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Hobbs Speech: Public Records Bill, First Reading

16 September 2004

Marain Hobbs Minister Responsible for Archives NZ: Public Records Bill, first reading

Mr Speaker, I move that the Public Records Bill be read a first time. At the appropriate time I will move that the Bill be referred to the Government Administration Select Committee.

This bill repeals the Archives Act 1957 and the document and archive provisions of the Local Government Act 1974, (Part 17). It reflects the changes in technology, legislation and recordkeeping practices that have occurred in the last half century.

Public records provide evidence of government activities and are a key component of ensuring public accountability.They enhance democracy by informing citizens about issues, decision-making processes and results. They also contribute to who we are as a nation by recording peoples' experiences with government.

The growth in e-mail and the Internet has created a new set of challenges, including the erosion of administrative recordkeeping practices and the increasing complexity of recording business transactions. The bill addresses this by establishing recordkeeping requirements for public offices and local authorities.

Mr Speaker, Archives New Zealand was established as a stand-alone government department in 2000. The government strengthened the role of Archives New Zealand, to enable it to provide leadership and set standards for consistent and effective recordkeeping and to enhance communication between agencies. Public records are a key component of ensuring that government is accountable to society for decisions made and actions taken.

Public records provide essential evidence of people's rights and entitlements, the actions of government (both positive and negative) since 1840, and records the history of individuals, whanau, communities and society as a whole. Good recordkeeping within government improves the accountability of government institutions by providing reliable evidence of their decisions, actions, and interactions. Public archives are a tremendously rich resource of evidence about our collective past. They enhance New Zealanders' sense of national identity by enabling us to piece together the ever-changing story of who we are and how we got here.

Archives New Zealand has holdings of 80,000 linear metres of textual records, 750,000 photographs, 300,000 maps and plans, 1,300 works of art comprising the New Zealand War Art Collection and 20,000 motion picture reels. Archives NZ is also custodian of the Treaty of Waitangi and the Women’s Suffrage Petition Since the Archives Act was passed in 1957, we have had the Official Information Act and the Privacy Act, which also provide systems for accessing and managing government information. The Public Records Bill clarifies how these other acts interface with the Archives legislation.

We've also seen the establishment of State-owned Enterprises and Crown owned companies, which have resulted in ambiguity about what agencies are covered by the Archives Act. The Bill addresses this – it provides a broad definition of public office and a mechanism to encompass any future governance models.

This Bill creates a recordkeeping framework that will ensure: public records are managed appropriately until their authorised disposal (eg transfer to Archives New Zealand for permanent preservation or destruction) that there is broad coverage of the activities of government, and that public archives will be accessible transparent processes that give the government and the public confidence that the evidence of governments’ actions, contained in public records, is properly managed The policy for local authority records is similar to the framework for central government but will reflect their community focus and autonomy from central government.

This means that local authorities are not subject to the reporting or auditing requirements of the Bill. Key Provisions The Bill confirms the duty of the Chief Archivist to exercise leadership in recordkeeping in public offices and in the management of public archives in New Zealand.

The Bill continues the authority of the Chief Archivist to decide which government records may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of, and confirms independence from ministerial directive in discharging this duty. The Bill will apply across the broad public sector, to include not only public service departments but will also encompass tertiary institutions, state schools, DHBs, and other Crown entities, SOEs and Officers of Parliament, amongst others.

The Bill provides a broad definition of records and confirms the inclusion of electronic records and non-textual media. The Bill recognises that there is legitimate public interest in decisions made about recordkeeping in government. The Bill establishes an Archives Council, which will advise the Minister on archive and recordkeeping matters.

Two members of this Council must have knowledge of tikanga Mâori to ensure that Mâori views are taken into account. There are increased consultation expectations imposed on the Chief Archivist, including a requirement for public comment to be sought on disposal recommendations. The Bill continues the role of the Chief Archivist in protecting and providing access to government records that have long-term value and need to be kept permanently as archives. Such archives must come under the Chief Archivist’s control after 25 years, but this can happen earlier by agreement.

The right of the public to inspect such archives free of charge is confirmed. Where there are reasons for controlling access to public archives, such as protection of privacy, this is protected and the public office that transferred the archives will make decisions on access according to relevant legislation, such as Official Information Act and Privacy Act. There will be occasions where public archives are better kept by the office that created them, for example some specialised electronic records.

The Bill is flexible enough to allow these arrangements, while ensuring the archives are protected according to standards set by the Chief Archivist. Disposal decisions made under the Archives Act will remain valid through a transition provision. The will also apply to access decisions and other arrangements made for the transfer of archives to Archives New Zealand and these also continue as if they were made under the provisions of the Bill. The Bill confirms that the Chief Archivist has a role in fostering archival capacity within the community and in facilitating access to archives.

The Bill sets the context in which the Treaty of Waitangi is to apply in public recordkeeping and specifies what actions need to be undertaken in order to comply. I commend the Bill to the House.


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