BEFORE THE WAR on terror, there was the Cold War. When the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was formed in 1949, it was frequently described as Australia’s ‘fourth arm of defence’ after the army, air force and navy. Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley created ASIO because the United States refused to share defence and technology information with Australia. The US said that Australia had been penetrated by Soviet intelligence and defence secrets would not be safe until it had created a professional agency for internal security. Chifley did this just before Labor was swept from office in 1949. ASIO bore the hallmarks of World War II as it prepared for the dangers of a third world war. Robert Menzies, the incoming prime minister, appointed the former head of military intelligence, Charles Spry, to run ASIO, entrenching a military ethos in the new body. In 1951, Menzies said he aimed to put Australia on a ‘semi-war footing’ and that democracies had no more than three years to prepare for a new war.
Preparations for the outbreak of a third world war saw ASIO officers spend thousand of hours preparing legal briefs that ensured over a thousand leaders and activists of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) would be marched into internment camps were war to eventuate. At several points during the Cold War, police and security carried out raids on the homes and offices of communists. For several decades, national politics pivoted on a fear of communism. The Liberal–Country Party coalition won election after election by smearing the Labor Party as having communist influences.
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