COLD WAR AUSTRALIA - 1951 - 60th ANNIVERSARY
1951 - 60th Anniversary
September 22 deserves to be celebrated along
with the centenary of Federation. On that day in 1951, defeat of the
referendum to ban the Australian Communist Party confirmed that
leader Ben Chifley said the Communist Party Dissolution bill “opens
the door to the liar, the perjurer and the pimp to make charges and damn
men’s reputations and to do so in secret without having either to
substantiate or prove any charges they might make”.
leader of the opposition, Robert Gordon Menzies had resisted a ban until
disclosure of a Soviet espionage ring in wartime
taking office in December, the Liberal-Country Party coalition set out
to dissolve the Party and its affiliated organisations, confiscate its
properties and deny
Act had first to identify communists. Documented membership would not
catch the most wanted. Hence, the government proposed to “declare”
people to be communists on the basis of evidence provided by its
Menzies made his Second Reading Speech on
Act defined a “communist” as anyone who “supports or advocates the
objectives, policies, teaching, principles or practices of communism, as
expounded by Marx or Lenin”. Menzies’ reiteration that “No
Parliament can convert a power over Communists into a power over
non-Communists” would have been more convincing had the Act been
confined to membership. Instead,
“declaration” based on beliefs seemed to “open windows onto
The slipperiest slide was in the industrial arena. The public’s prime objection to Communists was their causing strikes. Thus, every industrial action was labeled Communist.
Menzies had to break the Communist power in trade unions without provoking the labour movement into fearing that banning the Communists would also remove the right to strike. In a gesture to moderates, the Act outlawed communist control of employer bodies.
the Labor-controlled Senate finally allowed the bill to pass on
Menzies sought to amend the Constitution by referendum, his lawyers
warned against the “dangers of being simple”. It was not enough to
ask: “Are you in favour of banning the Commos?”. The government also
needed the constitutional authority to amend its invalidated Act. The
arcaneness of the 300-word amendment fed suspicions that a “Yes”
vote would let the a cabal “declare” anyone it did not like.
Menzies gave credence to that concern by
allowing himself to be goaded, while the worse for drink, into hinting
that two Labor parliamentarians could easily become “declared”
elected as Federal Labor Leader, Evatt raised the spectre of Belsen-style
Evatt buttressed his legal and liberal arguments with attacks on the government’s failure to “put value back into the pound”. On September 22, the “No” case attracted 50.48 percent, up from 20 percent seven weeks earlier. The press rekindled speculation that Menzies would resign to lick his wounds on the High Court. ASIO kept working on ‘the case’ and got its next attempt with the Petrov Royal Commission into Espionage of 1954-55.
As a poll of the whole people, the 1951 vote was more democratic than those leading to Federation. The outcome was in line with the rejection of the 1916 and 1917 plebiscites to impose conscription for military service overseas.