Political Activist, Born 1915, Melbourne Vic, Died 1998
B. A. Santamaria is perhaps most known for his steadfast involvement in opposing the influence of communism in Australia. He spent many years organising union support against communist and 'hard-left' elements in Australian politics.
Throughout the 1930s and 40s, communistic ideas gained increasing support within the trade union movement. The Great Depression brought enormous suffering to workers, to which neither of the major political parties was responsive. In those years, the trade unions were considerably strong collectives, with enough clout to bring governments and businesses to the negotiating table.
There was also an official Communist Party in Australia at the time. In 1945, party membership was over 16,000 and comprised of a very disparate membership, including unionists, activists, students and workers.
In April 1950, then Prime Minister Robert Menzies introduced into Parliament one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in Australia's history - the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. As the name suggests, the main provisions of this bill made the Communist Party, and associated organisations, unlawful and dissolved them. People who were party members were to be 'declared'. This prevented them from employment in the public service, holding office in a trade union or working in certain industries.
While the legislation was passed, the High Court ruled it constitutionally invalid. The Court held that Parliament was acting outside its powers. The constitutional powers being used were the 'defence powers', enabling the federal government to make laws for the country's defence. Menzies took the matter to the public through a referendum. Again, though, he was unsuccessful.
During this same time, the Korean War broke out, drawing in China, the Soviet Union and the United States of America. While this was only in the early stages of the Cold War, Korea cemented the tone of a more ideological war that would last for decades. Communism was perceived as a real threat to Western security, both internal and external. The US Administration introduced its own internal program to eliminate communist or 'un-American' influences. Joseph McCarthy, a US politician, led a vigorous 'witch-hunt' to identify communist supporters.
In Australia, moves against the Communist Party continued in spite of the High Court ruling. People such as Santamaria and Daniel Mannix organised opposition to communism through the 'industrial groups'. They mainly targeted the unions and more left-wing elements of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Suspicions in Australia grew when a Soviet diplomat, Vladmir Petrov, defected and suggested possible espionage in Australia by the KGB.