Underpinning democracy: the future of Archives NZ
8 March 2010
Underpinning democracy: the future of Archives New Zealand
News has now broken that the Government is planning to merge Archives New Zealand and the National Library into the Department of Internal Affairs. For a change with such significant potential impact, it is a huge concern that details are still not available, even though an announcement is apparently imminent.
Apart from a concern about the lack of consultation with stakeholders – all New Zealand citizens - The Archives and Records Association of New Zealand is concerned about this proposal for two reasons. One of the key roles of our national archives is to ensure the accountability of government by ensuring that it creates, maintains and makes accessible reliable records of its activities and decision-making. If the statutory independence of the Chief Archivist is removed, or if he/she reports to a chief executive of another department, this ability is compromised, as has occurred overseas. Even if statutory independence is retained in legislation, what happens in the hypothetical scenario where the Chief Archivist has concerns about the Department of Internal Affairs’ own record keeping (or destruction)? As a ‘manager’ reporting to the chief executive, the ability to take action in such a situation is likely to be severely compromised.
If such a key plank in assuring government accountability to the people of New Zealand were to be removed for small cost savings, this would constitute a significant action against our democracy. And let’s not think that our right to access records of government activity are inviolate because we live in New Zealand. In democracies we like to think similar to ours, citizens have been denied access to records, as the Heiner Affair in Australia showed not too many years ago (destruction of evidence) and Bush Adminstration actions have shown more recently .