On this day, 3 April in 1954, Soviet embassy staffer in Canberra, Vladimir Petrov, defected and caused “the Petrov Affair”, bringing vital awareness of the creeping communist scourge and a damaging but principled split in the Labor party.
Petrov was posted as a diplomat to the Soviet embassy in Canberra in 1951. Whilst only a Third Secretary there, he was formerly a colonel in the Soviet secret police (which became the infamous KGB in 1954).
After Stalin’s death in March 1953, the typical Marxist and totalitarian purge and executions of so many appointed by - and loyal to - the deceased dictator began.
In fear of his fate after his Canberra posting and prospective return to the Soviet Union, Petrov made contact with ASIO and offered documents, including in relation to Soviet espionage in Australia, in exchange for political asylum.
The defection caused the Soviets to expel the Australian embassy in Moscow and recall its embassy in Canberra, with diplomatic relations not re-established until 1959. Remarkably, over 50 years on, similar rumblings about the death of British double-agents and Australia's Socceroos participation in the FIFA World Cup in Russia show that history matters.
Two weeks after Petrov's defection, his wife was rounded up and escorted by two armed KGB agents to an aircraft at Sydney’s Mascot Airport. A photo was taken that went viral around the world (which is shown above).
The Menzies Government conducted a Royal Commission into the affair and found that an extensive Soviet spy ring was operating in Australia which had links with staffers in the office of then Labor party leader, HV “Doc” Evatt. Instead of admitting fault, Doc Evatt doubled-down with an all-or-nothing defence, accusing the Royal Commissioners of bias and the Menzies Government of a conspiracy with ASIO to frame communists, him and the Labor party.
The stench of the Commission’s revelations and Evatt’s unconvincing denials saw sounder heads in the Labor party distance themselves from their increasingly wayward and unhinged leader. These Labor leaders stood against the creeping communist tide engulfing the left of politics in Australia.
By 1955, this principled anti-communist - and largely Catholic - movement broke away from the Labor party, initially calling itself the Anti-Communist Australian Labor Party before settling on the Democratic Labor Party in 1957.
Its leader of this principled, anti-communist response was Bob Santamaria and it helped to keep the Labor party split and out of power until 1972.
Menzies always denied any prior knowledge of the Petrov defection. The then ASIO head also confirmed in retirement that the Government had never been forewarned of the defection and nor was it timed to interfere with the next election (of late-May 1954).
Upon the standard release of Cabinet documents, ASIO files and Royal Commission records 30 years later (in 1984), nothing was unearthed to support Evatt’s desperate conspiracy claim and defence.
Even historian Robert Manne in 1987 found that Evatt’s suspicions of conspiracy were unfounded and that his response and conduct after the defection had been pivotal to the anti-communists in the then Labor party splitting away on principle and in disgust.
But despite all this evidence, Leftist diehards still pathologically trot out the line that the Petrov Affair was all an ASIO-Menzies Government, anti-communist conspiracy and beat-up – of which Doc Evatt and the Labor party were the undeserved victims.
Celebrate this day that the creeping tide of communism in Australia was exposed and put back in its box by:
- reflecting on the near-miss that the Petrov Affair thankfully exposed,
- making a plan to update your pest control measures in your house, to ensure unwelcome pests don't find their way into your home this winter,
- familiarising how Marxists operate to infiltrate institutions of Western democracies and build clandestine networks that include political power and influence,
- appreciating the conviction and strength of character exhibited by Menzies, his Government, ASIO and the Royal Commissioners in helping to root out the insidious creep of communism, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends and those suspicious of communist infiltration and subversion.