NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
Labor and Coalition now eager to court the DLP
, September 29, 2012
As the Australian public has finally woken up to the Greens Party’s extremist political agenda, so the Greens’ vote has gone into a steep decline.
Currently, the Greens’ nine senators hold the balance of power in the federal upper house. However, this could change at the next election.
This has prompted key power-brokers from both the Coalition and Labor to court the favour of two senators whose votes could be crucial to passing legislation after the next election: the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) senator from Victoria, John Madigan, and the independent senator from South Australia, Nick Xenophon (Australian Financial Review, September 17, 2012).
The DLP is one of three small pro-family parties which regularly contest seats in state and federal politics. The other two are the Family First Party and Australian Christians.
Family First’s Steve Fielding was senator for Victoria from 2005 to 2011. The party currently has parliamentary representation only at the state level, in South Australia, where Robert Brokenshire, a former Liberal police minister, and Dennis Hood sit in the state’s upper house, the Legislative Council.
Australian Christians is a new party (not to be confused with Jim Wallace’s Australian Christian Lobby), which was launched in Perth on March 7, with the endorsement of NSW parliamentarian, the Rev. Fred Nile. It aims to mobilise Australia’s 2.7 million church-going Christians, in both federal and state politics, to defend freedom of speech and traditional family values.
The oldest of these three parties is the DLP, which began its existence as the direct result of the great Labor Split of 1955, when then federal Labor leader Dr H.V. Evatt, with the help of his party’s left-wing, engineered a mass expulsion of countless moderate party members of long standing, many of whom later formed the DLP.
Between 1955 and 1974, the DLP played an important role in Australian public life, often holding the balance of power in the Senate.
It would be more than 30 years before the DLP enjoyed any sort of parliamentary representation again. In 2006, Melbourne lawyer and teacher Peter Kavanagh took political commentators by surprise when he won a four-year term in Victoria’s Legislative Council, although losing his seat in 2010. However, in that year, John Madigan, a blacksmith and boilermaker from Ballarat, was elected DLP senator for Victoria.
On September 15 this year, the federal president of the DLP, Paul Funnell, was elected to the Wagga Wagga City Council, the first time a party member has been elected to public office in New South Wales since former DLP Senator Jack Kane finished his term in the double dissolution federal election of 1974.
The 2006 election of Peter Kavanagh in Victoria stimulated renewed interest in the DLP, with new branches springing up across Australia.
The party’s reappearance on the political map, however, was not welcomed by everyone. Older Australian Labor Party figures nursed bitter memories of the 1955 Labor Split, which led to the formation of the DLP and to the federal ALP spending many years in opposition.
One of the early casualties of the Split was the Victorian state Labor government of John Cain snr, which fell from power that year. In 2007, Cain’s son, John Cain jnr — himself a Victorian Labor premier from 1982 to 1990 — described members of the resurgent DLP as “sectarian serpents” and accused them of adhering to “fundamentalist religious beliefs” that threatened the separation of church and state (Melbourne Age, February 16, 2007).
However, today, with the likely demise of the Greens, both major parties suddenly want to be friends with the DLP.
Up until now, Labor has been especially hostile to the DLP, blaming it for having kept the Coalition in power federally until 1972, when Labor’s Gough Whitlam became prime minister.
The Liberal Party has tended to ignore the DLP, somehow contriving to forget the enormous debt it owed the party whose preferences kept a left-wing Labor Party out of power federally, thereby benefiting the Coalition.
The Liberals have not been above taking a few liberties with history when it suits them to do so.
Earlier in 2009, former Prime Minister John Howard claimed that the Liberal Party was responsible for pioneering, in the 1960s, state aid for independent, non-government schools. He said it was “Sir Robert Menzies who, as prime minister in 1963, introduced state aid and ended 100 years of discrimination against Australian Catholics” (Letters, The Australian, January 2, 2009).
Mr Howard recently repeated this claim at the launch of the political biography of his mentor, former NSW Senator John Carrick (The Australian, September 11, 2012).
However, the truth is that it was the DLP, not the Liberal Party, which initiated state aid.
The Liberals under Menzies were initially cool towards the idea. It was only when the DLP threatened to switch its voting preferences from the Liberal Party to the then Country Party (now National Party) that the Liberals found it in their political interest to support state aid as government policy.