Commentary continues to appear on tomorrow’s 30th anniversary of the Whitlam Government’s dismissal. In today’s Australian,
Mike Steketee will draw some people in, or perhaps put them off, with
his first line: “It is two years from now and Kim Beazley has just won
the election.”

Read on, because behind the unlikely premise is an important point:
with one exception (the method of filling Senate casual vacancies), the
structural factors that produced the crisis of 1975 are all still in
place. And it is overwhelmingly likely that, whatever happens in the
lower house, the Coalition will retain its Senate majority until 2011.
So, could it all happen again?

There is more to politics than rules; events are determined by people’s
attitudes, and they may fail to repeat themselves because the lesson
was learnt the first time. Steketee acknowledges that “the traumas of
1975 would make the players think twice about a repeat”, but I don’t
think he emphasises it as much as he should.

For example, the Liberal Party is a different beast to what it was 30
years ago. It is an article of faith among sections of the party’s left
that they were wrong to obey Fraser in 1975, and the chance of them
unanimously doing it again seems remote. True, the party has also
become more conformist, but an unexpected election defeat and the
departure of John Howard could quickly shatter that conformity.

Voter behaviour has also changed. In 1975, the Senate was mostly the
preserve of the major parties; the DLP had left the scene and the
Democrats had not yet arrived. We are now used to minor parties doing
much better (which is why last year’s Senate result surprised so many).
Faced with Senate obstruction, a Beazley government would call a double
dissolution at the first opportunity. That tactic failed in 1974, but
now it would produce a dog’s breakfast of a Senate that could be
guaranteed not to agree on blocking supply – or indeed on anything else

One would like to think that there is a third change as well – that
today’s Labor Party would never display the same rank incompetence that
made the Whitlam government such a tempting target. But perhaps the
jury is still out on that one.