Release of NZSIS Reports on 1981 Springbok Rugby Tour Protests

21 December 2011

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand. Due to on-going public interest, including a recent formal request made under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) by an historian, the NZSIS has decided it is appropriate to release some of its historical information surrounding the Springbok tour, and is making 10 documents available.

Every effort has been made to give those named in the documents prior notice of the NZSIS’s intention to publish, and some have requested that their names be withheld.


The documents need to be viewed in the context of the contemporary political scene. In 1981, the focus of NZSIS’s interest in protest activity was the extent to which it might converge with the NZSIS’s responsibilities in respect of subversion, terrorism or sabotage.

A meeting of senior NZSIS officers on 13 July 1981 concluded that the protests were predominantly a law and order matter. Events validated this assessment. However, the NZSIS maintained an interest in organisations then assessed to be subversive and which played an active part in the protest movement. Members of the Workers’ Communist League (WCL) in particular played a prominent role in the protests in Wellington. It was appropriate at the time that the NZSIS should inform itself of this activity.

Description of Documents and Challenges

The most significant of the relevant documents is already in the public domain. This is a paper entitled Polarisation and Fragmentation of the Anti-Springbok Rugby Tour Movement dated 24 August 1981 which was released by the then Minister in Charge of the NZSIS, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. The identities of some individuals named in this paper have not been disclosed, at their request. At the time of the paper’s release in 1981, some of the individuals named challenged the accuracy of statements about them:

  • William Donald Carson made a complaint to the Commissioner of Security Appeals in relation to the statement that Mr Carson was “Believed to have obtained the irritant chloropicrin for use in protest activities”. The Commissioner found that he had a legitimate reason for possessing the chemical, and following legal proceedings the NZSIS made a financial settlement to Mr Carson in 1985.
  • On the day following the release of the document, John Bernard Minto denied the statement that he was prepared to use bomb hoaxes in his opposition to apartheid, and an un-named anti-tour planner told the press that some things mentioned jokingly at one meeting, including “shoebox bombs”, had been presented seriously in the report. On 12 October Mr Minto made a formal complaint to the NZSIS about references to himself in the paper and subsequent comments made by the Prime Minister. The complaint was rejected by the NZSIS on 27 October 1981.
  • It is understood that Stephen Robert Bayliss denied being a member of the Communist Party of New Zealand.
  • The reference to the late Thomas Oliver Newnham in relation to “ancillary operations groups” (and that in the report dated 14 August 1981 noted below, in relation to “small action groups”), requires clarification. The references to his being informed of activities so they might be coordinated or to avoid duplication was not intended to suggest that Mr Newnham played any role in organising “special operations”.

Eight periodic summaries of developments in the anti-Springbok tour protest movement, prepared for the information of the Minister, in August and September 1981, have also been declassified. None were previously in the public arena. Unless they have objected, the names of individuals already identified in the Polarisation and Fragmentation paper released by Robert Muldoon have been left in the periodic summaries now published. However, some of the information contained in these summaries was challenged when published in the Polarisation and Fragmentation paper.

The 10th document released is an internal NZSIS report on the 13 July 1981 meeting of senior officers.

Information Withheld

Where necessary, information including personal names and initials has been removed from the documents to protect security and/or privacy under Sections 9(2)(a) (privacy of individuals) and 6(a) (security) and 6(c) (maintenance of the law) of the Official Information Act 1982; and Sections 6(a) of the OIA and 13A(1) of the NZSIS Act 1969 to protect the identity of NZSIS staff. Some of the information withheld on privacy grounds has been deleted from the published papers at the request of those named in them.

No further archival releases on this topic are envisaged in the near future. Most other material held by the NZSIS on protests surrounding the 1981 Springbok Tour consists either of news clippings, or sensitive reporting that is highly detailed and which remains classified for security and privacy reasons.

To view the series of documents click here:
Polarisation and Fragmentation of the Anti-Springbok Rugby Tour Movement
Eight Periodic Summaries of Developments
Internal NZSIS Report