The task of returning the Labor Party to what it was when it was a mass-based party controlled by the rank and file will be a difficult if not impossible task, warns Brian Peachey.
Leaders of the Labor Party should ignore Latham’s vitriolic personal attacks on his former colleagues and concentrate on what he has said about the Labor Party.
As Andrew Denton said: “He has some very coded relevant things to say about the dysfunctionality of politics, Labor politics in particular, and the media and politics, and I don’t think they should be dismissed, but I fear they will be.”
In his December 11 diary entry, Latham wrote: “As an institution, the ALP is insoluble … [a] slug of an organisation. A museum relic from a time when trade unions mattered and people cared about community politics. That time has passed and so, too, has [its] relevance.”
In the book, Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy by journalist Bernard Lagan, Latham’s criticism of the Labor Party is more precise. He says that “it is not an organisation that I can be optimistic about”, concluding that it is “beyond repair, beyond reform”.
Whether the Labor Party is beyond repair or reform is an issue that should concern all Australians. It is essential that genuine Labor leaders confront it. Firstly, they must accept that the party was wounded – even mortally – and rent asunder 50 years ago when it split over communist domination of trade unions.
The decisions of the Hobart Conference in March 1955 and the resultant split created a deep wound in the Labor Party that has not healed. At the time it lost more than 50 experienced, dedicated Labor members of parliament, thousands of trade union members and officials and active party branch members. Its biggest loss was several generations of traditional Labor voters and their descendents, most of whom were Catholics.
The void that was created was filled, firstly by the pro-communist left and then by mostly middle-class libertarians, feminists, environmentalists, secular humanists and ambitious would-be parliamentarians. They changed the once-honourable Labor Party – which had admirable concerns for national development, the welfare of working class families and the underprivileged – into what it is today.
It took almost two decades in the political wilderness for the new Labor Party to occupy the treasury benches federally and in some states. The reason it won, in most cases, was because of the ineptness or complacency of the Liberal Party.
When it did win, the secularists who were in control introduced legislative programs of social engineering. They espoused policies that damaged families and undermined many of the moral values and standards of behaviour that were once generally accepted by the majority of Australians.
The real purpose of those in control of the Labor Party in seeking to change the law in relation to questions containing large moral dimensions, such as divorce, abortion, homosexuality, drugs, prostitution and pornography, is primarily to change the community’s view on normality and morality.
The late Senator Murphy’s Family Law Act, passed in 1975 during the Whitlam Government’s short reign, has revolutionised the legal foundations of the institution of marriage. Its immediate practical result has been to facilitate a doubling in the number of divorces so that more than 40 per cent of marriages are now expected to break down leaving hundreds of thousands of fatherless or motherless children.
There has been a discarding of the once sacrosanct rules of the party. A serious breech was done by Mr Latham himself when he parachuted Peter Garrett, who was not a member of the party, into a safe seat of Kingsford Smith over the rank-and-file local membership who were deprived of their constitutional rights.
Before the 1955 split, the Labor Party was a mass-based party controlled by the rank and file. This is no longer the case.
The task of returning the party to its pre-split roots, in the mould of Curtin and Chifley, is exceedingly difficult if not impossible. It is made more difficult by the various factions locked in bitter struggles for power.
- Brian Peachey was state secretary of the Democratic Labor Party in Western Australia from 1957 to 1964, and is author of The Burkes of Western Australia.