Hugh Price, who died on 28 December 2009, is best known and recognised for his contributions to writing, publishing and education over more than fifty years. For these accomplishments Hugh received the NZ Order of Merit and a D.Litt (honoris causa) from Victoria University.
That was the public face of this unassuming and quietly spoken man. What is less well-known is his lifelong commitment to human rights and civil liberties. He played active roles in campaigns against the death penalty, as well as in promotion of the rights of women, gays, the elderly, and other minority groups, both in New Zealand and internationally. He abhorred secrecy in all its forms, whether it related to selective reporting by the press or the workings of government. His clear and unequivocal principles were expressed through every facet of his life.
New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties
Hugh was on the NZCCL Committee for more than thirty years, much of that time as secretary or treasurer. Though much of the council business involved responding to legislative changes, he was constantly guiding us back to focus on the rights of individuals who failed to get justice from our health, education, court or prison systems.
For many years Hugh undertook the editing and production of Civil Liberty, the NZCCL magazine. He also took on the role of archivist for the Council. He stored reports, stories, incidents and people in his head as well as on file, and frequently recalled cases and make connections between events and information that other members did not know about or had forgotten. This ability gave new members in particularly a valuable sense of continuity and perspective. His knowledge of the history of civil liberties and the part played by the NZCCL will be sorely missed. Hugh was elected a Life Member of the Council at the 2001 Annual General Meeting.
Hugh and the Security Intelligence Service
Hugh’s main adversary was the Security Intelligence Service. In the late 1950s Hugh started Newsquote, a newsletter consisting entirely of extracts of reports from influential overseas news sources, but which showed up the selective reporting of world events by the conservative NZ press (and the NZ government). As a result, the SIS took an interest in him. The file, which branded him a communist agitator, caused Hugh considerable difficulty, especially when travelling to or via the USA.
Hugh’s response was not only to try to clear his name, but also to gather a dossier of information on the SIS itself. These records showed that the service was keeping extensive files on people whose only crime was to oppose government policies, that those files were frequently inaccurate or even fabricated, that the agents were inept, and that, far from producing information about threats to NZ security, the service was doing immense harm to innocent citizens.
Several of his case studies were published in issues of Civil Liberty in the 1980s and 1990s. Hugh also published the case of Fred Hollows, the New Zealand eye surgeon recently awarded the Australian Order of Merit, who was driven from NZ as a result of SIS harassment. And in his 2006 book The Plot to Subvert Wartime New Zealand, currently being turned into a feature film, Hugh tells the story of an extraordinary fraud perpetrated against the SIS and the NZ Government of the time.
Finally, after forty years of attempts to clear his name, Hugh received an apology of sorts from the SIS, stating that “hindsight shows Newsquote to have been misjudged”. I imagine his dogged and painstaking research, and the stories he unearthed, might have damaged the reputation of the SIS much more than the damage the SIS caused to him.
The current and former members of the NZCCL committee have greatly valued his input (and his company) over the years, but I must mention one further contribution he and his family made. Every month, for many years, the NZCCL conducted its meetings in the living room of the Price home in Glasgow Street, surrounded by the books and comforts of their generous hospitality. This was support, not from the head, but from the heart.
We acknowledge his deep sense of social justice and commitment to New Zealand’s being a liberal and open society.
Chair, NZ Council for Civil Liberties