a representative rugby player, one was a better politician than the politicians, one took beginner’s ballet classes through an especially stressful year.

But this is a serious and fascinating study at the heart of the country’s history, taking the story through the controversial “Rogernomics” years up to 2000.

McKinnon has made excellent use of what sources there are on Treasury. “Strangely”, he says, “despite its importance in government – and in the country generally – there is no history of the Treasury. Until 1984 relatively little was written about it.

“Indeed, in contrast to all other departments of government, the Treasury did not table an annual report to Parliament until 1989.”

“There is a 1935 doctoral thesis, a scattering of journal articles from the 1940s to the 1970s, the hard-to-trace references in more ephemeral organs such as daily newspapers, weekly and monthly journals – that is about it. Only two Secretaries to the Treasury made it into the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (though more undoubtedly will become eligible in due course). There are no published memoirs.”

Long overdue, this will be essential reading for anyone interested in New Zealand history and the complex interplay between government, economy and people.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen will launch Treasury: 160 Years of the New Zealand Treasury at Archives New Zealand, Wellington, on 9 September 2003.

About the author Malcolm McKinnon is a respected historian and author, teacher and editor of history.

He was born in Wellington in 1950 and attended Nelson College and Victoria University of Wellington before receiving a BPhil from Oxford in 1974 and returning to take his PhD from Victoria in 1982.

McKinnon taught at Victoria University of Wellington from 1976 to 1990 and again in 1998. In between these two appointments, he was the General Editor, leading an interdisciplinary team, of the highly successful New Zealand Historical Atlas. The Atlas won the Readers’ Choice Award at the 1998 Montana NZ Book Awards, and is now part of foundation materials for the electronic project, The Online New Zealand Encyclopaedia. He has also been the Editor of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s millennium website “Te Waimano” from 1999 to 2000.

McKinnon has been the recipient of a Harkness Fellowship, which he held at the Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 1982–1984, and a Japan Foundation Fellowship, which he took at Kyushu University, Fukuoka, 2002–03.

He is the author of Treasury: 160 Years of the New Zealand Treasury (AUP, 2003), Independence and Foreign Policy: New Zealand in the World Since 1935 (AUP, 1993), Immigrants and citizens : New Zealanders and Asian Immigration in Historical Context (VUW, 1996) and also contributed a chapter to One Flag, One Queen, One Tongue, on aspects of New Zealand’s involvement in the South African (Boer) War, which Auckland University Press published for Anzac Day 2003. He has also edited New Zealand in World Affairs

Treasury: 160 Years of the New Zealand Treasury
Malcolm McKinnon
Paperback, illus, 526p, ISBN 1 86940 296 0, RRP $49.99

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