Historic documents such as the original, hand annotated copy of former Prime Minister David Lange's famous 1985 Oxford Union Debate speech will benefit from a $10 million boost to Archives NZ in the Budget to improve storage and display of heritage collections.

Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne announced $8 million in operating funding over the next two years and $2.1m of capital funding for the next year at a table featuring the speech as well as Michael Joseph Savage's satchel and a letter written by Captain Cook in 1776 to one of his crew just before his final voyage to New Zealand.

Dunne made the announcement just days before the opening of the new He Tohu permanent exhibition at the National Library to showcase three of the most precious documents in New Zealand's history - the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, and the 1893
Women's Suffrage petition.

The three documents were carefully moved in the middle of the night and under tight security in April to their new home at the National Library.


The new funding was for part of a programme to upgrade archival facilities which would increase storage space both at Archives NZ and its off-site storage facility in Wellington and better preserve collections at some older regional storage facilities.

"Wellington's Archives building is more than 50 years old and will require significant upgrades to services and environmental control systems to preserve material longer term."

Archives New Zealand safeguarded New Zealand's most important historical documents, as well as information that was personally important to many New Zealanders.

"The preservation of the nation's records is not just about these big events that impacted upon us as a nation, it's the opportunity for all of us to see the things that shaped our individual stories - our families, our forebears."

Dunne said about 75,000 people each year accessed information on their families at Archives NZ reading rooms and more than 165,000 attended public events.

His own hunt through Archives NZ material had shown him his grandfather's World War I records and his great-grandfather's "Intention to Marry" - "a very quaint tradition" which lasted until 1955.

"This is all part of a big package to draw attention to our identity as a nation and give New Zealanders the opportunity to interact with the documents and treasures that are part of their history."

He flipped through Lange's speech notes - including a note of "look what eagles do to lambs" on the first page, but Lange's handwriting was so bad he could not read it. Nor was there any sign of the most famous quote from that debate, in which Lange urged his opponent American evangelist Jerry Falwell to hold his breath: "I can smell the uranium on it as you lean towards me".

The debate at the Oxford Union in England was on the moot "that nuclear weapons are morally indefensible".

The documents at the announcement included a 1946 map showing the impact of an atomic bomb falling on the Wellington Railway Station. Dunne noted his home and most of his Ohariu electorate were in a fairly safe area.