An article in the Herald on Sunday reports on some newly released files have been declassified, and made available for public viewing at Archives NZ in Wellington. I haven’t seen this reported elsewhere, but the article includes some bits of information that I didn’t know about before.
The article, Dirt files on former Prime Minister are released to Archives NZ, by Bevan Hurley, begins:
Newly declassified files from the Security Intelligence Service show secret police spied on future Labour Prime Ministers in the 1920s who were suspected of having Communist sympathies.
The SIS has released thousands of pages of secret files on Michael Joseph Savage, Peter Fraser and Walter Nash from a spying operation on the Labour Party in the 1920s and 30s. The spies were amassing dirt files on the men who would later become their political masters.
Their personal files were destroyed, but other Special Branch and World War II Security Intelligence Bureau files recorded between 1920 and 1945 have been transferred to Archives New Zealand.
A personal file was located on Auckland’s longest-serving mayor Sir Dove-Myer Robinson, a four-times married Communist Party member, whose reign as mayor spanned four decades and who was the subject of a 2012 biography.
It shows a severe lack in my historical knowledge, that I hadn’t previously been aware that Sir Dove Meyer was a Communist Party member.
I did know that it’s Auckland’s great loss that Dove Meyer’s rapid rail plan was never implemented – so now we have a city of cars and gridlock. (See Te Ara’s biography on him).
Back to Hurley’s article. I was a little shocked to see the extent of the NZ establishment fears of the left back in the first half of the 20th century. This seems to be something our media, and some other dominant sectors in NZ still perpetuate.
Walter Nash, Prime Minister from 1957-60, was spied on at Irish Republican meetings and for importing “seditious literature” from Australia.
His great-grandson Stuart Nash, Labour Party candidate for Napier in the upcoming election, said there had been anti-left wing paranoia because of the “spectre of Stalin”.
“I would doubt they found any direct links to [Josef] Stalin in there.”
SIS files on Bill Sutch, who was accused and acquitted of espionage in 1974, were released in 2008.
The Special Branch was set up in 1920 “to investigate and report on revolutionary matters in New Zealand”, its main target being the Communist Party of New Zealand.
Te Ara has a photo of Sutch arriving at the Wellington magistrates court in October 1974, with his wife, Shirley Smith, and his lawyer Mike Bungay (right). From Te Ara.
It’s sobering to see how long our intelligence services have been treating as enemies within, people who have been working hard to make a more fair and livable society.
It’s not surprising then, that many good-hearted Kiwis are becoming increasingly concerned about the secret practices of our GCSB, SIS and police surveillance services.
Hopefully, the next left/progressive government will organise a thorough review of our intelligence services. And, when doing so, reflect on how such services have been mobilised against Labour politicians and party members in past times.
John Key’s unfulfilled assurance to Peter Dunne for a review of the SIS and GCSB operations after the passage of the GCSB legislation is the focus of the latest in the “Hey Peter!” billboard campaign in the Ohariu electorate.
Peter Dunne had defended his change from opposition to the Government’s controversial GCSB spying legislation to support for the Bill as the result of a deal with prime minister John Key – “willing seller – willing buyer”.