Bill Sutch

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William B Sutch
Born (1907-06-27)June 27, 1907
Died September 28, 1975(1975-09-28) (aged 68)
Occupation Economist, historian, writer, public servant
Religion Methodism
Spouse(s)
  • Morva Milburn Williams (married 1934–1944)
  • Shirley Hilda Stanley Smith (married 1944–1975)
Children
  • Helen Sutch

William Ball Sutch (27 June 1907 – 28 September 1975) was a New Zealand economist, historian, writer, public servant, and public intellectual. In 1974, he was charged with trying to pass New Zealand Government information to the Soviet Union, of which he was acquitted.

Early life[edit]

Sutch was born in Southport, England in 1907, but his family moved to New Zealand when he was only eight months old. His father, Ebenezer (Ted) Sutch, was a journeyman carpenter, and his mother, Ellen Sutch (née Ball), a dressmaker. He grew up in the Methodist faith, which was to have a strong influence on him throughout his life. He went to Wellington College, then the Wellington College of Education and Victoria University College (later Victoria University of Wellington) where he gained a MA and B.Com. He taught at Nelson College (he did much of his degrees part-time, while teaching) and Wanganui Technical College before travelling overseas on a fellowship to Columbia University, New York, where he was awarded Ph.D in Economics in 1932. He returned to New Zealand during the Great Depression, which deeply affected his personal philosophy.

In April 1933, Sutch was one of four people that included Morva Williams, his future wife, who were reported missing in the Tararua Range during an attempt to be the first people to follow a particular route during the winter season. Despite plans to complete the trip within two days, they were held up when two of the members suffered a fall and subsequent injuries, and were then forced to travel very slowly through some of the most persistently bad weather experienced in the range until that time, before finally making their way out more than two weeks later. Once noticed to be missing, the resulting search became the largest search and rescue operation within New Zealand up until that time, involving roughly 200 people.[1]

Career[edit]

Politically, Sutch was generally on the left, although his wide network of friends included people of all political persuasions, and perhaps the person he most admired was the centre-right politician Gordon Coates. He was involved in a number of left-leaning organisations and associations, and helped edit and publish literature connected with them. In 1939, he assisted the publication of Psycho-pathology in politics, written by Labour Party dissident John A. Lee which was an attack on the party's leader, Michael Joseph Savage. Sutch wrote numerous books. Among the first were: Poverty and Progress in New Zealand (1941, 1969) and The Quest for Security in New Zealand (1942, 1966).[citation needed]

In 1933, following some teaching in Palmerston North Boys’ High Sutch took up a position in the office of Gordon Coates, who was Minister of Finance. When the government changed, he continued on in the office of Coates's successor, Walter Nash of the First Labour Government. He had considerable input into economic policy at the time. Eventually, Sutch's political activities were deemed incompatible with his official role, and he was transferred out of the economic sphere. He left the civil service to join the army, becoming an instructor. He returned to the Ministry of Supply arranging equipment and finance. At the end of the war, he took up a position with the new United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, working in Sydney and then in London, covering war-devastated Europe. As a result of this work, he was selected to head the New Zealand delegation to the United Nations, where he held positions with the Economic and Social Commission and UNICEF. He played a crucial role in a UN decision to continue with UNICEF, despite a United States desire to close it down. Ben Alpers has said that some of the credit for UNICEF’s Nobel Prize for Peace should go to W. B. Sutch and New Zealand.[citation needed]

Upon returning to New Zealand in 1951, Sutch worked for the Department of Industries and Commerce, eventually in 1958 rising to be its Secretary. There he promoted the development of the New Zealand economy using the policy instruments of the day, including price controls, subsidies and import controls. He concluded that pastoral exports by themselves would not generate enough foreign exchange to maintain full employment, and would continue to make the economy highly vulnerable to fluctuations in international conditions. So he sought import substitution, the further processing of agricultural production for export, and the exporting of non-pastoral agricultural exports, manufacturing and services (such as tourism). As such he foresaw, championed and laid the foundations of the great export diversifications of the 1970s.[citation needed]

Sutch’s promotion of industrialisation was anathema to much of the farming community, though many in the business community supported him. In March 1965 he was forced to retire after 40 years of public service employment and at the age of 57 he became a consultant. Among his many further publications were the books, Colony or Nation?, The Responsible Society in New Zealand, Takeover New Zealand, and Women with a Cause. His festschrift, Spirit of an Age, was published in 1975. Sutch became active in the arts and architectural communities, including the Wellington Architectural Centre. He was an early and active promoter of New Zealand design, asserting that quality design was central to economic and social development. He helped to set up the Wellington Architectural Centre, provided the intellectual framework that led to the formation of the New Zealand Industrial Design Council and chaired the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council (now Creative New Zealand).[citation needed]

Sutch’s writing provides one of the most comprehensive accounts of, and visions for, New Zealand. While his views were often original and independent, many that were rejected at the time are now accepted. He was a nation-builder who wanted to see an economically strong and socially fair New Zealand, free from colonial ties, whether economic or political. He was a committed nationalist, and on many matters ahead of his times.[citation needed]

Controversy[edit]

In September 1974, Sutch was charged under the Official Secrets Act 1951 in relation to information he allegedly passed to KGB agent Dimitri Rasgovorov, an official of the Soviet Union's embassy in Wellington.[2][3] Sutch was the only New Zealander ever to stand trial under the espionage provisions of the Official Secrets Act, based on the British Act of 1951 and repealed in 1983.

It was claimed by the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) that Sutch had obtained official government information to give to the Soviets although no such information was ever found, and he had been out of the public service for almost a decade. Following a high-profile trial which gripped all New Zealand, a jury acquitted Sutch of the charges in February 1975.

Neither the New Zealand police nor the SIS could provide any evidence that Sutch had passed information to the Soviet diplomat (hence the curious charge that he faced, under the Official Secrets Act, of passing unspecified information to the Soviet Union). Sutch was certainly naive to be meeting a Soviet diplomat under such circumstances, he was asking for trouble. The only explanation he offered was that the Russian ostensibly approached him in his capacity as a stalwart of the NZ Friends of Israel, for information about who were the Zionists in New Zealand, but he wondered if the Russian was seeking help to defect.

There were unsubstantiated claims that he was a member of the Communist Party. He once said that he could not belong to any party because he would never be told by anyone what to think, he would never follow any party line. For much of his life he was an admirer of the Soviet Union. If he was in any way a ‘‘fellow traveller’’, he walked a very independent path. Like British socialism, Sutch was more influenced by Methodism than Marxism.

Sutch began to suffer ill health at about the same time as he was arrested and died six months after the trial on 28 September 1975 at Wellington, shortly after holding his just-born first grandson, Piers.

Debate over his guilt or innocence continued long after his death. A book published in 2006 by C.H (Kit) Bennetts, the SIS officer who had first observed Sutch, reasserted the claim that he was guilty, but offered no new evidence.[4] On 9 May 2008, most of the SIS file on the Sutch and the trial were declassified. The files contained no new material information. Neither do his ASIO, FBI nor UNRRA files which have all been released. One observer remarked that had the jury seen the evidence of the files the case would have been laughed out of court. On the other hand a Top Secret 1976 report by chief ombudsman Sir Guy Powles found that SIS actions had been unlawful when they burgled and bugged his office.[5]

The events surrounding the trial overshadowed the significance of his substantial achievements and have muted subsequent recognition of his significant intellectual and policy contributions to New Zealand and, in his role in the establishment of UNICEF, to the world.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

On 12 January 1934 at Wellington, Bill Sutch married Morva Milburn Williams, a schoolteacher. There were no children of the marriage. His marriage to Morva was dissolved on 2 February 1944, and he married Shirley Hilda Stanley Smith (1916–2008), a lecturer and later a lawyer, in Auckland on 2 June that year. They had one daughter, Helen, who was economic adviser to Prime Minister David Lange and rose to a prominent position with the World Bank.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chris MacLean (December 1994). Tararua: The Story of a Mountain Range. Whitcombe Press. ISBN 978-0-473-02613-4. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  2. ^ "Was Bill Sutch a spy?". The Sunday Star-Times. 7 June 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "SIS reopens Sutch spy debate". Television New Zealand. Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  4. ^ "Sutch was a traitor, insists agent who exposed him". The New Zealand Herald. 2 October 2006. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  5. ^ "SIS file on Cold War spy scandal vindicates Sutch". The New Zealand Herald. 6 June 2008. Retrieved 20 September 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

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