Year 10 History – the Petrov Affair Essay

1. Outline all the ways in which the Labor Party was impacted on by the Petrov Affair. The petrov affair was started when Vladimir Petrov defected to Australia from the Soviet Union on the 3rd of April 1954. The whole affair dominated Australia’s headlines and the defection came to be regarded as the most important of the cold war era. The defection occurred after ASIO was alerted to Petrov by a part time ASIO agent who met Petrov at a Russian social club. Petrov, not suspecting his ties with ASIO, confided in him his troubles at the Soviet Embassy.

The details of the defection were negotiated over 6 weeks, the main concern of ASIO to obtain documents off Petrov containing evidence of soviet espionage and infiltration of Australian government agencies. When the defection was uncovered by the soviet embassy, it accused Australia of kidnapping Petrov. They then proceeded to move Mrs Petrov and place her under house arrest at the soviet embassy. Two armed couriers arrived to escort her to Sydney airport and back to Russia (presumably to punishment and possible death).

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The Australian public believed she was being taken by force back to Russia to be executed, as she was the wife of a communist defector. So, by the time she arrived at Mascot airport on the 19th of April, a large mob had gathered to ‘save her’. The crowd surrounded Mrs Petrov and her two escorts, attempting to grab her and stop her boarding the plane. She eventually made it aboard the plane, and meanwhile ASIO had contacted the pilot and made arrangements to offer Mrs Petrov asylum in Australia when the plane landed in Darwin.

She eventually agreed. Menzies announced the defection in parliament on the 13th of April, and seized it in an effort to secure the election scheduled in May 1954. Menzies linked the petrov affair to communism by, after revealing Mr Petrov’s defection, called a royal commission to investigate evidence of espionage, in other words, he suggested that a soviet spy ring was operating in Australia. 2nd paragraph – Menzies using the affair as an election campaign tactic Menzies used the petrov affair as a strong election campaign tactic.

Before the petrov affair, Menzies had been stepping up the hunt for ‘reds under the beds’. Spy rings had been uncovered in Canada in the late 1940s and there was widespread fear of Soviet espionage in Australia. Menzies did all that he could to heighten these fears but, by the 1954 election, a labor party win was predicted, as the coalition’s ‘scare mongering’ had amounted to nothing, and the public did not believe the spy rings existed. But then, just before the election campaign began in April, Menzies revealed the Petrov affair.

He announced a royal commission into espionage activities in Australia. Rumours were circulating throughout Australia of communists inside the labor party and associated with the opposition leader Herbert Evatt. This affair gave the labor party a negative image and subsequently helped keep Menzies government in power in the election. A mere coincidence or clever tactic by Menzies, the petrov affair was a hugely successful election campaign which had a huge impact on Australian society. rd paragraph – role of labour party in the petrov affair, letter to Russia After the petrov affair was revealed in parliament, Menzies wasted no time in announcing a royal commission to investigate evidence of espionage contained in documents Petrov brought when he defected. These documents contained information about Australia, but also named several members of Evatts staff to be involved. Evatt claimed the documents were fake, the whole petrov affair an elaborate conspiracy devised by Menzies, the ASIO and catholic anti-communist elements in the labor party to secure a coalition win in the 1954 election.

Evatt took his case to the Royal commission. After defending his staff in a series of outbursts, he was not allowed to appear before the commission as they said he was representing his own political interests as leader of the opposition, an, as a result of this Evatt’s suspicions deepened. Less than a week later, Evatt initiated the famous Molotov debate in the house of representatives. He announced that he had written to the soviet foreign minister Molotov, asking him to confirm if the documents were real.

This statement was met by stunned silence then a huge outburst of laughter from the entire parliament, as, not surprisingly, the soviets had denied there were spies in Australia. The petrov affair was a devastating blow to the labor party and caused the historic split of the labor party. The letter to Russia weakened the labor party. 4th paragraph – the labour party split and how it was caused by the petrov affair The labor party split was the largest affect of the petrov affair.

This split had huge immediate and long lasting consequences for the labor party and the Australian political landscape of the time. Evatt’s defiance of the evidence in the petrov documents and his stand in general caused existing divisions within the labor party to become obvious and inflamed. The anti-communist right of the party opposed Evatt’s conspiracy theory as they believed his theory helped support and defend communism.

These disagreements turned to violence in the form of fist fights and wild accusations in a number of dramatic meetings the two sides of the party. On the 6th of October 1954 Evatt charged the catholic group (the movement) with being part of a conspiracy against him. He believed that the movement was controlling a group within the labor party to turn against him. In the political turmoil a breakaway group call the Australia Labor party (anti-communist) was formed and later became the Democratic labor party.

The strain of the petrov affair and the election afterwards caused the labor party to fall apart. The split had a monumental significance at the time when labor could have one won the election, the petrov affair was uncovered and split the party, causing their defeat. 5th paragraph – the way the petrov affair created negative view of the labour party in the Australia The Petrov affair and further events following the affair gave the labor party a very negative image at that time.

The labor party was accused of having communist sympathies and was portrayed by the media as pro-communism. This portrayal was widely believed by the Australian public in the aftermath of the Petrov affair due to the investigation by the Royal commission of 6 members of the labor party. Rumours were circulating about communists close to Evatt, and allegations that one of his aides was supposed to be the author of a document petrov suppled from the soviet embassy.

Evatt himself added to labors bad public image by behaving erratically and strongly defending and denying all allegations against members of his staff. Evatt also damaged his reputation in parliament with his letter to Russia. This negative image played a part in causing the labor party split, by placing stress and inflaming the cracks in the party, which was severely weakened the party and kept coalition in power for a further 18 years. Conclusion – three sentences summarising