The Parliamentary Library

The Herald reports:

Education Minister Anne Tolley is to complain to the Speaker Lockwood Smith over a Parliamentary Library paper on national standards in primary schools.

Mrs Tolley said the paper was “unprofessional”, “highly political” and so biased it could have been written by the union opposing the policy.

Mrs Tolley wants the paper withdrawn and rewritten.

Library researchers frequently produce papers on topics of the day, on the economy and legislation before the House.

They are displayed in the library, in the Beehive cafeteria and some are available on Parliament's website.

The paper in question is here.

The full paper is not too bad, but the summary of key points is definitely unbalanced I would agree. In the summary assertions from unions etc are reported almost as , rather than as an opinion. The full article provides footnotes, but someone going just off the summary would get a rather polarised view. It would be improved if the opinion was clearly marked as opinion, and by whom.

Even in the full article, there are valid criticisms in my opinion. The paper should certainly outline the concerns and criticisms by the unions. However there are also responses to those concerns that have not been included. And views of groups such as the NZ School Trustees Association (which effectively represents parents) are absent.

This does raise a wider issue around the Parliamentary Library, which I had been intending to blog about at some stage, and this story provides a context for it. I should preface my remarks by saying I am a huge fan of the services provided by the Library. As a former parliamentary staffer I was a heavy user of their services, and it is probably the thing I miss most about having left Parliament. They generally have provided a first class service, where you can have absolute faith in their professionalism and impartiality.

When I first started in the late 1990s, the Library had a strict policy that its staff could not be partisan in any way. Someone like me (for example) would never ever be considered suitable to be a staffer, because of my political background. Nothing to do with one's professionalism – the Library has to be trusted 100% by all parties, MPs and staff, which means any partisan activities in one's background made you unsuitable.

This policy was applied rigorously. In fact I recall one library staff member had to get permission just to date someone who worked in the ACT parliamentary office. That's how rigorous they were.

At some stage (I am not sure when) this policy seems to have changed, and the Library no longer excludes partisan activists from its staff. Now I am not linking this at all as related to the particular research paper, or its author. It is a separate issue, but one I raise in the context that a decade ago the Library was seen to be like Caesar's wife – above suspicion. Sadly, this is not the case today.

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