FOR TOO LONG WE HAVE MAINTAINED A SILENCE CLOSELY RESEMBLING STUPIDITY

November 18, 1982, at 12.35 am., Neal Ian Roberts detonated six sticks of gelignite in his backpack and in sight of the two security guards blew himself up in the foyer of the Wanganui Computer Centre. He was nearly 22.

Police identified the body from tattooed pieces of skin. Parts of his body were discovered up to 65 metres from the centre of the blast. Across his chest he’d had tattooed: This punk won’t see 23. Over the road from the building housing the Wanganui police computer, on the wall of a public toilet, he’d written, For too long we have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity, followed by an A(narchy) is O(rder) sign.

His friends regarded his death as an act of martyrdom. Returning to the suicide bombing seven years later, right-wing tabloid newspaper, Truth, ran the headline: We Remember Neal Roberts… The leader announced that punk groups throughout New Zealand had the previous Saturday, on the anniversary of Neal Roberts’s death, held quiet memorials for “a martyr.” Interviewed by Truth, Bronwyn Dutton said, “He talked suicide for three years and he had every intention of doing it. It was not an act of cowardice … it was making a statement with his life.”

The Wanganui computer went live in 1976. Then incumbent Minister of Police, Alan McCready, said it was “probably the most significant crime-fighting weapon ever brought to bear against lawlessness in this country.” “This country” was another country under Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. He introduced the Wanganui Computer Act. It granted the State Services Commission the remit to set up the Law Enforcement System at Wanganui to handle all operational, management and historic information across the justice sector, Police, Justice and Land Transport. The Serious Fraud Office was later given access to the records held at Wanganui, as were certain authorised local authorities.

In 1981, during civil unrest, riots, marches, sit-ins and protests for and against the national tour by South African rugby team, the Springboks, it was alleged that the Wanganui system was used extensively by law enforcement agents, both the police and the Secret Intelligence Service, to identify protest organisers and ideological opponents of the state. Even before the ’81 Tour, Robert Muldoon’s virulent anti-communism had divided New Zealand.

There was the “man in the street” and “reds, commies and pinkos” under the beds, in the universities, in the schools and trade unions. I recall, but cannot find an image, a poster that appeared in ’81. It comprised a single block of text, white on black, a paranoid anti-red, anti-intellectual, ant-student, tract. Below the text, in italics, was printed, Adolf Hitler, 1933 – Robert Muldoon, 1980.

In 1995, the Computer Centre was closed and the mainframe moved to Auckland, where it retained the name, “Wanganui Computer.” In 1999, the Government permanently shelved INCIS.

INCIS, Increment One National Intelligence System, was the supposed to be the first installment of a replacement for the Wanganui Computer. It was a project led by IBM and by 1999 had become a source of major political embarrassment. Exceeding its $98 million budget by tens of millions, INCIS failed in delivering a viable system.

– IBM poster, c. 1934, (trans. “see all with Hollerith punchcards”)

The National Intelligence Application (NIA) proved to be the successor to the Wanganui Centre. In 2005, the Wanganui Computer was decommissioned and NIA, running under IBM’s WebSphere application server, took over as the central repository for information across New Zealand justice and state services sectors. NIA is a client-server application, the client developed in Smalltalk and the servers in VAGen. This year, 2008, will see the migration of its server code to Java.