Hard News by Russell Brown


The Sutch Files

My contact with the work of Bill Sutch is essentially limited to seeing his books on the shelves of Wellington's second-hand bookshops. Most often, the book will be The Quest for Security in New Zealand it sold 100,000 copies after its first publication in 1942, and seems to have offended various interests over the years.

It also attracted the keen eye of the Security Intelligence Service, and one of the documents being released today as part of Sutch's SIS file is something like a review of the book.

I've uploaded a copy for your viewing here -- the scan is a little hard to read with the released notice stamped all over it, but one passage notes, with suspicion:

Page 380/384. References to Government conditioning the public for as long as possible to the idea that they were being saved by a strong Government from the "Communist menace". A footnote is as follows "This public conditioning originating with the Truman administration finally resulted in an acceptance of the guilt by association concept and of the action of security spies reporting on those who might have radical ideas about the economic system. The honour for press defense of civil liberties against the activities of Security Police goes to MH Holcroft, Editor of the New Zealand Listener.

See "The Investigators" in the issue of 8 July 1960"

Brian Easton has an extensive archive of writing about Sutch, including a biography and some thoughts on Sutch and security, with reference to the incident, in the final year of his life, that did so much to shape his image thereafter: his arrest and charge under the Official Secrets Act 1951 with the offence of obtaining information that would be helpful to an enemy, after several meetings with a Russian diplomat.

Sutch was acquitted of the charges by a jury, and there seems nothing in the documents that have been released to suggest that the jury decision was wrong.

Nonetheless the SIS target assessment on Sutch (3.85MB PDF) makes fascinating reading, not least in the light it sheds on the degree of speculative thinking that could be included in such a document.

Sutch's memory is being actively defended by his daughter Helen, a World Bank economist, and she seems as pleased as anyone that that the SIS papers have finally been released.

Bill Sutch had some ideas that resonate now, and others, around economic nationalism, that seem dated. But I'm minded to grab that book the next time my hands pass over it on a dusty shelf.

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