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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa

Government publishing

Government publishing

From its earliest days the State in New Zealand has been a major publisher. The colonial government's first official notices were printed on the Church Missionary Society's press in early 1840; its first separately issued official Gazette came out towards the end of the same year. Rachel Salmond tells the story of those early and sometimes makeshift days in Government Printing in New Zealand, 1840 to 1843 (1995), drawing expertly upon archival sources. W.A. Glue's History of the Government Printing Office (1966) takes the narrative briskly forward more than a century. Glue's account focuses on personalities, equipment and buildings, but nonetheless makes the magnitude of the State's undertakings as a publisher clear. Its parliamentary publications kept citizens informed in great and sometimes crushing detail of their government's activities; its legislative publications guided citizens (or at least their lawyers) on their rights and duties; its departments became exemplary publishers in the fields of agriculture, education, statistics, science and health, with even occasional excursions into the world of arts.

Unfortunately, the mass of material so produced over the years has been less than perfectly mapped. Alison Fields, writing in New Zealand Libraries (1995), noted that New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world to have national bibliographic coverage for monographs for the entire span of its written history. Yet, within this record, government publications are in fact a submerged, although substantial, part of a miscellaneous bulk. Navigational problems are acute. Guides include Kathleen Shawcross et al., A Guide to the New Zealand Primary Sources in the Davis Law Library (1977), C.L. Carpenter's Guide to New Zealand Information Sources Part V: Official Publications (1980), updated by Jill Best in 1994, and J.B. Ringer and C. Campbell's New Zealand Government Publications: An Introduction (1980). The Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives has published the Users' Guide to Parliamentary Publications (1989). David McGee's Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, first published in 1985 but revised and expanded in 1994, includes much incidental detail on the organisation and form of parliamentary publications. J.B. Ringer's An Introduction to New Zealand Government (1991) includes not only chapters on parliamentary, legislative and statistical publications, but also notes on publishing by local government and selected quasi-state organisations. The tripartite format of each chapter offers background information on the history, functions and structure of government, guidance on using related publications and lists of further references. This guide, however, like the others mentioned above, now badly needs updating, particularly in relation to the new MMP environment.

The above guides are manuals of a kind, pragmatic in nature. This is also true of the few legal textbooks that give guidance on the availability of statutes, the most informative of which is perhaps J.F. Burrows's Statute Law in New Zealand (1992).

Over the past decade attention has gradually turned from the practice of government publishing to its theory: from what is available to what should be available, and in what format. This has been in part inspired by the consequences of the major government restructuring which began in the mid 1980s. The deregulation of government printing in 1986, the sale of the Government Printing Office in 1989, and the continuing fragmentation of the public service have had a major effect on departmental and other government publishing programmes. Pleasance Purser's article 'Production, distribution and bibliographic control of New Zealand government publications' (1988) reviewed the scene after deregulation but prior to the sale of the Government Printing Office. D.I. Matheson's 'Access to New Zealand government information' (1988) reviewed current and potential problems of accessing information.

It should be clear by now that there are large gaps in research on New Zealand government publishing. The bibliographic groundwork has not even been done. Some departments have issued spasmodic promotional catalogues of their publications; some have more or less regularly issued bibliographies or chronological lists (the Department of Statistics has been perhaps the most consistent performer here). However, few if any systematic and comprehensive bibliographies of any aspects of government publishing have been compiled, nor are satisfactory cumulative indexes available to the major publications.

Apart from Salmond (1995) and Glue (1966), and a chapter on the Government Printing Office in R.A. McKay's centennial compilation (1940), little or no work has been done on the history of the government's involvement in publishing. This is especially true of departmental publishing. Few departmental histories make more than a fleeting mention of their department's publishing programmes. This is the case even for the publicly-funded scientific institutes, one of whose primary functions is, presumably, to publish. A rare exception, Rose-Marie C. Thompson's The First Forty Years: New Zealand Oceanographic Institute (1994) still devotes no more than two pages to the topic. A more notable exception is Sir George Wood's Progress in Official Statistics 1940-57 (1976).

No work at all has been done on the publication practices of local and regional government, or state owned enterprises; little research has been done into the accessibility and usefulness of government information in print form. R.C. Lamb, writing in New Zealand Libraries (1958), examined the idiosyncrasies and shortcomings of a cumulative index to the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (matters left uncorrected in subsequent indexes). Genealogical researchers such as Denis Hampton and —uses incidental to the original purposes of publication. Alan Tunnicliffe have focused on the historical uses of major publications to family historiansDavid Hay in What About the Users? (1991) suggests that public sector reports in today's formats are of little use and little valued by external users (that is, users other than parliamentarians and their staff).

The ideology underlying government publications has also been little studied. The Education Department's long term flagship, the School Journal, is one exception, with a pioneering essay by David Jenkins on its social attitudes (1939), and a history by P.R. Earle (1954), followed by an article by B.P. Malone, 'The New Zealand School Journal and the imperial ideology' in New Zealand Journal of History (April 1973), and more recent unpublished work by Rebecca McLennan and Michael Reid. Now that government departments and agencies have more overtly than ever taken up advocacy roles, similar service could well be done for virtually any of them. A framework for future study is potentially provided by Judith Urlich's thesis 'Government communication in New Zealand: changing roles and conventions' (1995), although this pays little direct attention to individual publications or publications policies. The field is therefore open.