The Democratic Labor Party (DLP), pronounced dead by most observers 30 years ago, has stirred from the grave this week and on provisional results has won two seats in the Victorian Legislative Council. (There will be recounts, and there are some apparent anomalies; for a full discussion see the comments at the Poll Bludger site.)

Strictly speaking, this is not the old DLP that split from Labor in the 1950s under the influence of Bob Santamaria’s Movement (later the National Civic Council). That party was wound up in 1978, but a group of Victorian dissidents led by John Mulholland carried on under the old name.

The old DLP was conservative and rigidly anti-communist, but it was still within the political mainstream. It held seats in the Senate until 1974, and in its heartland of Victoria its vote peaked in 1961 at just under 17% (with which it won no seats).

In the 1970s and 80s, after Santamaria pulled the plug on the DLP, NCC members (often called “Groupers”, after the ALP Industrial Groups) with any taste for mainstream politics moved into other parties. The NCC-controlled unions were readmitted to the ALP in the mid-80s, and their leaders have gone on to play a major role in cementing right-wing control of the Victorian ALP.

They are also found in the Liberal and National parties: two of the new Liberal upper house members are commonly identified as Groupers.

But the Groupers had a third string to their bow; in addition to influencing the major parties, they were able to funnel their preferences to the surviving DLP, which under Mulholland had become an ever-narrower anti-gay and anti-choice brigade.

It was the best of all possible worlds, combining the advantages of mainstream politics and single issue pressure group.

Now they seem to have hit the jackpot: Labor preferences give the DLP a seat in Western Victoria ahead of the Greens, and Liberal preferences elect Mulholland in Northern Metropolitan ahead of the ALP’s Nazih El Asmar.

In one sense, democracy is well served by denying the government control of the upper house. But the way in which it occurs threatens to make Victorian politics hostage to the extreme right.

The Greens’ Greg Barber is not an unbiased source, but he hit the nail on the head this morning:

I think Labor has again, like with Family First, elected a right-wing nutter to the Parliament. If I was a Labor voter living in Geelong or Ballarat or Portland, I’d be absolutely furious because their vote was taken off them and sent off to a place where they never imagined it was going.

Peter Fray

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