Australia’s Response to Communism in the 1950’s

In the 1950’s the world had just come out of the greatest war in human history. In the aftermath of this war many countries turned to communism. It was against this threat of communism that the Australian government reacted in such a wide variety of ways. Although there were a wide variety of ways in which Australia reacted there were perhaps three that were the most prevalent and influential. Firstly Australia sent troops to fight in Korea to avoid and prevent the spread of communism and the start of the domino effect in South Asia. Secondly the Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies put forward the bill that would ban the communist party in Australia and make being communist illegal. Finally Australia also sought to establish treaties and relationships with other non-communist countries to provide Australia with an adequate defence, and also to help limit the spread of communism through. It was these strategies that made up Australia’s reaction to communism.

One of Australia’s main responses to communism was its participation in the Korean War. Australia got involved in this war for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was to stop the “domino effect” that was believed would mean the fall of most of South East Asia and would put Australia under direct threat. Source A shows the potential consequences of not stopping the “red tide”. The source shows that if even one country in this region were lost to communism “the security of Australia itself would be imperiled”. This very clearly shows the attitudes towards communism at the time. Source E goes again to show how scared people were of communism and how controversial this topic was. Another huge reason troops were deployed into Korea was the idea of “forward defence”. It was believed that communism could be most effectively kept away from Australia by fighting it well away from Australian soil. This policy of forward defence justified the positioning and placing of troops into the Korean War.

In the response to the internal threat of communism The Australian Government came up with some somewhat extreme courses of action. Australian Prime Minister proposed a bill, called the Communist Party Dissolution Bill that would make communism illegal, ban the communist party and prevent anyone declared a communist from holding a job in the government or trade unions. The controversial issue in this bill was that if you were accused of being a communist you were guilty until proven innocent. Many people were accused of being communist and although no one was ever confirmed to be one it still ruined many lives. At this time the Australian communist party had 24,000 members and although this was a small amount it still scared many people.

This fear of communism was almost enough to get Menzies’s bill passed however the high court called it unconstitutional and agreed to not pass it. Although Menzies held a referendum to pass his bill there was a slight majority of against votes. Even though the bill failed to pass it still shows just how large an issue this was and how concerned people were about communism. Another issue that showed the seriousness of this issue was the ‘Petrov Affair’. This scared people, as there was a possible ring of soviet spies in the country. Menzies manipulated this event to his advantage and so won the election and forever tarnishing the opposition’s reputation by branding the labour party as communist supporters. Finally another smaller, but no less important, action was taken as a response to the “threat of communism”. Australia began to sign treaties with other countries that were not communist. The Prime Minister Robert Menzies was seeking to create a new more secure position for Australia specifically “under the US wing”.

Australia needed new alliances and allies beyond Britain and so we turned to America for support. This need for allies led to the ANZUS agreement of 1951 and the SEATO alliance of 1954. These agreements ensured aid from foreign countries, particularly the US, in the event of attack from a communist country or indeed any country in general. These policies ensured mutual protection from any threat to the countries involved. Other countries involved in these treaties were New Zealand as well as many South East Asian countries such as Thailand, South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. These countries were included to help prevent the advance of communism. By allying these countries with the US it was practically assured that they would resist the red tide of communism.

In the 1950’s Australia adopted many policies and responses to the growing threat of communism. These included our involvement in the Korean War, our policy of forward defence, the Communist Party Dissolution Bill and treaties with America and other countries. Although Australia was never directly threatened these policies were prudent measures against the advance and popularity of communism. These responses, while somewhat excessive, were implemented to protect Australia and to keep it safe.


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