Concern over archives restructuring

Labour Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson gives a talks to law students at the University of...
Labour Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson gives a talks to law students at the University of Otago yesterday. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Labour state services spokesman Grant Robertson predicts growing controversy over plans to merge Archives New Zealand and the National Library into the Internal Affairs Department.

Mr Robertson, who is the Wellington Central MP, yesterday gave a lecture to a University of Otago second-year law class on aspects of Parliament, including life as an MP.

He said in an interview historians at the Victoria University of Wellington had last week opposed the archives restructuring in a joint letter published in the Dominion Post newspaper.

In the letter, history programme staff said that democracies "keep their national libraries and archives independent to guarantee culturally vital open research, knowledge and education".

The independence of the archives would be compromised and Archives New Zealand would be "subject to political pressure", the letter warned.

A Dunedin librarian, John Timmins, who is a former president of the Archives and Records Association of New Zealand, has criticised the quality of a Cabinet paper which had supported the restructuring.

Mr Robertson, who attended Kings High School in Dunedin and has a BA (Hons) degree in political studies from Otago University, said he had seen many Cabinet papers over the years, including as a former senior adviser in the prime minister's office (2002-06), and the paper in question was "very, very poor".

People, including archivists and genealogists, in the late 1990s had gone to "great lengths" to uphold the independence of the chief archivist and of the national archives and those concerns were again being highlighted.

"It's definitely not going to go away.

"It's very much a backward step," Mr Robertson said.

Otago University historian Prof Tom Brooking, who is a long-serving member of the New Zealand Historical Association council, said that maintaining the integrity and independence of national archives was crucial.

He yesterday endorsed concerns voiced by the historical association and by fellow historians in Wellington.

The national archives system had had a "fraught" past, with legal action taken by several groups in the late 1990s to uphold the independence of the archives, he said.

Mr Robertson is a former Otago University Students' Association president and New Zealand Union of Students' Associations co-president.

He is also the Labour associate spokesman on arts, culture and heritage and will today visit the Otago Settlers Museum and the Dunedin Gasworks Museum.


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