Democratic Labor Party (Australia, 1955)

The Democratic Labor Party (DLP) was an Australian political party. The party came into existence following the 1955 ALP split as the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist), and was renamed the Democratic Labor Party in 1957. In 1962, the Queensland Labor Party, a breakaway party of the Queensland branch of the Australian Labor Party, became the Queensland branch of the DLP.[3]

Democratic Labor Party
Founded1955 (as Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist))
DissolvedMarch 1978
Split fromAustralian Labor Party
Succeeded byDemocratic Labor Party
Social conservatism
Social democracy
Political positionCentre
Slogan"The Real Alternative!"[2]
House of Representatives
7 / 124
5 / 60
Victorian Legislative Assembly
12 / 66

In 1978, a new Democratic Labor Party was founded by members of the original party, which remains active as of 2024.





The Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist) was formed as a result of a split in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) which began in 1954.[4] The split was between the party's national leadership, under the then party leader Dr H. V. Evatt, and the majority of the Victorian branch, which was dominated by a faction composed largely of ideologically-driven anti-Communist Catholics.[5] Many ALP members during the Cold War period, most but not all of them Catholics, became alarmed at what they saw as the growing power of the Communist Party of Australia within the country's trade unions. These members formed units within the unions, called Industrial Groups, to combat this alleged infiltration.[6]

The intellectual leader of the Victorian Catholic wing of the ALP was B. A. Santamaria,[7] a Roman Catholic Italian-Australian Melbourne lawyer and lay anti-Communist activist, who acquired the patronage of Dr Mannix.[8] Santamaria headed The Catholic Social Studies Movement (often known as The Movement),[9] modeled on Catholic Action groups in Europe[10] and, ironically, in organizational terms, on some of the methods employed by its principal target, the Communist Party of Australia.[11] That group later became the National Civic Council (NCC).[12] Evatt denounced the "Movement" and the Industrial Groups in 1954, alleging they were disloyal and trying to deflect the Labour Movement from pursuing Labor objectives.[13]

At the 1955 ALP national conference in Hobart, Santamaria's parliamentary supporters in the federal and Victorian parliaments were expelled from the ALP. A total of seven Victorian federal MPs and 18 state MPs were expelled. The federal MPs were: Tom Andrews, Bill Bourke, Bill Bryson, Jack Cremean, Bob Joshua, Stan Keon and Jack Mullens.[citation needed] In New South Wales, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Norman Cardinal Gilroy, the first native-born Australian Roman Catholic prelate, opposed the Movement's tactics, and there was no party split in that state.

The expelled ALP members formed the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist) under the influence of B. A. Santamaria.[14]

1950s to 1970s


1955 elections


On the night of 19 April 1955, Liberal and Country Party leader Henry Bolte moved a motion of no-confidence against John Cain's Labor government in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. After twelve hours of debate on the motion, in the early hours of 20 April, 11 of the expelled Labor members crossed the floor to support Bolte's motion.[15] With his government defeated, Cain sought and received a dissolution of parliament later that day, with the election set down for 28 May 1955.[16][17]

At the election, 11 of the 12 expelled MPs in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, as well as other candidates, and the one MP facing re-election in the Victorian Legislative Council lost their seats. The party drew 12.6% of the vote, mainly from the ALP, which was directed to the non-Labor parties. Labor won 37.6% of the vote and 20 seats to the Liberals' 34 and the Country Party's ten. The Cain Labor Government lost government at the 1955 election. Only one of the expelled Labor members, Frank Scully, was re-elected for the seat of Richmond.[citation needed] Scully had been a Minister in the Cain Government and a member of the Movement, and was expelled from the ministry and the ALP as part of the 1955 split.[18][19] Five other MPs whose terms had not expired remained in the Legislative Council until the expiry of their terms at the 1958 Victorian election, and all who recontested their seats were defeated.

At the 1955 federal election held in December, all the 7 expelled federal MPs were defeated. However, Frank McManus was elected as a senator for Victoria at the 1955 election, and successful ALP candidate George Cole had chosen before the election to become part of this party.



The parliamentary membership of the ALP (Anti-Communist) was almost entirely Roman Catholic of Irish descent.[20][21] The only two non-Catholics were its federal leader, Bob Joshua, who represented Ballarat in the Australian House of Representatives, and Jack Little, who led the party in the Victoria Legislative Council between 1955 and 1958. It has been suggested that the party was substantially a party of Irish-ethnics, a result of the ALP split of 1955 being a 'de-ethnicisation', a forcible removal of the Irish-Catholic element within the ALP.[22] However, many ALP (Anti-Communist) members were not of Irish descent. The party attracted many voters among migrants from Catholic countries in southern Europe, and among anti-Communist Eastern European refugees.

A significant [clarification needed] minority of its voters were also non-Catholics.[23] Journalist Don Whitington argued in 1964 that the DLP, as a basically sectarian party, was a most dangerous and distasteful force in Australian politics.[24] Whitington observed that the party was backed by influential sections of the Roman Catholic Church, and that although the party professed to exist primarily to combat communism, it had less commendable reasons behind its coming into being.[24] Daniel Mannix, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, was a DLP supporter, as were other influential clerics.[citation needed]

Democratic Labor Party


In 1957, the party changed its name to the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). In the same year, the Labor Party split in Queensland following the expulsion of Vince Gair, a conservative Catholic, from the party. He and his followers formed the Queensland Labor Party, which, in 1962, became the Queensland branch of the DLP.[3]

Between 1955 and 1974 the DLP was able to command a significant vote, particularly in Victoria and Queensland, with their large numbers of Catholics. During the period the party held between one and five seats in the Senate (which is elected by proportional representation). The DLP Senate leaders were George Cole (from Tasmania; 1955–1965),[25] Vince Gair (from Queensland; 1965–1973),[26] and Frank McManus (from Victoria; 1973–1974).[27] Other DLP Senators were Condon Byrne (from Queensland), Jack Kane[28] (from New South Wales), and Jack Little, a Protestant (from Victoria).

No DLP Senators or state politicians were ever elected in South Australia or Western Australia. Owing largely to demographic reasons, the ALP did not split in these states, although some lay branch members switched to the new party once it had been established. As the ALP and the conservative parties traditionally held approximately equal numbers of seats in the Senate, the DLP was able to use the balance of power in the Senate to extract concessions from Liberal governments, particularly larger government grants to Catholic schools, greater spending on defence, and non-recognition of the People's Republic of China.[citation needed]

During this period the DLP exercised influence by directing its preferences to Liberal candidates in federal and state elections (see Australian electoral system), thus helping to keep the ALP out of office at the federal level and in Victoria. The DLP vote for the House of Representatives gradually declined during the 1960s, but remained strong enough for the Liberals to continue to need DLP preferences to win close elections.

After Evatt's retirement in 1960, his successor Arthur Calwell, a Catholic, tried to bring about a reconciliation between the ALP and the DLP. Negotiations were conducted through intermediaries, and in 1965 a deal was almost done. Three out of four of the ALP's parliamentary leaders agreed to a deal. However, Calwell refused to share power within the party with the DLP leadership on a membership number basis, so the deal failed. Santamaria later claimed that had he accepted, Calwell could have become Prime Minister.[29] Indeed, at the 1961 federal election Labor came up just two seats short of toppling the Coalition. One of those seats was Bruce, in the DLP's heartland of Melbourne. DLP preferences allowed Liberal Billy Snedden to win a paper-thin victory. Although the Coalition was only assured of a sixth term in government later in the night with an even narrower win in the Brisbane-area seat of Moreton, any realistic chance of a Labor win ended with the Liberals retaining Bruce. Without Bruce, the best Labor could have done was a hung parliament.

At the 1969 federal election, DLP preferences kept Calwell's successor Gough Whitlam from toppling the Coalition, despite winning an 18-seat swing and a majority of the two-party vote. DLP preferences in four Melbourne-area seats allowed the Liberals to narrowly retain them; had those preferences gone the other way, Labor would have garnered the swing it needed to make Whitlam Prime Minister.[30]

The DLP's policies were traditional Labor policies such as more spending on health, education and pensions, combined with strident opposition to communism, and a greater emphasis on defence spending.[31] The DLP strongly supported Australia's participation in the Vietnam War.[citation needed]

From the early 1960s onward the DLP became increasingly socially conservative, opposing homosexuality, abortion, pornography and drug use. This stand against "permissiveness" appealed to many conservative voters as well as the party's base among Catholics. Some members of the DLP disagreed with this, believing the party should stay focused on anti-communism.[32]

The highest DLP vote was 11.11 per cent, which occurred at the 1970 half-senate election. Whitlam and the ALP won government in the 1972 election, defeating the DLP's strategy of keeping the ALP out of power.[citation needed]



In 1973, it was reported that the Country Party and the DLP were considering a merger. In response, Gough Whitlam said he was delighted to see "the old harlot churched".[33]

By this point, the party's emphasis on Senate results had led to a steady decline in their primary vote for the House of Representatives, and according to Tom King of Australian National University a large amount of the support for the DLP by this point came as a result of protest votes against the two major parties, rather than any definitive ideological base.[34] A softening of attitudes towards Communism both in Australia and within the Catholic Church meant that the party increasingly sounded old-fashioned and ideologically adrift, a perception that was not helped by the advanced age of the DLP's parliamentarians.[34]

In 1974, Whitlam appointed Gair as ambassador to the Republic of Ireland in a successful bid to split the DLP and remove its influence. The party lost all its Senate seats at the 1974 federal election.[citation needed]

In April 1976, the Queensland and South Australian branches of the DLP were dissolved. The party only stood candidates in Victoria at the 1977 federal election, without success. In April 1978 it was reported in The Bulletin that the New South Wales state council would meet in June 1978 to determine the future of the party.[35]

In March 1978, the Victorian branch voted to dissolve[36] The vote to dissolve was carried by 110 votes to 100.[37] Some members of the party refused to accept the vote and formed a continuity DLP, which they claimed was a continuation of the original DLP. However, that claim was disputed by almost all the officers of the original DLP.[36]

Electoral results



No. Image Name Term start Term end Office
1   Bob Joshua 7 April 1955 10 December 1955 MP for Ballarat
2   George Cole 8 May 1956 23 June 1965 Senator for Tasmania
3   Vince Gair 23 June 1965 10 October 1973 Senator for Queensland
4   Frank McManus 10 October 1973 18 May 1974 Senator for Victoria

Elected representatives


See also



  1. ^ Mathews, Race. Of labour and liberty : distributism in Victoria, 1891-1966. Notre Dame. ISBN 0268103445.
  2. ^ "Brochure, Manifesto Australian Democratic Labor Party, c1950s". Victorian Collections. Retrieved 2 July 2024.
  3. ^ a b Frank Mines. Gair, Canberra City, ACT, Arrow Press (1975); ISBN 0-909095-00-0
  4. ^ Robert Murray. The Split. Australian Labor in the fifties, Melbourne, Victoria, F.W. Cheshire (1970); ISBN 0-7015-0504-4
  5. ^ Paul Ormonde. The Movement, Melbourne, Victoria, Thomas Nelson (1972); ISBN 0-17-001968-3
  6. ^ Bruce Duncan. Crusade or Conspiracy? Catholics and the Anti-Communist Struggle in Australia (2001), University of New South Wales Press; ISBN 0-86840-731-3
  7. ^ Ross Fitzgerald. The Pope's Battalions. Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split, (University of Queensland Press, 2003)
  8. ^ Niall Brennan. Dr Mannix, (Rigby, 1964)
  9. ^ B. A. Santamaria. The Price of Freedom. The Movement - After Ten Years, Melbourne, Victoria, Campion Press (1964).
  10. ^ Paul Ormonde. "The Movement - Politics by Remote Control" in Paul Ormonde (ed.) Santamaria. The Politics of Fear, Richmond, Victoria, Spectrum Publications (2000); ISBN 0-86786-294-7
  11. ^ "B.A. Santamaria - Interview Transcript tape 3". Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  12. ^ Gerard Henderson. Mr Santamaria and the Bishops, Sydney, NSW, Studies in the Christian Movement (1982); ISBN 0-949807-00-1
  13. ^ P.L. Reynolds. The Democratic Labor Party, Milton, Queensland. Jacaranda Publ. (1974); ISBN 0-7016-0703-3, p. 12
  14. ^ Paul Strangio and Brian Costar (2005), "B. A. Santamaria: Religion as Politics", in Brian Costar, Peter Love and Paul Strangio (eds.), The Great Labor Schism. A Retrospective, Scribe Publications, Melbourne.
  15. ^ Bob Corcoran. "The Manifold Causes of the Labor Split", in Peter Love and Paul Strangio (eds.), Arguing the Cold War, Carlton North, Victoria, Red Rag Publications (2001); ISBN 0-9577352-6-X
  16. ^ "Victorian Govt. Defeated; Election On May 28". The Central Queensland Herald. Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 21 April 1955. p. 6. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  17. ^ Ainsley Symons (2012), 'Democratic Labor Party members in the Victorian Parliament of 1955-1958,' in Recorder (Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Melbourne Branch) No. 275, November, Pages 4-5.
  18. ^ "Frank Scully passes away, aged 95 years". Democratic Labour Party (Australia). 14 August 2015. Archived from the original on 25 August 2015. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  19. ^ Ainsley Symons (2012), 'Democratic Labor Party members in the Victorian Parliament of 1955–1958,' in Recorder (Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Melbourne Branch) No. 275, November, Pages 4–5.
  20. ^ Lyle Allan (1988), "Irish Ethnicity and the Democratic Labor Party", Politics, Vol. 23 No. 2, Pages 28-34.
  21. ^ Joe Sampson. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) and Bob Santamaria; a talk given at the Melbourne Unitarian Church on 8 July 2014.
  22. ^ Ernest Healy (1993), 'Ethnic ALP Branches - The Balkanisation of Labor,' in People and Place Vol.1, No.4, Page 38.
  23. ^ Gavan Duffy. Demons and Democrats. 1950s Labor at the Crossroads, Freedom Publishing (2002), p. 54.
  24. ^ a b Don Whitington. The Rulers. Fifteen Years of the Liberals, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne (1964), pp. 145-146.
  25. ^ "Cole, George Ronald (1908–1969) profile at Australian Dictionary of Biography Online". Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  26. ^ "Gair, Vincent (1901-1980) profile at the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online". Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  27. ^ Frank McManus. The Tumult and the Shouting, Adelaide, South Australia, Rigby (1977); ISBN 0-7270-0219-8
  28. ^ Jack Kane. Exploding the Myths. The Political Memoirs of Jack Kane, North Ryde, NSW, Angus and Robertson (1989); ISBN 0-207-16209-3
  29. ^ "Bob Santamaria - Interview Transcript tape 7". Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  30. ^ Antony Green, "Analysis of the 2007 elections in Victoria",; accessed 6 June 2018.
  31. ^ Michael Lyons. 'Defence, the Family and the Battler: The Democratic Labor Party and its Legacy,' Australian Journal of Political Science, September 2008, vol 43-3, pp. 425-442
  32. ^ "B.A. Santamaria - Interview Transcript tape 8". Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  33. ^ U.S. State Department (16 March 1973). "Prime Minister Whitlam at the Press Club of Melbourne". Internet Archive.
  34. ^ a b King, Tom (August 2017). "The Rise and Fall of Minor Political Parties in Australia" (PDF). Australian National University. p. 103. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  35. ^ Armstrong, David; Lawrence, Tess (4 April 1978). "The DLP: the splinter is removed". The Bulletin.
  36. ^ a b "The Democratic Labor Party an overview". Australian Parliament House.
  37. ^ "The DLP bows out", The Age, 1978/03/21

Further reading

  • Lyle Allan (1988), "Irish Ethnicity and the Democratic Labor Party," Politics, Vol. 23 No.2, Pages 28–34
  • Niall Brennan (1964), Dr Mannix, Adelaide, South Australia, Rigby.
  • Ken Buckley, Barbara Dale and Wayne Reynolds. Doc Evatt, Melbourne, Victoria, Longman Cheshire (1994); ISBN 0-582-87498-X
  • Arthur Calwell. Be Just and Fear Not, Hawthorn, Victoria, Lloyd O'Neil (1972); ISBN 0-85550-352-1
  • Bob Corcoran (2001), "The Manifold Causes of the Labor Split", in Peter Love and Paul Strangio (eds.), Arguing the Cold War, Carlton North, Victoria, Red Rag Publications. ISBN 0-9577352-6-X
  • Brian Costar, Peter Love and Paul Strangio (eds.) The Great Labor Schism. A Retrospective, Melbourne, Victoria, Scribe Publications, 2005; ISBN 1-920769-42-0
  • Peter Crockett. Evatt. A Life, South Melbourne, Victoria, Oxford University Press (1993); ISBN 0-19-553558-8
  • Allan Dalziel. Evatt. The Enigma, Melbourne, Victoria, Lansdowne Press (1967).
  • Gavan Duffy. Demons and Democrats. 1950s Labor at the Crossroads, North Melbourne, Victoria, Freedom Publishing (2002); ISBN 0-9578682-2-7
  • Gil Duthie. I had 50,000 bosses. Memoirs of a Labor backbencher 1946-1975, Sydney, NSW, Angus and Robertson (1984); ISBN 0-207-14916-X
  • John Faulkner and Stuart Macintyre (eds.) True Believers. The Story of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, Crows Nest, NSW, Allen and Unwin (2001); ISBN 1-86508-527-8
  • Ross Fitzgerald, Adam James Carr and William J. Dealy. The Pope's Battalions. Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split, St Lucia, Queensland, University of Queensland Press (2003); ISBN 0-7022-3389-7
  • Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt. Alan "The Red Fox" Reid. Pressman Par Excellence, Sydney, NSW, University of New South Wales Press; ISBN 978-1-74223-132-7
  • James Franklin, "Catholic Thought and Catholic Action: Dr Paddy Ryan Msc.," Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society (1996) 17:44-55 online.
  • Colm Kiernan. Calwell. A Personal and Political Biography, West Melbourne, Thomas Nelson (1978); ISBN 0-17-005185-4
  • Michael Lyons (2008), "Defence, the Family and the Battler: The Democratic Labor Party and its Legacy," Australian Journal of Political Science, September, 43-3, Pages 425-442.
  • Frank McManus (1977), The Tumult and the Shouting, Adelaide, South Australia, Rigby. ISBN 0-7270-0219-8
  • Patrick Morgan (ed.) B. A. Santamaria. Your Most Obedient Servant. Selected Letters: 1918 - 1996, Carlton, Victoria, Miegunyah Press (2007); ISBN 0-522-85274-2
  • Patrick Morgan (ed.) Running the Show. Selected Documents: 1939-1996, Carlton, Victoria, Miegunyah Press (2008); ISBN 978-0-522-85497-8
  • Robert Murray (1970), The Split. Australian Labor in the fifties, Melbourne, Victoria, F.W. Cheshire. ISBN 0-7015-0504-4
  • Paul Ormonde (1972), The Movement, Melbourne, Victoria, Thomas Nelson. ISBN 0-17-001968-3
  • Paul Ormonde (2000), "The Movement - Politics by Remote Control," in Paul Ormonde (ed.) Santamaria. The Politics of Fear, Richmond, Victoria, Spectrum Publications. ISBN 0-86786-294-7
  • P.L Reynolds (1974), The Democratic Labor Party, Milton, Queensland, Jacaranda. ISBN 0-7016-0703-3
  • B. A. Santamaria. Against the Tide, Melbourne, Victoria, Oxford University Press (1981); ISBN 0-19-554346-7
  • Kylie Tennant. Evatt. Politics and Justice, Cremorne, NSW, Angus and Robertson (1970); ISBN 0-207-12533-3
  • Tom Truman. Catholic Action and Politics, London, England, The Merlin Press (1960).
  • Kate White. John Cain and Victorian Labor 1917-1957, Sydney, NSW, Hale and Iremonger (1982); ISBN 0-86806-026-7