Why is the Petrov Affair considered an important event in Australia's response to the threat of communism?
The Petrov Affair reflected the extent of concern regarding the possibility of Soviet espionage in Australia and highlighted the conflicting responses to that concern, and to Communism in general, among members of the Australian government.
The timing of Vladimir Petrov's defection, shortly before the 1954 elections, gave Liberal Party member and Prime Minister Menzies the opportunity to present a strong anti-Communist stand as he coordinated the seizure of Evdokia Petrov away from Soviet officials before she could be returned to the Soviet Union after her husband's defection. Menzies claimed that the Petrovs provided documents revealing an extensive Communist spy ring in Australia, including Dr. H. V. Evatt, a well-respected official and Labor Party candidate for Prime Minister. Evatt's conduct during investigations reflected his view that the Liberal government had intended to use the defections to its advantage during the election campaign and that he felt personally as well as politically threatened. The Labor Party, which had been expected to win the elections, lost as Menzies was reelected. Anti-Communist sentiment was heightened by the entire affair, even within the Labor Party, which splintered due to varied reactions to Evatt's statements and actions.