Bob Santamaria has been dead for nearly eight years. But his influence lives on – sometimes in unexpected places.

in the 1950s, Santamaria masterminded a nationwide movement that fought
communism in the trade unions and split the Labor Party. But his
support for European-style clerical fascism alienated mainstream
Australia, and his organisation, the National Civic Council, dwindled
to a small pressure group. In the mid-1980s its trade unions broke away
and rejoined the ALP.

But that suited Santamaria in a way
because he was more interested in Catholic moral issues and in fighting
the international financial conspiracy. So it’s not surprising that
many of his followers found themselves more at home in the Liberal
Party, where some remain today.

That’s why this morning’s Australian
reports with all apparent seriousness that the NCC is backing Tony
Abbott, a “favoured son” (their term), for the Liberal Party
leadership. Peter Costello, in their view, is on the “Left of the
Liberal Party,” and his social views are “closer to Labor.”

only issue that seems to exercise their mind is abortion. Costello,
coming from the Victorian Liberal Party, can never make an issue of
abortion, regardless of his personal views – he knows it would be
political suicide. But Abbott has been much more adventurous, and the
NCC doesn’t want him to suffer for it.

The implied claim is that
federal Liberal director Brian Loughnane – “a regular visitor to the
NCC’s Melbourne headquarters,” according to The Australian
asked them to get Abbott to pull his head in, and that somebody at the
NCC jacked up. As its South Australian president says, “Tony knows what
he is doing and we were keen to support him. We saw it as a
once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring about change.”

In the same way – although The Oz
doesn’t make the connection – the NCC’s other big gun in cabinet,
workplace relations minister Kevin Andrews, seems to have no qualms
about pushing anti-union legislation that would have horrified the
NCC’s original support base. As long as he’s solid on the “moral”
issues, they can live with the rest.

Of course there’s nothing
surprising about the Groupers backing Abbott. But it’s interesting to
see their machinations played out in a national newspaper. As the NCC
dwindled, it fell prey to the classic problems of small-group politics
– consumed by personality disputes and Byzantine internal feuds
(compare the Australian Democrats).

Back in September, the same Greg Roberts in The Australian
reported that it had become a takeover target for the Citizens
Electoral Council, the mad followers of Lyndon LaRouche. The following
month, on 29 October, he reported Santamaria’s daughter saying “My
father would be turning in his grave.” Perhaps he’s resting a bit more
comfortably today.