April 2013 Māori Law Review

Disposal of Waitangi Tribunal records – proposal for consultation

Waitangi Tribunal Retention and Disposal Schedule, March 2013

Professor David V Williams, University of Auckland, comments on the Waitangi Tribunal's proposal to retain some of its business records and destroy other records. The  Waitangi Tribunal is currently seeking feedback on its proposed approach to records retention by Friday 26 April 2013.

Download the Tribunal's draft appraisal report (PDF, 612 KB), draft retention and disposal schedule (PDF,  70KB)  and guide to making comments on disposal recommendations here.

Background

The Waitangi Tribunal is required under the Public Records Act 2005 to maintain a Retention and Disposal Schedule for all its records. Feedback is currently being sought on the Tribunal’s appraisal report and draft Retention and Disposal Schedule. Feedback must be received by the Tribunal no later than Friday, 26th April.

Discussion

Anyone with an interest in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand, and especially of Crown/Maori relationships in that history, will be well aware of the huge treasure trove of material that has been deposited with the Tribunal since 1975. Future historians will also be vitally interested in how this Tribunal dealt with that treasure trove in its research reports, records of inquiry and reports. One would hope that the starting point for the proposed policy would be a strong bias in favour of retention and against disposal. On the other hand, the practicalities are that the immense quantity of records now amount to 804.33m in linear metres of storage. It is proposed to retain 60% of the records as public archives and to recommend for destruction the remaining 40%.

It is very important that persons interested in the integrity of our historical records should carefully peruse the items on the Schedule that are recommended for disposal. Obviously there are many duplicate copies of documents that can reasonably be destroyed. I would not be so sure about drafts of reports. It may of great interest to future researchers to ascertain how Tribunal reports were crafted and revised prior to eventual publication. Thus under Class No 5.4, I would query the disposal of working drafts of reports; under Class No 8.3, I would query destruction of draft Rangahaua Whānui reports. I would encourage a careful scrutiny of the Schedule by those willing to offer the Tribunal feedback.

Another significant issue concerns access recommendations in para 10. In a number of cases the access restrictions imposed by the Tribunal were the pre-condition for Māori claimants being prepared to divulge sensitive mātauranga Māori information to the Tribunal. After all, much sensitive information divulged to the Native Land Court in days gone by has been used and abused by all sorts of people without reference to those for whom the information was and is sacred knowledge. The proposal for the future is that, if there are requests to Archives NZ for access to sensitive Waitangi Tribunal records, the Chairperson of the Tribunal may decide whether or not to lift the access restrictions. The Chairperson would be required to consult with the group(s) on behalf of whom the restricted information was filed. Some may be of the view that a hapū or whānau should have a continuing right to veto such access and if so, then they should give the Tribunal that feedback.

Author: David V Williams