1951 timeline
This timeline is offered as a backdrop to activities proposed around the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the Communist Party Dissolution Act, specifically its rejection at a referendum on 22 September 1951 . The outline shows that there was nothing new in the notion of banning the Party. Like previous laws, the 1950 Act aimed to cut the heads off working-class struggle. The difference was the Cold War, and specifically the hunt for Soviet spies through what became known as ‘the case’.
1914 War Precautions Act.

Commonwealth solicitor-general R R Garran recalled in his Prosper the Commonwealth that the Regulations

Were mostly expressed widely to make sure that nothing necessary was omitted, and the result soon was that John Citizen was hardly able to lift a finger without coming under the penumbra of some technical offence.

War Precautions Repeal Act of 1920 kept most of its provisions. In 1929, its provisions were used to convict the secretary of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council of encouraging ‘something in the nature of a strike’.

1916 and 1917 Unlawful Associations Acts aimed at the Industrial Workers of the World.
1920 Crimes Act sedition clauses gave the state powers to ban organisations.

Crimes Act amendments:

The most important provision was sec. 17, which introduced Part IIA into the principal Act. Sections 30A to 30H of that Part declare revolutionary and seditious associations to be unlawful, with incidental provisions as to giving or soliciting contributions for unlawful associations, publications, forfeiture of property and proof of membership. (Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and the Law, 1901-1929)

The changes were aimed at the Communist leadership of the Seamen’s Union . They were driven by Attorney-General John Latham, Chief Justice during the 1951 case to ban the Party, and the only judge to accept the validity of the Act.


Amendments to Crimes Act

empowered the Attorney-General to obtain a declaration of the High Court that a body of persons incorporated or unincorporated constituted an unlawful association under the existing provisions of the Act because it advocated sedition or violent revolution; incidental provisions facilitated proof and in particular enabled the Attorney-General to compel persons and organisations to answer questions and disclose documents in order to prepare his case; executive members of the associations at the date of a declaration were deprived of the right to vote in federal elections for seven years, and members not born in Australia made liable to deportation by order of the Attorney-General. (Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and the Law, 1929-1949)

The Act extended ‘sedition’ to cover ‘promoting feelings of hostility between different classes of His Majesty’s subject so as to endanger the peace, order of good government of the Commonwealth’.

The Party opposed the phoney war effort.
24 May 1940 Communist publications banned
15 June 1940 National Security Regulations provided for the dissolution of subversive associations.
22 June 1940 Nazis invade the USSR .
1942 Opinion Poll gave 44 percent support for the ban.
18 December 1942 Bans lifted.
Cold War
5 March 1946 Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech.
12 April 1946 Country Party leader Fadden calls for ban.
1947 UKUSA intelligence sharing agreement.
1947 Venona transcripts reveal passage in Australia of wartime documents to Soviets.
May 1948 US cuts off information to UK on grounds of those leaks.
April 1948 Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party endorses ban on the Party and its front organisations, except on the trade unions that Communists control.
July 1948 Chifley in London to discuss defence, intelligence and weapons testing here.
Fadden exposes the disruption to intelligence flows.
3 September 1948 Australian Secretary of Department of Defence, Shedden, puts ban on the CP top of his agenda.
1948-9 Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation is established to investigate ‘the case’, and to appease the US in order to get intelligence flowing again to the UK . Ferreting out the spies becomes ‘the case’.
mid-October 1948 Menzies in Washington where he is ‘indoctrinated’, that is, told that Venona revealed the existence of spies in Canberra .
19 January Menzies announces his change of mind. His support for a ban follows what he has heard in Washington , and was not just to shore up his leadership of the Liberal Party.
April    Victorian Communist official Cecil Sharpley defects to the Herald, which publishes his allegations about ballot-rigging in trade unions.
Royal Commission into Communism set up in Victoria .
Party General Secretary Sharkey is gaoled for three years after saying that ‘Australian workers would welcome Soviet forces pursuing aggressors’.
June-August Communist-led coal strike; Chifley sent troops to mine the coal.
10 December Menzies becomes prime minister. The coalition wins majority in House of Representatives but not in the Senate.
March Menzies uses Crimes Act to end waterfront strike in Brisbane .
April Victorian Royal Commissioner tables a mild Report.
27 April

Menzies introduces Bill which defined a Communist as

a person who supports or advocates the objectives, policies, teachings, principles or practices of communism, as expounded by Marx and Lenin.

16 May Second reading passed on the voices.
May-June Opinion Polls indicate only 13 percent oppose the ban.

Minister for Labour, Harold Holt, explains to a correspondent:

Our bill to outlaw Communism was only part of our programme of legislation in this fight. While making a frontal attack in that way, we also provided legislation to attack the Communists on both flanks. They can now be challenged from within their union citadels by means of officially conducted secret ballots.

June Commonwealth War Book included ‘Operation Alien’ to put up to 1,100 Communists behind barbed wire.
June    Opinion poll indicates that 56 percent want onus-of-proof to stay with the government.
Menzies responds: ‘We should be compelled to disclose the identity of our agents and put them in the witness box. It would be the end of the Security Service’.

Labor leader Chifley says of the Bill:

It opens the door for the liar, the perjurer and the pimp to make charges n damn men’s reputations and to do so in secret without having either to substantiate or prove any charges they might make.

25 June Open conflict in Korea . Australian forces involved from 29 June.
August Menzies warns that Australians must prepare for a world war in three years.
17 October ALP Federal Executive instructs Labor Caucus to change its position.
19 October Bill passes the Senate.
19 October Ten communist-led unions challenge the Act’s constitutional validity in High Court:

Waterside Workers’ Federation
Australian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation
Australian Railways Union
Building Workers’ Industrial Union
Amalgamated Engineering Union
Seamen’s Union of Australia
Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia
Sheet Metal Workers’ Union
Federated Clerks’ Union of Australia
Federated Ship Painters and Dockers’ Union

The Waterside Workers and Iron Workers briefed deputy Labor leader Evatt.
14 November High Court case opens
February Radford-Collins Agreement on naval surveillance in the Pacific.
9 March High Court judgement, six to one against, 83 Commonwealth Law Reports 1-285.

The decision was not about civil liberties, which have almost no place in the Constitution. The majority rejected the Act because its provisions denied the High Court’s role as the arbiter between Commonwealth and State powers. The next Chief Justice, Owen Dixon, saw certain provisions as an attack on the Federal principle.

March Conscription re-introduced for 18-year old males under National Service Act.
28 April  Double-dissolution election over refusal of Labor majority in Senate to pass Banking Bills.
Menzies Coalition returned with 50.33 percent of the vote, with a loss of five seats.
13 June  Labor leader Chifley dies.
Dr H V Evatt elected leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.
Opinion Poll
July 80 percent in favour
August 73 percent in favour of the ban
15 September 57 percent in favour
1 September ANZUS Treaty signed.
8 September Peace Treaty with Japan .
22 September Referendum to alter Constitution defeated by 50.48 percent. Queensland recorded the lowest ‘NO’ vote at 44.57 percent.
December 1951  and February 1952 and May 1957 Opinion Polls show 64 percent support for a ban.
April 1954 Petrov defects, and ‘the case’ opens a new front.
1991  The Communist Party of Australia self-dissolves.