Peter Fraser


During World War I, many socialists and labour activists objected to fighting an “imperialist war” and argued that “New Zealand workers had no quarrel with German workers”. The New Zealand Labour Party was founded in 1916 and insisted that conscription of men should not be introduced unless it was accompanied by the conscription of wealth.

Shortly after the first conscription ballot had taken place, the government issued regulations to control dissent that included a very broad definition of what constituted sedition:

No person shall print, publish, sell, distribute, have in his possession for sale or distribution, or bring or cause to be brought or sent into New Zealand, any document which incites, encourages, advises, or advocates violence, lawlessness, or disorder, or expresses any seditious intention.

Peter Fraser (who would go on to become Prime Minister in 1940) was arrested four days after these regulations were issued and charged with having ‘published seditious words’ when speaking at a meeting on the 10 days earlier. His utterances were said to have been “likely to incite disaffection against the Government of New Zealand and to interfere with the recruiting of His Majesty’s forces.” Fraser’s lawyer stormed out of the the court when a request for bail was declined and Fraser defended himself. He argued that calling for the repeal of the law, rather than for disobedience or resistance to it, was perfectly legal. The judge disagreed and sentenced our future prime minister to 12 months’ imprisonment. In prison, Fraser shared a cell with Mark Briggs, a conscientious objector with Archibald Baxter, during his period of imprisonment after his court-martial.

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