State enforced amnesia

Written By: - Date published: 10:24 am, April 6th, 2010 - 7 comments
Categories: accountability, national, public services - Tags:

John Key’s National government has, in its infinite wisdom, decided to subsume Archives New Zealand and the National Library within the Department of Internal Affairs. With typical ideological one-eyedness that necessitates a blithe disregard for constitutional values, the merger is likely to have some fairly dire consequences for anyone who considers it important that a society keep thorough records of the actions of its Government.

Minister responsible for Archives NZ Nathan Guy sayes it will all be synergies and efficiencies, and he promises the “integrity of the Chief Archivist, National Librarian and Chief Librarian would be preserved”. But according to at least one expert in the field Dr Julienne Molineaux, the move will downgrade the abilities of the Chief Archivist to insist Government departments keep (and not destroy) records that should be archived. The economic benefits achieved from the economies of scale the merger will permit are considerably outweighed by the losses to our public memory and long-term accountability of our Government agencies.

I can fully understand why National might not want comprehensive records of what it has and will be doing in the coming years, especially considering their penchant for retrograde 80s neo-liberal policies. Without a proper history of our past mistakes we will, as the saying goes, be condemned to repeat them.

7 comments on “State enforced amnesia”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    I can fully understand why National might not want comprehensive records of what it has and will be doing in the coming years,

    Full records would show their corruption?

  2. prism 2

    Seems every time we get a National government they chip off some valuable democratic infrastructure. They got rid of Broadcasting House, had a punt at Radio NZ this time. What sort of country do they want NZ to be – or haven’t they thought that far?

    I have always been interested in the accusations and denunciation against Dr Sutch. It would be bad to have such material locked away under the government’s whim, or rather one minister and the PM’s whim. There are likely to be too many secrets with the anti-terrorist, security reason for stone walling any request for information if government gets too close control of the holy grail of information. Any assurances they give are just hot air, when expediency rules the cold necessity dissipates all the rhetoric of openness.

  3. the sprout 3

    Oh they have thought that far… as neo-Cons they want to remove any vestiges of democratic infrastructure to better allow unfettered corporate control of public life and assets

  4. Julienne Molineaux 4

    Thank you for giving this issue some profile – archiving and records management are extremely important parts of NZ’s democratic infrastructure, but there has barely been any public discussion about the proposed reforms of Archives NZ.

    In response to Prism’s concerns: politicians do not have the legal right to tell the Archives or the Chief Archivist what to keep and what to destroy and they will not gain this right as a result of the proposed reforms.

    The problem with this reform is more insidious; the Archives’ ability to promote its the interests of good archiving and records management will be compromised by its submersion in a large conglomerate government department.

    The Minister is taking advice from the SSC on this matter. The SSC are not experts on archiving and records management policy. The government has not consulted those who know anything about the policy area (the decision was made behind closed doors); the SSC’s advice goes against international best practice in this area.

    The exact contribution of the archiving regime to democracy is hard to isolate and quantify, and the loss to democracy as a result of these reforms will be similarly hard to pin down. This makes it a very hard policy to discuss (because it doesn’t easily boil down into soundbites) but is all the more reason why it needs public airing.

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