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Thursday, 11 April 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The report continues -

Such considerations made it imperative that we should scrutinize their evidence and assess their credibility with the utmost care. But during the long period in which they gave evidence we had many and extraordinary opportunities of testing their credibility and their accuracy . . . Petrov was in the witness-box on 37 days for approximately 74 hours in all, and Mrs. Petrov on 21 days for approximately 30 hours in all.

I do not want to weary the House, but 1 could proceed to read the full passage which, I think, could usefully be placed on record. The judges pointed out that the evidence of the Petrovs was capable of being checked and was checked in a variety of ways and at a multiplicity of points. The judges said -

We ourselves bad opportunities of checking which were not available even to Counsel assisting us: certain wire recordings of conversations and other material were available to us only.

The judges referred to the very fact that Petrov's reputation had been attacked - as the honorable member for East Sydney has attacked it - on the ground that he occasionally drank to excess.

Mr Ward - Did he not?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - They conceded that. But they pointed out -

The first allegation is irrelevant: it is absurd to suggest that a man who occasionally got drunk should not be believed.

They went on, significantly, to- mention Mrs. Petrov, as follows: -

No suggestion whatever was made against the reputation of Mrs. Petrov, and on most matters her evidence was no less important than that of Petrov. . . . We feel that in the final result we should find, and we do find, that the Petrovs are witnesses of truth. . . . We also found their accuracy to be of a high order, which is not surprising seeing that they had long training in a service which demanded accuracy.

For most people in this country, that is where the story of the Petrovs begins and ends, because the Petrovs have become naturalized Australian citizens. They are endeavouring to establish themselves in this community without being hunted, without being persecuted. They are endeavouring to establish a life of their own in this place.

The honorable member for East Sydney has laid himself open to the charge, not only that he is attacking the underdog, which is never a very popular pastime in Australia, but also that he is endeavouring to prevent or deter any other potential defector from following that same course of action for fear of the persecution which will come his way in Australia should he ever be so reckless or regardless of his future as to entrust himself to the Australian authorities and place himself at the mercy of Australian public opinion. I do not know what other construction we can put on what the honorable gentleman is trying to do. Is he out to attack the character of people whose evidence has been found to be reliable? Is he out to persecute and hound people who, whatever their motives and background, will, I believe, be found by public opinion and by the judgment of history to have served Australia well in disclosing or enabling to be disclosed the ramifications of Communist activity in this place. I do not attempt here any defence of the Petrovs or their character. But I say that the motive of the honorable gentleman in persisting with these charges at a time when the evidence of the Petrovs has been heard and determined is a matter upon which members of this Parliament and the public will form their own judgment.

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