It’s no surprise that John Madigan’s election to the final available Senate seat raised eyebrows even among groups that would ostensibly want him there. There is much to be quizzical about when it comes to the 44-year-old blacksmith — yes they still exist — from Ballarat: he’s a member of the DLP — yes they still exist — and, although the modern party would never admit it, an amalgam of every Labor trope from the last 50 years.
To get Madigan, you need to get the Democratic Labor Party. The defunct Democrats aside, the DLP is Australia’s only existing relic party. Their entire raison d’être was opposition to the Communist influence in the Labor Party, from which they split in 1955. DLP preferences meant electoral cakewalks for Robert Menzies until his demise.
Once the anti-Communist fight lost its relevance after the fall of the Soviet Union, the DLP’s master and first-rate conspirator B.A. Santamaria consolidated the Catholic Social Students Movement and industrial groups from which the DLP "movement" and "groupers" derive their names into the National Civic Council, which had as its aim the propagation of a Catholic, anti-socialist working class morality. This was achieved through the formation of a number of subsidiary groups, including the Australian Family Association and Australia Defence Association.
The DLP was all but abandoned as a result, and the party’s website admits they only held on because the "party was not affected by laws from the John Howard era (1996-2007) which deregistered parties which had never had a parliamentary presence". In 2006 Peter Kavanagh narrowly won a seat in the Victorian state parliament, which he subsequently lost in 2010 with the removal of ALP preferences. Senate-wise, DLP preferences helped elect Steve Fielding in 2004 — the man Madigan has just replaced.
In light of the DLP’s history and marginal position it’s easy to dismiss John Madigan; only the Sunday Age bothered to report his post-election event. In the new Greens-dominated Senate, his Catholic opposition to abortion and euthanasia, insistence on equal funding for independent religious schools and the like will result in him being painted as an irrelevant kook.
But Kevin Butler, the DLP federal treasurer and Victorian State Secretary sees things differently. Madigan’s senate seat will give extra publicity to the party in Victoria, the DLP’s homeland, where historically it enjoyed direct endorsement from the Catholic Church. "That’s probably going to be an outcome without it being a deliberate strategy," he told New Matilda.
Butler explains that the main stumbling block for the DLP in Victoria is the plethora of registered parties. The DLP competes for conservative votes with parties like Country Alliance and Family First, but also relies on them for preference flows — the conservative micro-parties give each other a leg up in other words. Primary vote margins are important here as a head start, and increased publicity might drag some other conservative upper house voters back to the DLP.
The proof: Peter Kavanagh’s Victorian Legislative Council election in 2006 was followed by a 27 per cent increase in their primary vote in 2010, according to Butler. It wasn’t an occasion for celebration though, because in 2010 the ALP’s much-needed preference flows went to the Greens and Sex Party. "Ironic," says Butler, "considering the DLP is firmly pro-worker, pro-family, pro-life. The Sex Party’s policies are antagonistic to all three."
If the Sex Party is antithetical to the DLP’s outlook, Madigan may be able to find common cause with the Greens, believe it or not. The DLP is in favour of poker machine reform, and their distributionist economic theory dovetails with the Greens’ pseudo-socialist tendencies in opposing neo-liberalism, and privatisation. Butler more or less agrees — "there are people of goodwill in all parties … including the Greens".
As for specifics, he admits the DLP hasn’t developed a strategy to make Madigan’s presence worthwhile, and haven’t considered private senators’ bills, media campaigns or other such mechanisms yet. "He’ll be making his judgment. He’ll be working with others constantly to raise matters which are of importance to the DLP."
Those issues? "John is blacksmith by trade and he is very interested in manufacturing, small business, a lot of work with farmers. Promoting Australian business and getting small business the opportunity to work and grow." Between pro-worker and conservative moral policies the DLP could basically be the modern ALP, albeit one that actually has conviction in its own position. If the ALP didn’t have to reciprocate Greens’ support through preference deals, the DLP may have enjoyed a repeat of 2006 and Kavanagh might still be there thanks to ALP flows.
The DLP will never again be even a minor player in Australian politics, and is probably resigned to occasionally throwing up conservative blips in the Nation’s Upper Houses. This is partly because modern conservative Christianity has a Baptist or Pentacostal flavour. It’s also because the DLP obstinately refuses to enter the 21st Century. I ask Butler whether the DLP, considering the similarities they share with the ALP’s stated platform, would consider rejoining the party proper.
Butler scoffs. "We remain the true Labor tradition, and were found by the Supreme court to be the legitimate party. The DLP remains the genuine Labor party to which the ALP can return. They’re the ones who compromised. After all, it was the ALP who entertained the communists."
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