Waterfront dispute

The emergence of Cold War rhetoric in the late 1940s revived public suspicion of communism in New Zealand. This was especially evident during the bitter 1951 waterfront dispute. Striking waterside workers (wharfies) were denounced as communists by the government and accused of deliberately harming the war effort in Korea. In response the government declared a state of emergency and introduced a series of draconian regulations to keep the ports running. Prime Minister Sidney Holland used the Cold War as justification, claiming that suppressing the strike was part of the overall struggle against communism.

Intelligence services

The increasingly secretive nature of the Cold War during the 1950s raised fears of a threat to New Zealand from covert communist infiltration and subversion.

Cold War refugees

Cold War events in Europe saw an influx of new migrants into New Zealand. In 1956 200,000 people fled Hungary following a failed uprising against communist rule. New Zealand agreed to take a share of these refugees, 1117 of whom had arrived by 1959. They were carefully selected to ensure they would be assets to the country.

Influenced by Soviet spy trials in Britain and the United States and US Senator Joe McCarthy’s ‘reds under the bed’ anti-communist campaign, the spotlight was turned on New Zealand’s public service.

Parliament passed an Official Secrets Act in 1951 and the government established a Security Intelligence Service (SIS) in 1956 to perform security checks on government personnel, and counter espionage and subversion within New Zealand. While most of this work was carried out discreetly, there were several high-profile cases. In 1974 economist William Sutch was charged with, and later acquitted of, passing government secrets to a Soviet agent in Wellington. Six years later, in 1980, the Soviet Ambassador, Vsevolod Sofinsky, was expelled from the country for secretly donating money to the New Zealand Socialist Unity Party.