The Ghost of New Zealand’s Terrorism Past and Present

Author: Battersby, J. M.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019

planned to bomb a local meat works.15 One of them was thought to have been involved in the detonation of a device about 18 months previously. The two had been working in a garden shed, which was completely destroyed in the explosion, and their remains reportedly scattered some distance down the road.16

During the period April to September 1981 the South African national rugby team ‘the Springboks’ were on tour in New Zealand. The protest it evoked is well documented. Less well known is that five bombs exploded, four undetonated improvised explosive devices were located, and multiple bomb-threats were made against various locations. Death threats were recorded against rugby union officials, rugby players and police officers. Protest leaders discussed the use of bomb hoaxes and the placement of realistic looking devices to divert police resources from their protest activities. Violent action was contemplated by those on both sides of the tour issue – two men were arrested on separate occasions, intending to take loaded firearms to rugby games to shoot protesters.17

Near the end of the year a mentally ill lone actor was able to locate himself near the route taken by the entourage of Queen Elizabeth II as she visited Dunedin – and he fired a shot. He missed, the incident was covered-up by police – most New Zealanders would remain oblivious for almost 40 years about how close the Head of Commonwealth had come to being shot in New Zealand.18

In 1982 Neil Roberts walked into the foyer of Wairere House in Wanganui – the building purpose-built to hold the new computerised national police record system. He placed a back-pack on the floor, bent down and connected a gelignite bomb he had constructed to a battery and blew himself up. Roberts was an anarchist and follower of the punk rock phenomenon. He was not shy about expressing his opposition to the computerisation of police records, his determination not to live beyond the age of 23 and his intent to take either Parliament or the computer centre down with him when he died. His close friends knew of his intentions but never warned anyone, and despite very little knowledge of explosives he was able to plan and execute New Zealand’s first suicide bombing. Nicky Hager argues Roberts was right to be alarmed about “authoritarian government and digital technology.” However, Hager was ‘reluctant’ to label Roberts a suicide bomber:

“Suicide bomber has completely different connotations these days. It means killing other people. This is much more in the tradition of those monks that burnt themselves in front of parliament buildings. That is where you are hurting yourself but it’s not a suicide bomber it’s a political act, like starving yourself to death in a hunger strike.19

Like Shadbolt, Hager seems to be denying that an act of political violence is terrorism because it is an act of political violence and the nobility of the cause made it alright.