Democratic Labor Party

Democratic Labor Party
Leader John Madigan[1]
President David McCabe[2]
Founded 1955 or 1978, debatable
Ideology Anti-economic rationalism,
Social conservatism
House of Representatives
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1 / 76

The Democratic Labor Party (DLP) is a political party in Australia that espouses social conservatism and opposes neo-liberalism. The first "DLP" Senator in decades, party vice-president John Madigan was elected to the Australian Senate with 2.3 percent of the primary vote in Victoria at the 2010 federal election, serving a six-year term since July 2011.


Original DLP: 1955-1978

The DLP has its origins in the historical Democratic Labor Party,[3] a conservative Catholic-based anti-communist political party which existed from the 1955 split in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) until the 1978 DLP vote for dissolution, and which until 1974 played an important role in Australian politics. The Australian Electoral Commission considers the current DLP to be legally the same as the earlier DLP, and so the party was not affected by laws from the John Howard era (1996–2007) which deregistered parties which had never had a parliamentary presence and prohibited party names that include words from another party's name.[4][5] A party named the Democratic Labor Party has competed in all elections since 1955.[6]

The original DLP resulted from the conservative Catholic National Civic Council's anti-communist entryist tactics within the ALP and Australian trade union movement, which triggered the 1955 split. Subsequently, the DLP used the Alternative Vote electoral system to direct electoral preferences away from the ALP at state and federal levels, until its membership and party organisation declined sufficiently to render it electorally impotent in the early seventies. Its primary interests were related to industrial relations and foreign policy. It fell afoul of Australian resistance to that nation's involvement in the Vietnam War and suffered accordingly in terms of its electoral representation.[7]

In 1978, DLP branches in all states, including Victoria, voted to dissolve. In Victoria, the vote passed by a few votes and 14 voters were found to be concurrently members of other political parties. Three-quarters of the Victorian branch's executive rejected the vote and continued the party in that state. In 1986, unions affiliated with the DLP, which had been unaffiliated since 1978, re-affiliated with the ALP.


The old DLP was wound up in 1978, but a small group of DLP activists in Victoria formed a new DLP and contested elections. At the 2004 federal election, the DLP received 1.94 percent of the primary vote in the Senate in Victoria which contributed to the election after preferences of Steve Fielding from the Family First Party on a primary vote of 1.88 in Victoria to the Senate.[8] The DLP thereafter formed state parties in other states.

State member 2006-2010

At the 2006 Victorian election, the DLP won parliamentary representation for the first time when it won a seat in the Victorian Legislative Council, after fielding candidates in the eight regions of the reformed Council, where proportional representation gave the party the best chance of having members elected. The DLP received 2.7 percent of the primary vote in the Western Victoria Region, enough to elect Peter Kavanagh on ALP preferences. They briefly looked set to have a second member elected, party leader John Mulholland, in the Northern Metropolitan Region on 5.1 percent, but this result was overturned after a recount.[9]

The Labor government required an additional two non-Labor upper house members to pass legislation, which gave the balance of power to the Greens who held three seats. Kavanagh failed to retain his seat at the 2010 Victorian election.

Senator elected in 2010

Shortly after counting began in the aftermath of the 2010 federal election, DLP candidate, federal DLP vice-president, and state DLP president John Madigan looked likely to be elected as the sixth and final Senator for Victoria, which was confirmed a few weeks later. Preference counts indicated that the primary DLP vote of 2.33 percent (75,145 votes) in Victoria reached the 14.3 percent quota required by gaining One Nation, Christian Democratic and Building Australia preferences to edge out Steve Fielding of the Family First Party who received a primary vote of 2.64 percent. The DLP received Family First preferences, and when the Australian Sex Party candidate was excluded, the DLP gained Liberal Democratic Party preferences, overtaking the third Liberal/National candidate and gaining their preferences to win the last seat.[10][11][12]

Elected for a six-year term from 1 July 2011, Madigan is the first Senator to be elected as a federal member of a party under the name of "Democratic Labor Party" since the 1970 Senate-only election. The ALP government currently holds 31 seats in the Senate, eight short of a majority, with the Greens on nine seats, a sole balance of power position, therefore, like Kavanagh, Madigan's vote is unlikely to be a decider in a senate division because the Green bloc paired with either Labor or the coalition is enough to win a division in the current 2011-14 Senate composition.

Madigan takes an anti-abortion stance, describing himself as "unashamedly pro-life".[13] He has stated he would oppose gay marriage.[14] He is against the sale of public infrastructure.[14] Madigan indicated he is opposed to a carbon tax on behalf of the DLP, stating "We're not in favour of a carbon tax because we believe it's a tax on people and a tax on life."[14] Madigan is an advocate for shops closing at midday on Saturdays.[15] Madigan addressed the Inaugural Jack Kane Dinner in July 2011, where he advocated Chifley protectionist economics.[16]

In his maiden speech to the Senate on 25 August 2011, Madigan denounced "inhumane" abortion laws and committed to help restore Australia's dwindling manufacturing sector. He called for a "good Labor government that will bring something better to the people". He said that the DLP and ALP differed in a number of ways, however "We both came from the same lineage and however some members on both sides may dislike it, we are kin, of sorts. The ALP has a chance to reaffirm its commitment to that unchanging labour movement. The DLP intends to pursue that vision":

During my time here there will no doubt be a number of controversial bills proposed. I do not intend to be deliberately controversial simply for a few cheap headlines but on some issues I cannot be complicit by my silence.[17][18]

Politics of the DLP

The party has a comprehensive policy platform, and Peter Kavanagh has referred to the heritage of the historic Democratic Labor Party, claiming that "The DLP remains the only political party in Australia which is pro-family, pro-life and genuinely pro-worker." Critics have charged that this policy orientation reflects a sectarian, conservative Catholic position that endangers the religious freedom of others, as well as faith/state separation [19]

The DLP website[20] claims to be not “left” or “right” but centre-“decentralist”. The DLP’s stated principles are “democracy”, “liberty” and “peace”. Its policies promote:

  1. against abortion, euthanasia and the destruction of human embryos
  2. opposition to giving homosexual unions the same status as marriage
  3. "sharing out/decentralising power and resources"
  4. policies and values influenced by Christian thought as to the definition of "decency"
  5. building up defensive capacity

These policies are not dissimilar to the five primacies of the National Civic Council (NCC). However, the DLP does not market itself as a Catholic or Christian party as such, although critics have argued that in its original incarnation, it was one of a number of NCC "front groups.' Others include the Australian Family Association and related organisations. An examination of its policies indicate that the DLP is opposed to libertarianism in the form of economic rationalism (neo-liberalism) and “progressive” social liberalism.

Following the election of DLP candidate Peter Kavanagh, attention has been given to the DLP platform of opposition to abortion and poker machines and its concern to deal with HIV/AIDS health risks associated with homosexual practice.[21] The party's policies include a "Progressive Expenditure Tax" (with no tax payable on any income that is saved or invested), universal living allowance tied to basic per capita living costs, rejection of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and other taxes for general revenue that it views as regressive, federal funding for the education of students attending non-government schools to be based on an equitable distribution and increased diversification in overseas trade to broaden the base for growth, and on opposition to abortion, euthanasia, therapeutic cloning and same-sex marriage. The former DLP had the patronage of the Catholic Church in Victoria, but not in NSW.

Internal dissent

In late August 2009, Melbourne newspaper The Age reported that the DLP was facing several internal divisions between Kavanagh's faction, which also sought to include evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants within the party, and 'hardline' conservative Catholics. Right to Life Australia President Marcel White and a close associate, Peter McBroom, were reported to be emphasising Catholic doctrinal and devotional concerns, like Marian apparitions, Catholic prayer, praying the rosary and campaigns against the "evils of contraception". Reportedly, Kavanagh may leave the organisation if the current 'hardline' elements triumph within the Victorian DLP.[22]

Infighting and financial issues

It was reported in June 2010 that the party was on the brink of collapse, with rampant party infighting and less than $10,000 in the bank. Police were also investigating the disappearance of potentially tens of thousands of dollars, attributed to the Victorian DLP's former secretary, John Mulholland, who has lost cases before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Australian Electoral Commission and Victorian Supreme Court over his claims that he is still "party secretary", despite expulsion from the party in January 2010. Kavanagh and other DLP officials stated that Mulholland engaged in "poor receipt keeping" during his period as secretary, over the last twenty-five years.[23]

On 18 March 2011 the Victorian Supreme Court handed down a reserved judgment confirming Mulholland's valid removal as secretary.[24]

A Senate petition in August 2011 from Mulholland requested that current DLP Senator John Madigan be removed from the Senate, with the petition lodged using a residual standing order of the chamber that has not been deployed successfully by anyone for more than a century. In his petition, Mulholland says Madigan put himself forward in the 2010 election as a DLP candidate "although the DLP federal executive did not authorise or recognise his candidacy or have any part in his nomination".[25]

Party deregistration attempt

In 2004, the Julian McGauran family bankrolled the DLP's High Court legal challenge against the Australian Electoral Commission, which wanted the DLP deregistered. The challenge failed but the DLP survived. It ended up being McGauran who lost his Victorian Senate seat as the third Liberal/National candidate at the 2010 election to the successful DLP candidate John Madigan.[26]


  • Ross Fitzgerald: The Popes Battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split: St Lucia: University of Queensland Press: 2003.


  1. ^ Ministerial Representation & Senate Officeholders in the Senate: Australian Parliament website
  2. ^ DLP website
  3. ^ "Red-leather day for the DLP". The Age (Melbourne). 12 September 2010. 
  4. ^ Kelly, Norm. (2007) What's in a name? Everything, apparently.
  5. ^ AEC (2008) Electoral funding and disclosure report: Federal election 2007
  6. ^ Commonwealth Parliament Library. (1998–1999). Federal election results, 1948–1998. Research Paper No. 8.
  7. ^ Ross Fitzgerald: The Popes Battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split: Saint Lucia: University of Queensland Press: 2003
  8. ^ "Federal elections". 
  9. ^ State DLP on brink of collapse: The Age 20 June 2010
  10. ^ "2010 election Victorian Senate preference flows: ABC Elections". Retrieved 7 September 2010. 
  11. ^ Victorian 2010 Senate results: AEC
  12. ^ Colebatch, Tim (18 September 2010). "Labor has edge in tightest race ever". The Age (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 7 October 2010. 
  13. ^ Fyfe, Melissa (12 September 2010). "Red-leather day for the DLP". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c Preiss, Benjamin (15 September 2010). "DLP stakes its position on issues". The Courier (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  15. ^ Fyfe, Melissa (12 September 2010). "Red-leather day for the DLP". Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  16. ^ Ex-blacksmith may be needed to hammer out Senate deals: SMH 16 August 2011
  17. ^ Senator Madigan calls to bring something better to the people: The Courier 26 August 2011
  18. ^ Maiden Senate speech (video + transcript) 25 August 2011: Australian Parliament website
  19. ^ Kavanagh, Peter (27 May 2006). "DLP not eclipsed by Family First (letter)". National Civic Council (NCC). Retrieved 2006-12-17. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Taylor, Josie (13 December 2006). "Democratic Labor Party makes a comeback in Victoria". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2006-12-14. 
  22. ^ Michael Bachelard: "Turning Hard Right: The Battle for Right to Life" The Age 23 August 2009
  23. ^ Fyfe, Melissa (2010-06-20). "State DLP on brink of collapse: The Age 20 June 2010". Melbourne: Retrieved 2010-07-02. 
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ It's my party: expelled DLP member - The Age 18 August 2011
  26. ^ Ex-pollie takes a crack at being a class act: The Age 8 September 2011

External links

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