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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 8. April 30 1968

'Obsession' of secrecy

'Obsession' of secrecy

"Who has power?" asked Professor J. Roberts in the opening address at VUW Students' Association Little Congress on Friday evening.

"It confuses and amazes me that anyone can believe that Parliament has the power," he told the audience of about 35.

"It doesn't, it never had and it isn't going to."

Professor Roberts said that cabinet had the power and it also had the most effectiveveil of secrecy drawn over it.

"This secrecy is extended to caucus, it covers the whole extent of the Public Service, in fact the whole complex discussion of policy.

"This excessive, almost obsessive secrecy about the public records must be eliminated." he said.

"The public range of discussions must and can be extended without diminishing executive control."

The Professor mentioned Sweden as a country where any interested citizen could inspect the public records, providing the material was not damaging to essential state interests.

"And if they are refused, an Ombudsman can enforce their right," he said.

"All general issues should be open to the public to allow them to get complete information."

Professor Roberts said it was an "inherent advantage" to the government in keeping the level of public controversy down.

The professor named three "vows" a public servant was expected to fulfil.

"They are obedience, poverty and anonymity", he said.

"They never took a vow of chastity."

Dealing with anonymity, the professor said the public servant was "anything but anonymous to those dealing with him.

"They know the public servant very well and know what he stands for."

"Anonymity is a myth to allow the minister into the forefront to take the credit and, very occasionally, the blame," he said.

Questioning obedience in a public servant, the professor said, "it demands a pallid response, which is not what it should be.

"Just as the Minister answers in Parliament, the public servant responsible should be forced to answer in public.

"If this was the case," he said," there wouldn't be so many party hacks clamouring for jobs through the National Party cancus.'

The professor's first recommendation was to improve Parliament.

How can Mps do a good job when they are standing on top of one another in asking for a typist a week on Friday" he asked.

"And how often is a bill properly surveyed?

"Not very often."


The professor said New Zealand's parliamentary system should be more bipartisan, as in America.

"Standing committees should be set up with a team of experts to collect and assimilate documents."

The press and public should be allowed access to any information.

Professor Roberts said that the only independent public commentators on the economy came from the Monetary and Economic Council.

"This is not enough," he said.

"The shocking, desperate apathy in the case of the mental hospitals was hidden by departmental secrecy.

"Information should be revealed to any dissenters for they are often appallingly misinformed.

"What democratic rights would be in jeopardy if the records were made available?"