Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sedition by Example XXV: Paddy Webb

(Being an attempt to excite hostility against our archaic law of sedition)

Patrick Charles Webb, MP, addressing a Labour Party meeting during local body elections, Greymouth, April 19th, 1917:

The miner is fighting against conscription, and would go to jail rather than shirk what they feel to be their duty to the country. That is their sentiment at the present time. They are not fighting for themselves alone. They are fighting for thousands of people who are not able to fight for themselves., and when the true history of the part played by the miners during this great struggle is written I am certain that the miner will stand out in letters of gold as compared with any other section of the community.

For saying this, and for a similar speech at a meeting in Taylorville in February, Webb was charged with sedition. After a trial which saw acting Prime Minister Sir James Allen called as a witness, he was convicted and sentenced to three months imprisonment. His seat was later declared vacant after he was conscripted, court-martialed, and sentenced to two years hard labour for refusing to serve, but Webb had the last laugh, serving as Minister of Mines in the First Labour Government.

Two other men who addressed the meeting - Greymouth Borough Council candidates James O'Brien and P. O'Rourke, were also prosecuted and imprisoned over speeches they had given. The use of the sedition law to persecute opposition candidates (and an opposition MP) for speeches made during an election campaign makes this the worst abuse of the sedition law in New Zealand history.

(Source: Maoriland Worker, May 16, 1917)