HISTORY: by Frank ScullyNews Weekly
Demons and Democrats: the story of the Labor Split
, April 6, 2002
At the launch of the newly-published book, Demons and Democrats, one of the speakers was Frank Scully, Victorian MLA for Richmond from 1949-58, who was centrally involved in the Labor Split in the 1950s. This is an edited version of his comments.It is my pleasant duty to thank all those who have worked so hard to produce this book written by Gavan Duffy, and launched by Max Teichmann.
Over the years, there have been many books and reports written about the Split in the Labor Party. Most of them, with the exception of Bob Murray's book, The Split
, which was a fair and impartial report, were flawed, were not factual, and were used to attack the Democratic Labor Party, the DLP.
The DLP were always blamed as the villains who caused the Split. This is very wrong.
I once had a phone call from a young lady from the ABC. She said they were doing a documentary on the Split, and requested an interview. I agreed. She came to my home with a team of cameramen and others.
Before we started, I asked her when she was born. She declined to tell me. I then asked her what research she had done, and what information she had. She proceeded to tell me that the DLP had split the Labor Party.
I again asked her in what period she was born. She told me she was born in the '60s. I said to her, "You were not born when the Split occurred, so you would not have any personal knowledge of what occurred. You are relying on information from what others have written, and the information is wrong, your facts are wrong."
I pointed out to her that it was impossible for the DLP to have split the Labor Party, because it did not exist when the Split occurred. It came into existence after the Split.
I told her Dr Evatt caused the Split. We did the interview and on completion, I asked to be allowed to read and examine any material before it was shown or published, to check whether it was true or factual. I did not hear from her again.
Any thesis or project on the Labor Split should be based on facts that can be substantiated.
Recently, I read an article in The Bulletin
. It mentioned Sir Thomas More and said that towards the end of A Man for All Seasons
, More confounded the king's men who were trying to fit him up for treason. "The law requires more than an assumption," he tells them. "The law requires a fact." Sir Thomas More lost his head.
There is a similarity there with what happened to the Victorian branch of the Labor Party in 1955.
The Federal Executive of the Labor Party found that Dr Evatt's claims could not be substantiated, but acted on "a frame of mind". Victorian Labor Members of Parliament lost their seats and positions in the Party.
There were no facts, but plenty of assumptions.
The facts are, as this book shows, that Dr Evatt split the Labor Party, he destroyed the spirit and heart of the Labor Party. It has never recovered.
Why did Dr Evatt cause the Split? Bill Hayden, in his autobiography, (page 83) said, "Evatt was in deep trouble within the Party at the time he precipitated the Split". Mr Hayden pointed out, "Evatt's strange behaviour left many wondering whether there was evidence of some symptom in his behaviour of an intellectually corrosive disability."
Evatt was mad.
On page 91, Bill Hayden spoke of "Evatt's enormous capacity for crafty self-serving conduct, the flaws in his political judgment, and the general problems of a perhaps faltering personality. He was the cause of Labor's greatest and longest running disasters, and he should be held accountable for that."
As Bill Hayden pointed out, in late 1954, Evatt had lost support as Leader of the Labor Party. He had made extravagant promises during the 1954 election campaign which they could not pay for. This lost him a lot of support on the ALP Federal Executive and among Labor Members of Caucus.
In defiance of the Federal Executive and against the wishes of many Caucus members, Dr Evatt appeared before the Petrov Royal Commission to defend two of his staff members who were involved.
Evatt realised that he had lost the numbers to hold the leadership, and devised a devilishly clever plan to hold his position.
He launched an attack on the Victorian Branch of the Labor Party, and claimed that there was an outside influence at work which was detrimental to the Party.
Now it is interesting to note that at the time Evatt launched his attack, the Victorian Branch of the Labor party was the strongest in its history. In both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, Labor had the greatest number of seats in its history. In the industrial movement, Labor had the largest number of trade unions affiliated and financial in its history.
It was also important to note that Labor's greatest membership in the Chifley era was 57,000. After the establishment of the ALP Industrial Groups, Labor's strength was 61,000.
It should be noted that to be a member of an ALP Industrial Group, one had to be a financial member of the Labor Party. Outsiders could not become ALP Industrial Group members.
It is significant that the Federal Executive of the Labor Party found that Evatt's claims could not be substantiated. They acted on a frame of mind.
Evatt worked to unite the left-wing element and communist support, the dissident elements who had stood on unity tickets with communist candidates in trade union elections but had been defeated by ALP Industrial Group candidates, and the sectarian campaign, so that he could remain as Labor leader.
His plan destroyed the Labor Party.
Even today, there are senior Labor Party figures who believe that the Catholic bishops wanted to take over the Labor Party - an absurd suggestion. I have never met any bishop was a member of any political party.
To further illustrate the success of Evatt's sectarian campaign and its effect, let me tell you of an experience I had after Evatt had launched his attack.
I was a member of the Central Executive of the Labor Party in Victoria, and Secretary to Cabinet in the Victorian Labor Government, from 1952-55. Jack Schmella was Federal Secretary of the Labor Party. As Secretary to Cabinet, I had been able to help Schmella by getting him tickets to the races, and got to know him reasonably well.
I met him on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne and asked him, "What are you really down here for?" He told me, "We are going to cut back Catholic influence in the Party." I asked him how he was going to do that. His reply was, "We will get rid of McManus, Keon, Mullens, Bourke and a few others, and all will be well." I told him that if they did that, they would destroy the Labor Party.
As pointed out in Demons and Democrats
, they proceeded and by breaking the rules, tearing up the Labor Party Constitution and by the use of an illegal conference in Hobart, sacked Labor Parliamentarians and other Labor supporters, thus splitting the Labor Party.
May I, in conclusion, pay a tribute to Bob Santamaria.
I hope members of his family don't mind my raising it, but it is important that we always remember that Bob Santamaria was a great Australian. He proposed and supported policies designed to make Australia a better and safer country, to provide social justice to all Australians.
He was a great supporter of the family, and emphasised that the family was the basic unit of society, that our best "new Australians" were our own Australian babies.