Archivists call for autonomy, slam CJC over shredding case -
August 1997

THE Australian Society of Archivists has called on the Queensland government to defend democracy by protecting public records.

The archivists' stand follows the recent announcement by the Borbidge government that charges would not be laid against anyone in connection with the shredding of documents by officials of the Goss administration in 1990.

In a public statement on the matter the Society also repudiated the position taken by the Criminal Justice Commission in the matter.

The archivists said the report last year by two Brisbane barristers into the paper trail involved in the case revealed information "which is deeply disturbing to the archival profession in Australia".

According to the Society, cases such as the Heiner affair highlight the fact that government archivists need statutory independence such as that afforded the Auditor-General.

"The operation of a free and democratic society depends upon the maintenance of the integrity of the public record," the statement said.

"Public records are a key source of information about government actions and decisions. They provide essential evidence of the exercise of public trust by public officials. This in turn helps ensure public accountability and protection of the rights of citizens."

According to the archivists, the Heiner affair "revealed serious shortcomings in the management of public records in Queensland at that time" and "these revelations have strengthened the case for new archival legislation within that State".

Archival practice is currently regulated by the Libraries and Archives Act. 1988.

The statement also attacked the position taken by the CJC in the affair.

The Society said it wanted to place on the public record its "absolute rejection" of the argument of the CJC that archivists should only consider the historical significance of records when reaching a disposal decision.

According to the archivists there is "a wide variety" of factors to be considered in determining whether to retain or destroy a particular set of records, including the value of records as evidence relating to a citizen's rights.

Significantly, in relation to the shredding of the Heiner documents, the archivists said that "any indication that records are likely to be required in future legal proceedings should, by itself, be sufficient justification to warrant the retention of the records in question".

The statement calls on the Queensland Government to enact legislation to guarantee the future independence of the State Archivist, "including protection from political interference, in order to ensure the integrity of the public record in that state".

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