Select Committee endorses cover-up of embarrassing public records

The Public Records Bill, reported back today from the Government Administration Committee, allows government heads to censor archival material, the Green Party says.

“The bill will allow government documents, embarrassing to a department, to be kept secret even after 25 years, without any independent assessment of whether this censorship is justified,” said Green Human Rights Spokesperson Keith Locke.

“Even the Chief Archivist will not be able to assess the material, if it is judged by a Minister to prejudice security, the maintenance of law or the safety of any person.”

“We know from many Official Information Act cases how broadly government heads define prejudicing security, and in those cases we can at least appeal to the Ombudsman to override the Minister. Under the Bill, Ministers can keep deferring the release of material to the Archives indefinitely.”

Mr Locke said the Select Committee, in its report back, had failed to engage with significant arguments forwarded against the Bill.

“It has not even recognised the concerns of the academic and archival community that there should be a much stronger direction to deposit public documents after 25 years, with few exceptions allowed, subject to independent and objective tests.

“The Security Intelligence Service, in particular, will use the existing provisions to avoid depositing anything substantive.

“We just need to look at the recent efforts of the Wellington man, Hugh Price, to find out how his career, and that of his friends, was badly affected by secret agent actions 52 years ago. The SIS has been reluctant to give him access to the appropriate documents, for fear of embarrassing former agents, not for any valid security reason.”