Labor was not always the party of alternative values. In fact, the streak of social conservatism that has resurfaced within the ALP over IVF policy is broader than some would imagine.
One of the best known quotes of modern Australian politics are the words of the father of the current Opposition leader, Kim Beazley Snr.
“When I first joined the Labor Party it contained the cream of the working class, but as I look around me now all I see are the dregs of the middle class.
“ … And what I want to know is when you middle class perverts are going to stop using the Labor Party as a spiritual spittoon.”
While the quote is famous, very few people recall the context of the speech, and fewer still what provoked the normally statesmanlike Mr Beazley to launch such a bitter attack against his comrades.
According to Peter Fitzsimon‘s 1998 biography of Kim Beazley Jnr, the words were spoken at a 1970 conference of the West Australian Labor Party, at which young Kim, then aged 22, was present.
What had incensed Mr Beazley, one of Labor’s most respected post-war politicians, had been a whole raft of motions including abortion-on-demand and, irony of ironies, the enshrining of the rights of homosexual couples to adopt children.
Young Mr Beazley must have been one of the few people at the recent Hobart conference of the Labor Party to understand how history has a curious habit of twisting and turning back on you down the decades.
Thirty years ago IVF was virtually still in the domain of animal husbandry, but the motives driving the social engineers are essentially the same, the relentless efforts to weaken the traditional family.
And, sadly, in 30 years little appears to have changed with much of the Labor Party’s basic instincts, both moral and political.
When Prime Minister John Howard threw his hand grenade into the Hobart conference on the IVF issue, the immediate reaction of the left of the party led by Jenny Macklin was to oppose him.
Whether Macklin consulted Beazley first (she claims she did) may never be known. But once Macklin declared the party’s line, Beazley was forced into accepting the pro-lesbian stance or create a massive rift with the left of the party.
Beazley and his advisers decided that repudiating Macklin had the potential to totally disrupt the conference, and cast renewed doubts about Beazley’s leadership.
But at the same time many pro-family MPs and party delegates from the right of the party felt equally uncomfortable backing a decision which was basically about promoting the rights of lesbian couples and single mothers to have children without fathers.
Even putting aside the ethical and moral issues, Beazley and his advisers decided to take a course with enormous political risks.
The IVF question has the potential to go all the way through to the next election — possibly as a trigger for a double dissolution.
At this stage the IVF issue only affects at most 100 women a year — physically infertile lesbians and single mothers. The number of “socially infertile” lesbians and single mothers (those who desire not to partake in the physical act of procreation) of course runs into the tens of thousands of women.
Nevertheless, with little difference between the two parties on economic and other issues, IVF could be a defining issue going into the next election, going to the heart of the type of party people want governing them.
In crude political terms Howard will be the champion of fathers for children and Beazley the champion of the rights of lesbian couples and single mothers.
In other words, Howard has given the Coalition a gift-wrapped “fatherhood issue’’ to run with. Labor spin doctors have been claiming that young women aged 25-40 are sympathetic to the plight of single women wanting to have a child on their own.
But common sense and most published polls on the issue show overwhelming support for lawmaking which promotes rather than demotes the chances of children having fathers in a basically socially conservative electorate.