Echoes of Labor Split in Vic election shock

Steve Bracks' ALP has lost its majority in the Victorian Parliament's upper house after voters handed two seats to the Democratic Labor Party which was founded by a largely Catholic ALP faction following the famous 1955 split.

The Age reports that in an extraordinary end to vote counting from the 25 November Victorian state election, the state Electoral Commission yesterday awarded two seats to the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), which will share the balance of power with the Greens and the Nationals.

The DLP - which has not won a seat in Victoria's Parliament since 1955 - received only about 2 per cent of the state-wide primary vote. Yesterday's shock outcome was the result of favourable preference flows from almost every other party, including Labor and the Liberals.

However, Premier Steve Bracks last night refused to accept the decision, declaring that votes had been incorrectly counted in the seat of Northern Metropolitan, where DLP candidate John Mulholland won a spot ahead of Labor's candidate Nazih Elasmar - despite ALP sources saying they were ahead by 5,000 votes as late as yesterday morning.

The ALP will demand a recount in the seat today, together with a recount in the seat of Western Victoria, which DLP candidate Peter Kavanagh narrowly won ahead of Geelong MP Elaine Carbines.

Newly elected DLP member John Mulholland said he believed the result was a "message" to Labor over any plans it may have to decriminalise abortion in Victoria.

"The fact that two Democratic Labor Party members have been elected to the upper house is a clear indication to the Government that the decriminalisation of abortion is an important issue, and one that they need to take account of what we say," Mr Mulholland told the Age.

The Age commentator, Monash University lecturer, Paul Strangio, writes that the DLP began in April 1955 when a fiercely anti-communist, predominantly Catholic faction of the ALP crossed the floor of the Victorian Parliament to destroy the Labor government of John Cain snr. It was the point of no return in the great Labor split. For the next decade and a half, through watertight direction of preferences to the Liberal Party, the DLP played a crucial role in denying government to Labor both federally and in Victoria, Strangio says.

According to Dr Strangio, "the Split and the DLP changed Australian and Victorian politics beyond narrow electoral terms. It sundered the traditional tribalism of being Labor and Catholic, as a significant proportion of Catholic Labor voters transferred their political allegiance to the DLP, and through it to the Liberal side of politics."

Ironically, one of those Catholics who defected from Labor as a result of the 1955 split was the current Premier's father, Stan Bracks.

Bracks reels as key seats fall to DLP (The Age, 13/12/06)
Reforms summon ghost of the Split (The Age, 13/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Democratic Labor Party
Democratic Labor Party website

Imagine politics without Christians: Abbott tells critics (CathNews, 29/8/06)

Paranoia split Labor for 25 years (Sydney Morning Herald, 12/4/05)

13 Dec 2006