Tag Archives: politics

What Malcolm Turnbull might have learned from Alfred Deakin


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In jettisoning Alfred Deakin, the Liberals made a great mistake and showed the thinness of their historical memory.
National Library of Australia

Judith Brett, La Trobe University

Australia’s federal Liberal Party began not with Robert Menzies in 1945, but with Alfred Deakin’s Commonwealth Liberal Party in 1909, and before that with his Liberal Protectionists.

As a leadership party, the Liberals have always needed heroes. But in the 1980s, as Liberals embraced deregulation, they turned against Deakin and the policies he championed.

In his brilliantly succinct description of Australian settlement, Paul Kelly identified the core policies of the early Commonwealth with Deakin, and compulsory arbitration and the basic wage with his Liberal colleague, Henry Bournes Higgins.

Deakin’s support for protection and for state paternalism were his key sins in the eyes of the Liberal Party as it rehabilitated the free-trade legacy of New South Wales Liberal premier George Reid. Reid is not a well-known figure, so this left the Liberals with only Robert Menzies for their hero, although he has now been joined by John Howard.

In jettisoning Deakin, the Liberals made a great mistake and showed the thinness of their historical memory. The party and its traditions did not begin with Menzies, but stretched back to the nation-building of the new Commonwealth, and into the optimism and democratic energies of the 19th-century settlers.

Indeed, Deakin was one of Menzies’ heroes. The Menzies family came from Ballarat, where Deakin was the local member, and his Cornish miner grandfather was a great fan.

Accepting his papers at the Australian National Library just before his retirement, Menzies described Deakin as “a remarkable man” who laid Australia’s foundational policies. It must be remembered that in 1965, Menzies supported all these policies the Liberals were later to discard.

When it came to choosing a name for the new non-labour party being formed from the wreckage of the United Australia Party, it was to the name of Deakin’s party that Menzies turned, so that the party would be identified as “a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary”.

Alfred Deakin In England, 1907.
National Library of Australia

This is a direct invocation of Deakin and his rejection of those he called “the obstructionists”, the conservatives and nay-sayers, who put their energies into blocking progressive policies rather than pursuing positive initiatives of their own.

In June this year, Turnbull quoted these words of Menzies, in his struggle with the conservatives of the party. Clearly Turnbull wants to be a strong leader of a progressive party, rather than the front man for a shambolic do-nothing government. He does have some superficial resemblances to Deakin: he is super-smart, urbane, charming and a smooth talker who looks like a leader. But as we all now know, he lacks substance.

When I first began thinking about this piece I was going to call it “What Malcolm Turnbull could learn from Alfred Deakin”. But I fear it may now too late for him to save his government, and might be more accurately called “What Malcolm Turnbull might have learned from Alfred Deakin”.

First, he could learn the courage of his convictions.

Deakin too was sometimes accused of lacking substance. He was not only a stirring platform orator, but he was quick with words in debate, and could shift positions seamlessly when the need arose. But he had core political commitments from which he never wavered. The need for a tariff to protect Australia’s manufacturers and so provide employment and living wages for Australian workers was one.

One may now disagree with this policy, but there was never any doubt that Deakin would fight for it.

Federation was another. In the early 1890s, after the collapse of the land boom and the bank crashes of the early 1890s, Deakin thought of leaving politics altogether. What kept him there was the cause of federation, and he did everything he could to bring it about.

He addressed hundreds of meetings and persuading Victoria’s majoritarian democrats that all would be wrecked if they did not compromise with the smaller states over the composition of the Senate.

Deakin had a dramatic sense of history. He knew that historical opportunities were fleeting, that the moment could pass and history move on, as it did for Australian republicans when they were outwitted by Howard in 1999.

In March 1898, the prospects for federation were not good. The politicians had finalised the Constitution that was to be put to a referendum of the people later in the year, but the prospects were not good. There was strong opposition in NSW and its premier, George Reid, was ambivalent.

Alfred Deakin at Point Lonsdale front beach, 1910.
Brookes family and Deakin University library

In Victoria, David Syme and The Age were hostile and threatening to campaign for a “No” vote. If the referendum were lost in NSW and Victoria, federation would not be achieved.

Knowing this, Deakin made a passionate appeal to the men of the Australian Natives Association, who were holding their annual conference in Bendigo. Delivered without notes, this was the supreme oratorical feat of Deakin’s life and it turned the tide in Victoria. Although there were still hurdles to cross, Deakin’s speech saved the federation.

The second lesson Turnbull could have learnt is to have put the interests of the nation ahead of the interests of the party and the management of its internal differences.

Deakin always put his conception of the national interest before considerations of party politics or personal advantage. And he fiercely protected his independence.

He too was faced with the challenges of minority government, but it is inconceivable that he would have made a secret deal with a coalition partner to win office. Or that he would have abandoned core beliefs, such as the need for action on climate change, just to hold on to power.

As the Commonwealth’s first attorney-general, and three times prime minister, Deakin had a clear set of goals: from the legislation to establish the machinery of the new government, or the fight to persuade a parsimonious parliament to establish the High Court, to laying the foundations for independent defence, and, within the confines of imperial foreign policy, establishing the outlines of Australia’s international personality.

Party discipline and party identification were looser in the early 20th century than they were to become as Labor’s superior organisation and electoral strength forced itself on its opponents.

But as the contemporary major parties fray at the edges, and their core identities hollow out, Australians are crying out for leaders with Deakin’s clear policy commitments, and his skills in compromise and negotiation.

Had Turnbull had the courage to crash through or crash on the differences within his party on the causes we know he believes in, he too might have become a great leader and an Australian hero.


The ConversationJudith Brett’s new book The Enigmatic Mr Deakin is published by Text.

Judith Brett, Emeritus Professor of Politics, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: the MV Tampa and the transformation of asylum-seeker policy


Alex Reilly, University of Adelaide

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


Some time before August 23 2001, a small Indonesian fishing boat, the KM Palapa 1, left Indonesia en route to Christmas Island with 438 asylum seekers aboard.

Like many before them, the asylum seekers hoped to reach Australia and apply for permanent protection visas. The Palapa’s engines failed in international waters between Indonesia and Australia, and it lay stranded for many days.

On August 26, the MV Tampa, a Norwegian cargo ship en route from Fremantle to Singapore, answered a call from the Australian Coast Guard and rescued the crew and passengers of the Palapa. Makeshift accommodation and bathrooms were organised on the open deck. Pregnant women were among the passengers.

A delegation of five asylum seekers was taken to see the Tampa’s captain, Arne Rhinnan. They pleaded to be taken to Christmas Island (four hours away) and threatened to jump ship if they were returned to Indonesia (11 hours away). Rhinnan told the coast guard he planned to take the rescuees to Christmas Island, which was duly noted.

However, some hours later, Neville Nixon of the Department of Immigration contacted Rhinnan to inform him that the Tampa was not to enter Australian waters – and if it did so, Rhinnan risked imprisonment and fines of up to A$110,000.

What was its impact?

It was the prime minister, John Howard, who decided to prevent the Tampa entering Australia. The decision heralded the beginning of a new, executive-led change in policy, which has been the underlying basis of the approach to asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat ever since.

When the 438 asylum seekers left Indonesia on the Palapa, Australia’s policy was to rescue asylum seekers at sea and detain them in Australia while their claims for protection were processed. If their claims were successful, they would be released into the community on permanent protection visas. If they weren’t, they would be returned to their country of origin.

On October 8, six weeks after the Tampa was told it could not enter Australian waters, the Palapa survivors were forcibly removed from the HMAS Manoora onto Nauru. In the intervening period, the Australian government had introduced a policy of boat turnbacks.

The ability to construct and implement this policy less than three months out from an election was an extraordinary achievement of the Howard government, particularly given it involved complex negotiations with a foreign country (Nauru).

Also in this six-week period, ten more boats (now labelled Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels, or SIEVs) attempted to reach Christmas Island. It was a period of high drama. The Australian Navy was under orders to forcibly return boats to Indonesia under Operation Relex.

Several boats sank under navy observation. Despite the best efforts of navy personnel to rescue asylum seekers flailing in the open sea, many people drowned. In the case of SIEV-4, cabinet ministers seized on a navy communication feed that children were being thrown overboard. They immediately made the allegation public; Howard and his immigration minister declared these were not the type of people Australia wanted.

The government maintained its reliance on unverified naval intelligence right up to the federal election on November 10, without providing the navy with an opportunity to correct the record. This politicisation of navy information was the subject of a Senate inquiry in the next parliament.

Boats ceased arriving altogether after SIEV-10 sank on October 19, killing more than 350 of its 400 passengers.

The exact circumstances of the sinking of SIEV-10 remain uncertain. There can be little doubt, however, that its sinking had a significant deterrent effect on asylum seekers in Indonesia considering the journey to Christmas Island by boat.

What are its contemporary implications?

At the time of the Tampa incident, the government’s new policy of boat turnbacks seemed extreme.

However, the government ran a highly successful campaign claiming that the policy was necessary to control Australia’s borders and keep the nation safe, particularly in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

The government kept strict control of information. It withheld information about navy operations involving asylum seekers at sea and restricted the access of journalists to Nauru and Christmas Island. It also downplayed the effect of offshore detention on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers, and cast rescuees as undeserving of Australia’s protection – and potentially a risk to security.

The Rudd Labor government ended the Howard government’s asylum-seeker policy in 2007. Offshore detention centres were closed; boat turnbacks ceased. But, from 2010 to 2013, boats began arriving in unprecedented numbers, and Tony Abbott and the Coalition were elected on a platform that included “stopping the boats”.

The Abbott government introduced a new policy mirroring the post-Tampa policy – which included an added sting introduced by the Rudd government prior to the 2013 election that no asylum seeker arriving by boat and processed in an offshore detention centre would ever be resettled in Australia.

This present-day asylum-seeker policy has bipartisan support. It is a direct legacy of the Howard government’s decision to refuse entry to the Tampa in August 2001.

Alex Reilly, Deputy Dean and Director of the Public Law and Policy Research Unit, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: the Mabo decision and native title


Kate Galloway

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


On June 3 1992, the High Court of Australia handed down its decision in the long-running case of Eddie Koiki Mabo and his compatriots from the Torres Strait island of Mer. Together they challenged the authority of the Queensland government to claim not just sovereignty but also ownership of the land comprising their ancestral home.

What happened?

Queensland annexed the Murray Islands through the Queensland Coast Islands Act of 1879. The court had to determine the effect of this annexation on the rights of the Meriam people to their land.

In its argument, the state claimed that on becoming sovereign over this territory, it derived ownership of all the land comprised in it – including the island of Mer.

This concept, known as universal and absolute beneficial crown ownership, was derived from the idea that Australia was “terra nullius”. According to international law, this implied that a territory was uninhabited. Consequently, England could lawfully claim sovereignty over that territory.

Similarly, under English law, Australia was deemed to be “settled and uninhabited”, and therefore English law was fully imported into the new territory.

A feature of this law was that the Crown was the absolute owner of all land — a relic of English feudalism. If, by law, the Crown was the absolute owner of all land, there was simply no possibility of recognising any other type of landholding, including that of Eddie Mabo.

By contrast, Mabo argued that, despite the state’s claim to sovereignty, he and his people retained ownership over the land. The basis of this argument is the well-known reality that Australia was not uninhabited at the time of colonisation. To maintain a law based on this outdated fiction would be unjust.

The court agreed. Although it could not upset sovereignty, the fact of sovereignty could no longer support the state’s claim for absolute ownership of all land. It recognised a new category of territory – one that was “settled but inhabited”.

As an inhabited territory, the original inhabitants – including Mabo and his community – retained ownership of land.

However, the state did have the power as sovereign to extinguish pre-existing ownership rights. But the Anglo-Australian legal system would continue to recognise those rights until they were extinguished. This is known as native title.

What was its impact?

Although in the early days the Mabo decision generally seemed welcome, it was not long before it became increasingly divisive.

Many celebrated a huge victory for justice for Indigenous Australians. Some of this enthusiasm foresaw a new age of reconciliation, perhaps even a new republican constitution.

But, increasingly, in the months after the decision, many opposed what they saw as the decision’s support for the “white guilt industry”. Mining companies asserted that a “flood” of land claims would inhibit mining in Australia contrary to the national interest. The Australian Mining Industry Council (now the Minerals Council of Australia) took out full-page advertisements to that effect.

Adding to the panic, Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett claimed that Australian backyards were under threat from Aboriginal land claims – he has since admitted he was wrong.

The decision has remained important to Indigenous communities throughout Australia, notably because Anglo-Australian law now officially recognises the prior existence of Indigenous peoples. No longer is Australia “terra nullius”.

However, there have also been Indigenous voices expressing criticism of the decision. Noted scholar Irene Watson observes:

Post-Mabo most people believe we have gained justice. We are still working for the same goal, land rights and self-determination, but we are also working harder than ever before, for now we are also working on unmasking the illusion; the illusion that “the blacks have got it all”.

What are its contemporary implications?

The decision had a huge impact on Australian life. However, regardless of which side of the debate you might be on, it is clear that our institutions and society can cope with such apparently enormous shifts.

Some suggest the Mabo decision did not go far enough to achieve real justice. This indicates that, despite the perhaps inevitable argument that follows profound change, we can afford to be aspirational in embarking on reform efforts.

It is also clear that divisive language, such as that of the debate that followed the Mabo decision (and since), is unnecessary. Knowing that our institutions can withstand the “shock” of change surely means we can engage in a well-modulated and respectful public discussion to achieve it.

Finally, we clearly cannot be complacent following even apparently significant advances in the law’s approach to Indigenous Australians’ claims for justice. There remains work to be done; any single advance will not be sufficient.

To fulfil the promise of Mabo, to advance justice for Indigenous Australians, we need a suite of reforms embracing law, policy and the economy.

Kate Galloway, Assistant Professor of Law

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: the Prices and Incomes Accord



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The Hawke Labor government had a strong incentive to seek a new approach to industrial relations when it came to office.
National Archives of Australia

Anthony Forsyth, RMIT University and Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


During the Hawke-Keating years, the union movement – under the leadership of Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Bill Kelty – became a partner in Labor’s economic rationalist agenda.

Through Accord agreements, unions accepted a degree of responsibility for Australia’s broader economic health. This was often at the expense of their own members’ interests.

What happened?

The Hawke Labor government had a strong incentive to seek a new approach to industrial relations when it came to office.

The last time Labor held government was under Gough Whitlam, between 1972 and 1975. At that time, Hawke was ACTU president, and the front man for the industrial militancy and wages explosion that saw inflation peak at 18% and unemployment reach 5% for the first time since the early 1940s.

Hawke was a confrontational union leader. But Hawke 2.0, the self-possessed teetotaller who became prime minister in 1983, preferred consensus.

In opposition, Labor’s industrial relations spokesperson, Ralph Willis, developed the idea of a formalised agreement between the unions and Labor in government, which was adopted as policy at the Labor Party conference in 1979.

The Prices and Incomes Accord was a series of agreements between Labor and the ACTU where unions would moderate their wage demands in exchange for improvements in the “social wage”.

The first Accord was struck in February 1983, just before the election of the Hawke government. There were six subsequent accords, culminating in Accord Mark VII in October 1991, which ushered in the system of enterprise bargaining.

The Industrial Relations Commission developed a policy of “two-tier” wage fixation, in a shift from the “wage indexation” system of the past. Basic increases would be provided but additional wage rises were dependent on “efficiency offsets”.

By the early 1990s, this had developed into the dual system of basic annual wage increases for award-covered workers, and the opportunity to implement enterprise-based agreements to drive productivity at the workplace level.

The Accord’s social wage elements included better public health provision through Medicare, improvements to pensions and unemployment benefits, tax cuts, and – eventually – superannuation.

What was its impact?

The Accord was a key component of the Hawke-Keating governments’ economic reform program. Along with the floating of the Australian dollar, opening the door to international banks and the reduction of tariffs, the Accord signalled a turn toward a more globally engaged Australian economy.

Hawke’s consensus-oriented style brought the union movement inside the economic policy management tent. This was also a corporatist project: although business groups were not formally part of the Accord, Hawke brought big business into other institutions such as the Economic Planning Advisory Council.

Generally, business groups became critical of the influence the ACTU exerted over Labor through the Accord years. From the mid-1980s, arguments for radical reform of the industrial relations system grew stronger.

Elements in the Coalition and the New Right pushed for individual workplace bargaining and a reduction of union power. They saw the Accord as symbolic of the much-reviled “industrial relations club”.

Within the union movement itself, the Accord was always controversial. Critics argued it transferred power from the grassroots network of delegates and shop stewards to an elite group of senior officials sitting around the table with business and government.

The Accord evolved over the 1980s to focus mainly on managing wages outcomes while ignoring accompanying increases in the social wage. In response, left-wing officials like Laurie Carmichael of the Metalworkers Union became increasingly critical of the Accord. For many, the union movement had simply given up too much for too little.

What are its contemporary implications?

On the 30th anniversary of the Accord in 2013, ACTU president Ged Kearney said the Accord’s spirit should be revived to meet the challenges of job insecurity and wage inequality.

Rising inequality is behind the backlash now underway against neoliberalism and the mantra of prosperity through free trade and globalisation.

The ACTU’s new secretary, Sally McManus, has been in the headlines since assuming her position in March this year. McManus said she believed workers were justified in breaking laws that they judged to be unfair.

She later declared neoliberalism had “run its course”, and:

The Keating years created vast wealth for Australia, but it has not been shared, and too much has ended up in offshore bank accounts or in CEO’s back pockets.

McManus’ combative style recalls an era before market economics gained bipartisan support, when the lines between labour and capital were more sharply drawn. Her approach also raises important questions about the future of the relationship between the industrial and political wings of the Australian labour movement.

McManus appears to be positioning the union movement as the bulwark against unfairness, and the vigorous defender of long-held conditions. There is none of the Kelty “pinstriped proletarian” in her approach. It is unknown whether the McManus-led ACTU will entertain a similar kind of compact with a Shorten Labor government, or take a more conflict-oriented approach.

Bill Shorten is by nature a consensus Labor leader, who is inclined to seek common ground between business and labour. At present, though, he is riding the turn against neoliberalism, adopting a pro-union position and populist rhetoric on issues such as corporate tax cuts and penalty rates.

There is some prospect therefore of a new Labor-ACTU compact for the 2020s. This would not focus so much on the Accord’s economic objectives, but on the protection of workers’ rights in the fast-changing world of automation and new platforms of service delivery.

Anthony Forsyth, Professor of Workplace Law, RMIT University and Carolyn Holbrook, Alfred Deakin Research Fellow, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: Gough Whitlam’s dismissal as prime minister



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Gough Whitlam speaks to reporters after being dismissed as prime minister.
National Archives of Australia

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


The dismissal of the Whitlam government provided one of the biggest political shocks in Australian history. It put on open display vice-regal powers that most did not know existed, and tested Australians’ understanding of their own Constitution and political system.

What happened?

On October 16, 1975, the Senate resolved that it would not pass supply until the Whitlam government agreed to call a general election. This meant the Commonwealth would soon run out of money to pay public servants, provide pensions, pay its contractors, and provide services. The Whitlam government decided to tough it out in the hope the Coalition opposition would collapse.

Because the Christmas holidays were approaching, the last day to initiate a pre-Christmas election was November 13, 1975. If that deadline was missed, there would potentially be months of economic chaos with no money to run the government and pay salaries or pensions until February.

On the morning of November 11, Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser told Gough Whitlam the Opposition would pass supply if Whitlam agreed to hold an election for both houses in May or June 1976. Whitlam refused.

Instead, Whitlam went to the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, to seek a half-Senate election in December. This would not have been likely to resolve the impasse, because any new Senate would not have taken office until July 1 the following year (apart from the territory senators).

When Whitlam declined to request a general election, Kerr exercised his reserve powers by dismissing Whitlam and his government from office. He then appointed Fraser as prime minister on the condition that he secure the passage of supply, advise the dissolution of both houses of parliament, and call an election in December.

Kerr also stipulated that Fraser’s government must only be a caretaker government that would not make any major appointments or undertake any inquiries or investigations into the Whitlam government. The Senate passed supply, and both houses were immediately dissolved.

It was then left to voters in the election to decide who should govern. The Whitlam government was comprehensively defeated, and the Fraser government was elected to office.

Footage from the day of the Dismissal.

What was its impact?

The reaction was relief for some, and outrage for others. The public and the media, being unfamiliar with constitutional history and the role and powers of vice-regal representatives, saw the Dismissal as unprecedented and shocking.

A martyrdom narrative was constructed – that it was only ever Labor leaders who were dismissed (Whitlam and former NSW premier Jack Lang in 1932), and it was always done by the conservative establishment through undemocratic upper houses. Conspiracy theories flourished, with fingers being pointed at the CIA, the Queen, and the banks, amongst others.

That Kerr had sought advice from the High Court’s chief justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, albeit after Kerr had already made up his mind to dismiss Whitlam, was seen as adding to a conspiracy, because Barwick had previously been a Liberal minister.

Collective amnesia was applied to the fact that such things had happened before. Chief justices had advised governors-general and governors on almost every constitutional controversy since Federation.

Labor had blocked supply in state upper houses before, resulting in the governor, after consulting the chief justice, requiring the resignation of the conservative premier – even when he held a majority in the lower house. It had long been the case that if supply could not be obtained, the only options were resignation, an election, or dismissal (sometimes disguised as a forced resignation).

In 1975, the Speaker asked the Queen to intervene and restore the Whitlam government. In response, the Queen’s private secretary pointed out that the power to appoint and remove the prime minister and dissolve parliament was held by the governor-general, so she could not act.

Many people were influenced by the events of 1975 to support a republic, due to their objection to an unelected representative of the Queen dismissing an elected government that had majority support in the lower house.

Others saw 1975 as revealing the importance of the Senate’s power to block supply, and the need for the reserve powers of the governor-general to resolve a crisis.

All the major participants in the 1975 dismissal were damaged by it. Whitlam was never able to form a government again. Kerr was publicly vilified and led much of his later life outside Australia.

Although he became prime minister, Fraser found his government’s legitimacy undermined by the way it had obtained office, resulting in it being more timid and ineffective than it might otherwise have been.

A lunchtime rally outside Parliament House protests the dismissal of the Whitlam government.
National Archive of Australia

What are its contemporary implications?

One salutary consequence has been that both governments and oppositions have been more wary about taking matters to extremes, preferring to let conflicts be resolved in the ordinary course by elections.

The Dismissal soured politicians’ taste for brinkmanship. It revealed the likely consequence of a loss of political legitimacy.

Another somewhat ironic consequence is that while the Dismissal fuelled the republican movement, it has also undermined it. The republican model with most public support in Australia is that of a head of state directly elected by the people.

To avert the prospect of a directly elected head of state undermining the indirectly elected prime minister and destabilising the system of government, many consider it would be necessary to remove or codify the powers of the head of state. Yet the ghosts of 1975 have stymied attempts to do so, frustrating any consensus towards a republic.

Harking back to Whitlam’s famous words on the steps of Parliament House, nothing might have saved the governor-general – but the Dismissal appears to have saved the Queen, at least for now.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: the Labor Party split



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B.A. Santamaria (left) played a significant role in the Labor split and the formation of the Democratic Labor Party.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Paul Strangio, Monash University

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


The Labor split started in earnest in October 1954, when federal leader H.V. Evatt denounced the “disloyal” activities of a militant anti-communist faction operating predominantly in the party’s Victorian branch. Tumult followed.

In March 1955, rival Victorian Labor delegations competed for admission to the party’s federal conference in Hobart, further crystallising the split. A month later, the Victorian Labor government was sacrificed as anti-communist breakaways crossed the floor to support an opposition-initiated no-confidence motion.

In the federal sphere, Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies called an early poll to capitalise on Labor’s chaos. The result was an emphatic victory for the Coalition, which benefited from preferences from the Australia Labor Party (Anti-Communist), later renamed the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

Influenced by distinctive local factors, the split also engulfed Queensland Labor in 1957. Premier Vince Gair was expelled from the party. This precipitated an election that delivered power to the Coalition in Queensland.

But the seeds of this political calamity predated Evatt’s combustible statement. For complex socioeconomic and other reasons, a majority of Irish Catholics had historically voted for Labor, and the schism during the first world war over conscription further strengthened this ethno-sectarian alignment. In turn, there had always been a tension between socialist impulses within the labour movement and Catholicism.

The risk of conflict escalated in the 1930s, as the small but resolute local Communist Party made inroads into the labour movement.

By the 1940s, communists controlled key trade unions. This prompted Labor state branch organisations to establish “industrial groups” to combat that influence. These groups proved effective, but became closely entwined – especially in Victoria – with the Catholic Social Studies Movement.

“The Movement” had been set up by the bishops and was directed by B. A. Santamaria to exploit the position of Catholics within the labour movement to fight atheistic communism.

Santamaria’s ambition for The Movement expanded from it stiffening anti-communist resolve in the trade unions to it becoming a trojan horse for transforming the Labor’s personnel and policies. Those dreams were fanciful, but Santamaria’s zealotry and Evatt’s intemperance were crucial to the split.

Trade union powerbrokers who were determined to subjugate Labor’s parliamentary wing – even at the price of political oblivion – were also responsible.

Labor leader Doc Evatt (right) meets British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in 1954.
W. Brindle, CC BY

What was its impact?

The split destroyed Labor governments in Victoria and Queensland. The party was relegated to opposition for a generation. It did not regain office in these states until 1982 and 1989 respectively.

Better sense prevailed within the ALP’s top counsels and Catholic hierarchy elsewhere, enabling Labor governments to ride out the storm in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia.

Federally, however, the consequences were also devastating for the ALP. Becoming prime minister for the second time in 1949, Menzies’ hold on office was initially far from secure; the elections of 1951 and 1954 were close run. But the Labor split gifted him political dominance.

In contrast, despite remaining at the ALP’s helm until 1960, the brilliant but mercurial Evatt never recovered politically or psychologically.

Another legacy was the DLP, which at its zenith held the balance of power in the Senate and buttressed non-Labor governments, federal and state, through watertight preference flows.

The split dramatically realigned Catholic voting. Tribal Labor supporters were torn between their religious and political faiths. The upward social mobility of Catholics in post-war Australia was destined to diversify their voting behaviour, but in one stroke a sizeable chunk hived off to the DLP.

It has also been suggested that, over time, the DLP acted as a bridge for Catholics to transfer loyalty to the Liberal Party: a side of politics where they had been traditionally unwelcome.

The anti-communist Victorian state Labor executive was locked out of the party’s federal conference in Hobart.
National Library of Australia

What are its contemporary implications?

The effects of the split washed out of the political system during the 1970s.

Federal intervention in the Victorian Labor Party in 1970 to correct its post-split deformities was an important prerequisite for the party winning office federally in 1972, and a decade later in Victoria.

The first of these victories undermined the DLP’s fundamental rationale – to deny Labor power nationally. In 1974, it lost its representation in the Senate. A few years later it expired.

Viewed from today’s post-Cold War and secularised society, the conflicts at heart of the split appear curiously arcane. Yet the ghosts of those events linger.

In 1985, four trade unions – including the powerful and conservative Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association – that had affiliated with the DLP in the 1950s were controversially readmitted to the ALP. Their presence continues to influence Labor’s contemporary factional power balance.

The DLP – or its bastard child – resurrected in the 2000s and has since had members elected to the Senate and the Victorian Legislative Council.

We are also reminded of how much the presence in the modern Liberal Party of a high-profile conservative Catholic grouping recast religious political allegiances following the split. Among them is former prime minister Tony Abbott – an unashamed Santamaria protégé.

Paul Strangio, Associate Professor of Politics, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: how women gained the right to vote



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The Australian delegation to the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Congress in Rome, 1923.
National Library of Australia

James Keating, UNSW

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


Between 1894 and 1908 a wave of women’s enfranchisement swept across Australia. Beginning in South Australia in 1894 and ending 14 years later in Victoria, Australia’s six colonies allowed women to vote.

With the passage of the Commonwealth Franchise Act in 1902, Australia became just the second country in the world – after New Zealand in 1893 – to give women the vote. At the same time, the Commonwealth became the first country in which women could stand for parliament. It was this coincidence of voting and representation rights that made Australian women the “most fully enfranchised” in the world.

The development of voting rights for women was not a “gift”, as contemporary politicians and – later – historians framed it. Instead, it was the result of concerted activism led by a group of white, middle-class, urban women, with pockets of working-class support, and fortified by a Protestant temperance vision.

Suffragists from Perth to Sydney enlisted male political sponsors and drew on a common tactical arsenal to engender public support for their demands – which “squeaked through parliaments in a period of flux”.

Lady Mary Elizabeth Windeyer, first President of the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales.
State Library of New South Wales

As several historians have shown, in the 1850s women contested the terms of the political citizenship conferred on male colonists after Britain conferred responsible government – the system whereby the colonies were given control of their domestic affairs through popularly elected parliaments.

However, feminism only came to the fore as a political force in the late 1880s. It was galvanised by the formation of local women’s groups, like literary and suffrage societies, as well as overseas imports like the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the dissemination of British and American propaganda. With these institutional supports, organised suffrage movements emerged in all six colonies.

The Australasian WCTU’s Manual of the Franchise Department neatly summarised the methods that defined the colonial campaigns. Its author, Catherine Wallace, sought to standardise the techniques that saw Victorian women amass 30,000 signatures on a “monster” suffrage petition that year.

She urged readers to form franchise departments, join suffrage leagues, write to the press, hold public debates, circulate petitions, and relay news across the union’s hierarchy of colonial and global suffrage leaders.

What was its impact?

Winning the vote was not an end in itself. The suffragists believed that gaining the vote meant women had an obligation to reform society.

They hoped to improve the lives of Australian women and embody the virtues of political citizenship for the benefit of disenfranchised women across the world. This was especially true for the “sisters” from whom they had drawn inspiration in the UK and the US.

A cartoon from Brisbane paper The Worker promoting women’s suffrage in 1900.
The Worker

However, as the suffragists quickly discovered, enfranchisement was not a panacea for women’s economic, political and social disadvantages. Soon after winning the vote, their activist coalitions collapsed as women pursued an array of conflicting agendas, from prohibition to workers’ rights.

One of the chief divisions that arose in the ensuing decades was over the need for separatist organising. Socialist and working-class women, like Kate Dwyer, the Golding sisters and Lillian Locke believed women’s political future was with the Labor Party.

By contrast, many of the movement’s leading figures – including Vida Goldstein, Catherine Helen Spence, and Rose Scott – remained outside the party system. They feared demands for loyalty would sideline any feminist agenda.

As their counterparts in New Zealand had already found, even when women reached consensus they faced stiff resistance when they attempted to “curb men’s sexual liberties”.

In particular, campaigns to raise the age of consent and repeal the infamous Contagious Diseases Acts led to a backlash against women exercising their political power.

What are its contemporary implications?

The struggle for voting rights did not end in 1908. As historians like Patricia Grimshaw have pointed out, the expansion of who was entitled to vote federally came at the expense of Indigenous peoples.

Whereas Indigenous Australians’ voting rights had been murky until Federation, the Commonwealth Franchise Act disqualified any “Aboriginal native of Australia Asia Africa or the Islands of the Pacific except New Zealand” from enrolling to vote.

Most suffragists did not display the fixation with racial integrity that led politicians to institute the White Australia policy. Yet, until a new generation of feminist leaders emerged after the first world war, neither did they challenge it.

Women’s enfranchisement is celebrated as part of Australia’s democratic mythology. However, many of the suffragists’ more radical ideas – like pacifism, equal pay, and even their vision of a world where women could use the power of the state to protect themselves and their children from violence – remain unrealised.

Nevertheless, Australian suffragists were notable for their desire to use new-found national citizenship as a platform to promote progressive causes. Examples include Catherine Spence’s pursuit of “pure democracy” (a form of proportional representation) in the US, and Vida Goldstein’s role in founding the International Woman’s Suffrage Alliance.

Historian Clare Wright argues the suffragists’ efforts offer Australia a founding myth distinct from the Anzac legend. However, much evidence suggests that women like Rose Scott resisted the appeal of nationalism altogether, and instead worked to realise their ambitions in the states.

Still, in their commitment to promoting peace, advocating for women’s rights, and fostering international understanding, the suffragists offer a model of Australia’s role in the world that remains as important as ever.

James Keating, PhD Candidate, School of Humanities and Languages, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: Robert Menzies and the birth of the Liberal-National coalition



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Robert Menzies knew the Liberal Party would never be able to govern in its own right.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Gregory Melleuish, University of Wollongong

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


It has become an established fact of Australian politics that when the non-Labor side of politics is in power, the government will be a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party. This has been the case for almost 100 years, since the formation of the Country Party in 1920.

Even on those occasions when the Liberals have won a House of Representatives majority in their own right, the Coalition has held.

What happened?

It is also true that when the then Nationalist Party and the then Country Party came together in coalition in 1922, the Country Party had much more clout than it has today. In the 1922 federal election, the Nationalists won 35% of the vote and 26 seats in a 75-seat House of Representatives. The Country Party won 12.5% of the vote and 14 seats, including seats in Tasmania.

The price Country Party leader Earle Page demanded for coalition was the political execution of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, and the treasurer’s job. He got both, creating the Bruce-Page government.

Former National Party leader Stanley Bruce, who became prime minister in 1923 in a Coalition government.
Government of Australia, CC BY

When Robert Menzies became leader of the United Australia Party in 1939 following the death of Joe Lyons, Page attempted the same trick again. He made a savage personal attack on Menzies and refused to serve under him – only this time the Country Party refused to follow suit, and replaced Page as leader.

The political reality was that to form an effective political relationship, any non-Labor prime minister needed to have a good working relationship with the Country Party. Menzies understood this.

When Menzies put together the bits and pieces of the non-Labor political forces following the collapse of the United Australia Party and formed the Liberal Party in 1944, he knew the Liberal Party would not be able to govern in its own right.

What was its impact?

At the 1949 election, which swept Menzies to power, the Liberal Party won 55 seats in a 121-seat House of Representatives. The Country Party won 19 seats.

Country Party leader Arthur Fadden became treasurer and remained so until 1958, when new leader John McEwen chose not to move to Treasury. McEwen’s influence in non-Labor governments, especially in relation to tariff matters, was considerable until his retirement in 1971. His antipathy to William McMahon effectively forced him out of the contest to elect a successor to Harold Holt in early 1968.

During this period, the Country Party could use its influence to shape Coalition policy. It did so because it had strong electoral support, which kept its numbers in the House of Representatives hovering around 20.

Liberals seemed to be quite happy to acquiesce in that influence, especially as Menzies and his immediate successors – with the possible exception of McMahon – were not opposed to government regulation of the economy.

Over time, Australia’s demography worked against the Country Party. The number of people living in urban areas has always been high in Australia, but the numbers have swung even more against rural areas. The size of the House of Representatives increased in the 1980s to 148 but the number of Country Party members remained static.

In 1982, it officially became National Party policy to indicate it was not merely a sectional party. This was followed in the 1980s by an attempt by Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen to create an urban base for the Nationals in Brisbane. This had some initial success, but ultimately failed.

Joseph Lyons makes an election speech in Sydney in the 1930s.
State Library of NSW, CC BY

What are its contemporary implications?

The Nationals remain a country-based party in an Australia in which urban areas experience the greatest growth in population. Since the 2016 election, the Nationals have held 16 seats in a 150-seat House of Representatives.

What this means is that National Party policy will not disappear in the medium term, unless the party agrees to a union with the Liberals. The Liberals will have to take account of the wishes of the Nationals, up to a point.

However, it is clear that current Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce does not have the power to veto particular individuals from the leadership of the Liberal Party.

It is also clear that a Nationals leader will not be able to influence policy in the way McEwen did. Joyce may be a sort of agrarian populist, but times have changed – and the Liberal Party is no longer the party it was in the 1950s and 1960s.

It all comes down to numbers. The Nationals have relatively fewer seats in parliament than did the old Country Party 50 years ago. So, their capacity to influence what the government does has diminished.

Nevertheless, the Liberals need the Nationals if they are to form stable governments. They need each other. But, ultimately, the Liberal Party can only become the more powerful part of the relationship.

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: the White Australia policy


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The ‘White Australia’ ideology was commercialised and used to sell things from soaps and games to pineapple slices.
Multicultural Research Library

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian National University

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has repeatedly claimed that Australia is the world’s most successful multicultural nation. While the sentiment has bipartisan support today, for more than half a century after Federation Australia boasted not of multiculturalism, but of its monoculture.

In 1925, Prime Minister Stanley Bruce reassured a worried public that Australia’s racial makeup was 98% British and that this was unlikely to change. The means of maintaining this racial and cultural homogeneity is loosely termed the White Australia policy.

Immediately following Federation in 1901, policies were designed to keep Australia white and British. Non-racial language was used to minimise international condemnation, but the xenophobic concern was plainly evident. Australia’s first prime minister, Edmund Barton, explicitly stated his belief in white superiority:

There is no racial equality. There is that basic inequality. These races are, in comparison with white races – I think no-one wants convincing of this fact – unequal and inferior.

The White Australia policy was in place for seven decades after 1901 and had a profound impact on the newly federated Commonwealth.

What happened?

The White Australia policy was not a single government directive but a series of acts with a common goal: to achieve and maintain a white, British national character. The Immigration Restriction Act, Pacific Island Labourers Act and the Post and Telegraph Act (all passed in 1901) formed the initial legislative foundation.

The Immigration Restriction Act in particular epitomises the spirit of the White Australia policy, and its hypocrisy. It never mentioned the words “white” or “race”, but the parliamentary debates – and its application – make clear it was a tool of racial exclusion.

The act’s most infamous feature was a dictation test. Migrants could be asked to write 50 words in any European language. Officers could manipulate the test to exclude any undesired person.

The most famous example was Jewish communist Egon Kisch. Fluent in several European languages, he was arrested after failing to recite the Lord’s Prayer in Scottish Gaelic.

Between 1901 and 1958 (when it was dumped), only around 2,000 people ever took the test. Despite the non-racial terminology, its purpose was understood. As a direct result, non-whites largely avoided coming to Australia, and overseas shipping companies did not issue tickets to people likely to fail the test.

The White Australia policy received bipartisan support, but was gradually dismantled by both sides. Conservative governments introduced the Migration Act in 1958 and its significant modification in 1966.

Driven partly by the “populate or perish” doctrine, non-Europeans were allowed to come to Australia based on skills and suitability rather than race. Eventually they were offered the same pathway to citizenship as Europeans.

The progressive Whitlam government symbolically buried the last remnants of the White Australia policy in 1973. The Racial Discrimination Act made it illegal to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race. Those words are from Section 18C of that act, which the current government is seeking to amend.

What was its impact?

The legal mechanisms of the White Australia policy were tied to a widespread belief in the superiority of British civilisation and the white race generally during this era.

The masthead of the popular Bulletin magazine read:

Australia for the White Man.

The object of the White Australia board game was to:

… get the coloured men out and the white men in.

There were White Australia theatre productions, songs, pins and badges, soaps, and even a White Australia brand of sliced pineapple in syrup. It was as much a cultural as political phenomenon, and it could not be simply extinguished with an act of parliament.

The acceptance of large numbers of Vietnamese refugees under the Fraser government was seen as a litmus test of whether the White Australia policy was really gone.

The White Australia Game was registered in 1914 and was popular throughout the 1920s.
Migration Heritage Centre

What are its contemporary implications?

Both major parties have endorsed multiculturalism for nearly half a century. Even in this era of Trumpian populist politics, it is inconceivable that Australia would ever return to race-based immigration policies.

But if the White Australia policy is dead, has the White Australia ideology survived?

In the 1980s, the Garnaut report made the economic case for greater Asia literacy. However, the region was – and still is – viewed by many with suspicion. In 1996, Pauline Hanson warned parliament that Australia risked being “swamped by Asians”.

In the lead-up to the 2001 election, Norwegian container ship the MV Tampa rescued 438 asylum seekers and attempted to enter Australian waters. Prime Minister John Howard refused to accept them, causing a tense diplomatic stand-off. The widespread support for Howard, which arguably helped him secure election victory, has been seen by some as evidence of a lingering White Australia mindset.

Academics James Jupp and Gwenda Tavan have argued that the White Australia ideology is still shaping Australian immigration policies in the 21st century, especially in regard to refugees. The bipartisan commitment to offshore processing and the re-emergence of Hanson’s One Nation party following the 2016 election lend some weight to this view.

The dictation test was undoubtedly political spin to justify a racist agenda. A century later, similar charges have been levelled at the “stopping deaths at sea” defence, which is used to justify the current “harsh” treatment of predominantly non-white asylum seekers.

As a policy, White Australia is gone. But as an ideology, it arguably lingers on. There certainly is a minority who want to “reclaim” an imagined idyllic Australia of yesteryear, with its white monoculture.

An overwhelming majority, however, agree with the prime minister. Multiculturalism is here to stay.

Benjamin T. Jones, Australian Research Council Fellow in the School of History, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australian politics explainer: the writing of our Constitution



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The British parliament passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act in 1900.
Museum of Australian Democracy

Ryan Goss, Australian National University

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


Since coming into effect in 1901, Australia’s Constitution has shaped – and been shaped by – our political history.

The Constitution is the highest law in Australia. It shapes the laws the federal parliament may pass, how it administers those laws, the way our courts work, and how the federal government interacts with the state and territory governments.

What happened?

In the late 1800s, there were six British colonies on the Australian continent. These stand-alone colonies had their own parliaments and governments, their own colonial constitutions, and even their own militaries.

When travelling from one colony to another, people had to pass through a customs check before crossing the border. And they had to pay taxes on goods they were carrying.

In the 1880s and 1890s, representatives of the colonies began the discussions that would lead to federation. They wanted to join together to create a national government while maintaining political power for each colony’s own government.

These discussions, which culminated in the Constitution we have today, were driven by many factors. Among these were the need to make trade easier within Australia, a desire to control immigration, and to improve defence arrangements for the continent.

In part, the Australian Constitution’s drafters were inspired by the United States and its Constitution; the structure of our Constitution looks quite similar to the Americans’.

But, crucially, Australian Federation did not involve a revolution against Britain. Instead, at Federation, Australia would maintain close links to the parliament in London, the British courts and the British monarchy.

Aside from some discriminatory provisions, the Constitution would not include acknowledgement or recognition of Indigenous Australians. Our system of government became a mixture of British-inspired elements, American-inspired elements and uniquely Australian elements.

Voters were asked to approve the draft Constitution at referendums held in all the colonies. All the colonies eventually voted in favour – though some only narrowly, and with most women and Indigenous Australians excluded from voting.

After being passed into law by parliament in London, the Constitution came into effect on January 1, 1901.

Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin are considered founding fathers of Australia’s federation.
National Library of Australia

What was its impact?

All this history has shaped our Constitution, and continues to shape our political history. Our Constitution establishes:

But it’s also important to remember that much goes unmentioned in our Constitution. Many key elements of our system of government don’t appear in the text of the Constitution. The prime minister, for instance, doesn’t rate a mention.

To help make up for the omissions, our political and legal history has been guided by rules known as constitutional conventions. These conventions are shaped by British history and by Australian history, and have occasionally proven very controversial.

Unlike many constitutional systems, Australia lacks any form of comprehensive bill of rights protections. Instead, Australia’s constitutional system was built on the principle that:

… the rights of individuals are sufficiently secured by ensuring, as far as possible, to each a share, and an equal share, in political power.

Nonetheless, the text of our Constitution shapes what our governments can do, and the way in which they can do it. The Constitution affects how governments spend money, the position of Indigenous Australians, and policy in areas ranging from industrial relations and marriage to the environment and asylum seekers.

Significantly, the Constitution also protects our role as citizens in choosing our representatives and in holding them accountable.

What are its contemporary implications?

The Constitution is hard to change. The federal parliament first must approve any proposed amendment. The amendment must then pass a referendum by a “double majority”: approved by a majority of voters as well as a majority of voters in a majority of states.

In 116 years, 44 attempts have been made to change the Constitution. Only eight have succeeded.

The failed attempts have included efforts to switch parliamentary terms from three years to four years, multiple efforts to protect basic civil rights, and the unsuccessful republic referendum to replace the monarch with an Australian. The last time the Constitution was successfully amended was in 1977.

Some may see this inflexibility as a strength: the Constitution is stable and enduring. But it also makes the Constitution very hard to update in response to changing times and changing values.

As a result, the Constitution is a document that reflects the priorities of the late 19th century more than the early 21st century.

Unsurprisingly, after 116 years of federation, there are many contemporary debates about the Constitution. Some are about how we should interpret the Constitution we have. Others are about finding ways to update our system of government without having to amend the Constitution.

But there are also debates about changing the Constitution, such as whether Indigenous Australians should be recognised in symbolic or substantive ways, whether the role of local government should be enshrined, or whether to replace the monarchy with an Australian head of state.

Or should we undertake a much more serious overhaul?

These questions reflect our history, and the answers to them will shape our future. But they also raise broader questions for all Australians: what do we expect from our politics? And what do we expect from our Constitution?

Ryan Goss, Senior Lecturer in Law, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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