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Anti-communism in the Liberal Party from Menzies to Turnbull

  • 01 September 2017


The anti-communist hysteria has been ratcheted up a notch in the last couple of weeks by the Liberal Party.

Economics Minister Mathias Cormann has claimed that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is a socialist and wants to take Australia back to the times of East Germany and the Soviet Union. Eric Abetz has sought, alongside The Australian newspaper, to make links between Get Up and the remnants of the Australia Soviet Union Friendship Association.

In the debate over the statues of Captain Cook and Governor Lachlan Macquarie, as well the wider denial of many to Australia's violent settler colonial history, Malcolm Turnbull has called those who argue for a rethink over Australia's past treatment of the Indigenous population 'Stalinists'. And last weekend, Veterans' Affairs Minister Dan Tehan claimed that Shorten will turn Australia into Cuba.

Earlier this year, Turnbull made a speech in London where he called for the Liberal Party to return to its ideological base as laid out by Sir Robert Menzies. Turnbull suggested that the Liberal Party under Menzies was the socially conservative party that many on the LNP's right wish it to be, but it seems that what the Liberals have taken from the Menzies era is a revival of anti-communist rhetoric.

Menzies became prime minister for the second time in December 1949 on an explicitly anti-communist agenda. This was the early height of the Cold War. Throughout 1949, communist-influenced miners had led a coal strike in three states in a challenge to Labor PM Ben Chifley, who eventually called in the Army to break up the strike. Furthermore the leader of the Australian Communist Party, Lance Sharkey was jailed for sedition in the same year for suggesting he would welcome the 'liberation' of Australia by Soviet troops.

On the international stage, the tightening of the grip of the Soviets over the 'People's Democracies' of Eastern Europe had become more or less complete by this time and in October 1949, the People's Republic of China was announced in Peking. To make matters worse, a communist rebellion was beginning in Malaya, reportedly (falsely at the time) sparked by conversations between Sharkey and the Malayan Communist Party leader, Chin Peng.

Taking inspiration from similar efforts in Canada and the United States, and working closely with the newly created apartheid government in South Africa, Menzies campaigned that if elected, the Liberal-Country Party coalition would ban the Australian Communist Party.

Within six months of his electoral victory Menzies