|Issue No 110||07 September 2001|
Review By Neale Towart
NSW Labor's century of successes began in 1910, as did the "middle classing" of Labor policy.
NSW Labor faced the 1910 state elections confident of victory. The federal ALP won an absolute majority in the same year for the first time that year, after two previous minority governments (of Watson in 1904, and Fisher in 1908-9).
Michael Hogan, in The People's Choice Electoral Politics in 20th Century NSW, charts the fortunes of the ALP in the 1910 campaign that brought James McGowen to the Premiership.
Labor's enemies had tried to promote the class bogey for years, but the "responsible" approach of these administrations ( and the "Seven Day" Labor government in Queensland in 1899) laid these fears to rest.
Many people, including Labor MPs, had felt until then that the only way Labor could get its policies up was by working with the established fiscal parties (Free Trade v Protection). By 1907, however, the ALP had become the only serious opposition party.
Many people significant as heroes or villains (sometimes both) in the Labor pantheon were involved in this election. Apart from McGowen, William Holman, George Beeby and Arthur Griffith featured, and Jack Lang had the year before become Mayor of Auburn when he was a member of the ALP (he stood as a Progress Association candidate).
Some familiar themes emerge in Hogan's account of the politics of the era. The official ALP was seen as becoming increasingly "middle class" and out of touch with working people. The party did gain strong support from the Catholic community, with conciliatory statements from Cardinal Moran about socialism.
The central executive of the Political Labor League handled pre-selection of candidates. This was the first election in which Labor had contested each seat. previously in some seats deals were done in exchange for support to independent candidates. The problem with contesting everything was that party organisation was absent from many areas, necessitating central organisation selection. Where there were branches local wishes were generally accepted (sounds familiar!!)
The Premier at the time was Charles Wade from the Liberal and Reform Association. He had assumed the job in a hurry after the 1907 election when his Premier, Joseph Carruthers, suddenly resigned. Wade was not highly regard in his own party or with the public as a credible leader. This of course benefited the ALP.
With some on the left seeing the ALP as too moderate and no longer a working class party. T.W. McCristal led the "splitters" into a new party, the Social Democrats which combined elements of the Political Labour Leagues, Industrial Workers of the World, the International Socialists and the Australian Socialists' League.
The other major issues were the perennials temperance and sectarianism. The liquor issue was termed the local option, as legislation in 1901 introduced by the Lyne government allowed choice by local communities as to whether they wanted hotels in their electorates. Temperance bodies were a strong political force, but so was the Liquor Trades Defence Union, who made appeals to their workers. The temperance advocates got strong support from the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Anglican churches.
The major Protestant churches refrained from explicit endorsement of the Liberals. Dr Dill Macky, a long serving anti-Catholic warrior, warned of the strong support Labor received from the Catholics and urged protestant workingmen to support the Protestants. The Catholic Press urged a vote against sectarianism, from which Labor was claimed to be free.
The ALP won 46 of 90 seats, the first majority it held anywhere. This result was achieved despite strong anti-Labor campaigning by the press across the state. Labor leaders saw the result as being due to the efforts of their party organization and women's committees, who campaigned on the new issues of women at work and a maternity allowance.
Hogan more realistically attributes it to the liquor industry opposition to the liberals. The result effectively killed wowserism as a political force.
The other long-term result was the cementing of the arbitration system into place in NSW and federally. The ALP was in government in both places, and employers, employees and political parties generally supported the "Australian Settlement".
The highs and lows of NSW politics are traced well in these volumes, and, as Bob Carr commented at the launch, the cartoon history of NSW politics is a highlight of the collection, with each chapter liberally sprinkled with the best work of the political cartoonists of Australia from 1901.
The People's Choice: Electoral Politics in 20th Century New South Wales. Edited by Michael Hogan and David Clune. Three volumes (1901 to 1927; 1930 to 1965; 1968 to 1999). Published by the Parliament of NSW and the University of Sydney.
Available from NSW Parliament House. Copies will be distributed free of charge to all public libraries in NSW.
For information on the seven day government in Queensland, see Ross Fitzgerald; Seven Days to Remember (UQP, 1999)
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