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B.A. Santamaria's contribution to Australia's culture wars.

I propose to comment upon the history of the Movement led by Mr B.A. "Bob" Santamaria (1915-1998) and the leadership it has provided in Australia for nearly seven decades. In doing so, I should like to remind my listeners * that I am not necessarily the most suitably qualified person to perform this function. This is because I arrived in Australia in the second half of the 1970s and, therefore, I was largely unfamiliar with the work of the Movement and its contributions to the religious and political events of the 1950s and 1960s.

Even if I had been in Australia at that time, I would have been too young to realise the importance of the Movement's work. Nevertheless, I am delighted to take part in the inauguration of the B.A. Santamaria Library, to highlight the Movement's considerable contribution to Australia and to honour the Movement's undisputed leader, Mr Bob Santamaria.

The birth and the history of the Movement are documented in Mr Santamaria's autobiography, entitled Against the Tide. In preparation for this inauguration, I re-read Mr Santamaria's book, which describes much of Australia's post-World War II history.

It appears to me that the nearly 70-year period of the Movement can be divided into three distinct periods. The first period begins with the formation in 1941 of the Movement and ends with the great ALP Split in the mid-1950s.

The Communist threat

Most members of the Movement were Catholic ALP sympathisers, who were justifiably appalled by the unceasing, and initially successful, attempts by the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) to assume political power by organising a number of debilitating industrial strikes. During that period the Movement was certainly the most important organisation which struggled against Communist infiltration in Australian unions.

La Trobe University academic Professor Robert Manne stated that the CPA "was a fully totalitarian political organisation, dominated both organisationally and ideologically by Stalin's Soviet Union; a party which injected into the political culture of early postwar Australia the alien mentality and methods of one of the most sinister regimes in the history of mankind." (1)

Mr Santamaria recognised the totalitarian nature of the CPA and decided to counter its influence by establishing Industrial Groups in key unions. This struggle was carried on initially with the support of the Catholic hierarchy, especially the legendary Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Daniel Mannix.

The achievements of the Movement were spectacular. By the end of 1953, most unions were returned to non-Communist control. Not unexpectedly, however, the achievements of the Movement were reviled by its enemies. These enemies accused the Movement of zealotry, secrecy and a willingness to utilise means which were disproportionate to the dangers posed by Communism. The accomplishments of the Movement and of its Industrial Groups were vilified by their opponents who claimed, among other things, that the Communist threat to democratic institutions was highly exaggerated. The unpleasantness associated with the denigration of the Movement was, however, only a prelude to the momentous Labor Split of the mid-1950s, which was also when the second period in the history of the Movement began.

In October 1954, the then leader of the Opposition, Dr H.V. Evatt, launched a vicious attack on the Industrial Groups which had been established in the unions. His fateful decision to destroy the Movement was probably a direct consequence of Dr Evatt's narrow electoral defeat in May 1954. In attacking the Movement, Dr Evatt attempted to maintain his leadership of the ALP by appeasing the Left.

His attack, followed by the subsequent Labor Split, resulted in the creation, by anti-Communist union organisers, of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). It is common knowledge that for 18 years, until 1972, the Split was responsible for keeping the ALP in opposition. This strategy was known within the Movement at the time as the "roadblock".

It could be argued that Labor's failure to withdraw support for its pro-Communist left wing, and the maintenance of unity tickets with Communists, while avoiding rapprochement with the anti-Communist working-class Catholics of the DLP, resulted in the ALP being in opposition for such a long time. But it also provided the CPA with renewed opportunities to foment social unrest. As the CPA's activities were no longer directly opposed by the ALP, Communist attempts to infiltrate the union movement were increasingly successful.

During these momentous events of the Fifties, many Catholic bishops, who had enthusiastically supported the Movement before the Labor Split, effectively changed sides and sought to control the Movement. Perhaps the bishops may have been motivated by pragmatism and a sincere desire to maintain industrial "peace". Nevertheless, their change of heart must have hurt Mr Santamaria, who in his exemplary life always tried to give practical expression to Catholic principles.

Mr Santamaria's support for the Catholic Church is well-known and is exemplified in his principal authorship of most of the bishops' social justice statements, published between 1941 and 1956.

Mr Santamaria, despite the power struggle for control of the Movement, continued to remind the Australian public of the dangers of Communism and the incompatibility of that ideology with the social principles of the Catholic Church. He had the courage to stand by his principles, even when he was abandoned by much of the Catholic hierarchy.

Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that it became necessary to transform the movement into an organisation, known as the National Civic Council (NCC), which no longer had a direct relationship with the Catholic Church. This outcome, however, may have had the effect of galvanising the efforts of Catholic and non-Catholic people into an effective anti-Communist force. But there have been moments of disagreement and, indeed, tension between the bishops and the NCC since its creation.

The Left's new agenda

The Movement entered its third phase with the coming to power of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1972. The assumption of power by the ALP obviously defeated the "roadblock" strategy and resulted in the demise of the DLP as a political force. Although in the seventies and eighties the fight against Communism continued, the National Civic Council and its publication News Weekly increasingly concentrated on the dangers of, what could conveniently be referred to as, "the philosophy of relativism and humanism". According to this philosophy, it is inappropriate to judge the morality of a person's behaviour, provided it does not harm other people. This philosophy involves "the belief that all approaches to truth are relative to particular situations". (2)

In particular, the Movement and its leaders courageously and consistently alerted Australians to the existence of the fallacious assumptions upon which many pieces of social engineering legislation were based. The Movement provided a much needed alternative point of view on such issues as abortion, affirmative action for women and disadvantaged groups in society, the role of homemaker, marital fidelity, euthanasia, bio-genetics, pornography and the Internet. It encouraged Australians, especially young people, to appreciate the role of traditional social, religious and moral values in the maintenance of the social fabric.

Now that the shackles of Communism are effectively discarded and the moral bankruptcy of this ideology is revealed, the Left aggressively imposes a social agenda in which it seeks to mandate conformity with its relativistic and humanistic values across the range of human behaviour. Thus, we find that traditional human behaviour is vilified as a vituperative expression of sexism or racism.

Encouragement for the vocation of homemaker is described as a particularly odious form of sexism. Instead, feminism, preferential treatment, alternative lifestyles, infidelity and politically correct speech, just to name a few, are variously described as desirable or even liberating orthodoxies. These new orthodoxies, which are often aggressively promoted by well-funded lobby groups, create a climate of intolerance and instil a sense of genuine fear into a great number of decent people.

Interestingly, the similarities between Communism and the present orthodoxies are more striking than their dissimilarities. By this I mean that both Communism and many of the so-called "progressive" ideas in our society are based on the assumption that Man is able to fashion the ideal world. Those who are deemed to be enlightened enough to see the value of these new orthodoxies then proceed to impose them upon the other members of society. Thus, it is necessary to point out that relativism and humanism are nothing else but sophisticated manifestations, like Communism until its spectacular collapse, of an obsession to create the "ideal" world which is totally divorced from God.

As I understand it, the fight against relativism and humanism and the defence of traditional values continues to be a priority of the National Civic Council. The NCC is ideally placed to equip those who combat the relativists and humanists and their Brave New World ideas with the philosophic knowledge and confidence necessary to erode their specious arguments.

I can well imagine that the sympathisers of the NCC feel like David who fights against a powerful Goliath. Those who dare to stand up for decency are described as "barbarians" who oppose inevitable progress.

There is no doubt that the defence of traditional values is a most difficult and unenviable task. This difficulty stems from the fact that leftist reformers often do not directly reject conventional concepts but seek to accommodate within them some new project that may be substantially inconsistent with the conventional understanding of the concept.

F.A. Hayek, commenting upon this difficulty, states that "one must today hesitate to use even words like 'liberty', 'justice', 'democracy' or 'law', because they no longer convey the meaning they once did". (3) His point is that the decay or corruption of language has helped to seduce people to serve what they imagined to be good purposes.

Perhaps Hayek's point explains why many people fail to live in accordance with what they instinctively know to be right. Furthermore, the problems associated with the defence of traditional values are exacerbated by the constant exposure of people to television and Internet programs which unashamedly embrace the agenda of the leftist reformers.

I have heard it said that television is the worst invention of the 20th century. Although I question the validity of this statement, there is little doubt that there are opportunistic people who use modern inventions, including television, the Internet and mobile phones, for their corrupting purposes.

The new orthodoxy

It is not my function today to assess comprehensively the impact of the next orthodoxy on our rights. For my present purposes, it suffices to express my belief that the new orthodoxy progressively erodes our ability to freely express our opinions.

There are many pieces of legislation which, collectively, amount to an impressive and sustained assault on freedom of expression. These pieces of legislation, if assessed individually, sound deceptively reasonable and innocent. But their collective impact upon freedom of expression is profound.

Other pieces of legislation increase the extent to which people become dependent on the government, thereby removing from individuals the responsibility for looking after their own welfare. It creates an all-powerful government that controls impotent, submissive and obedient citizens. I tend to believe that, in an ideal world, the best government is a government that governs least but creates a climate in which it is possible for people to better themselves.

We are all acutely aware of the necessary link between freedom of expression and the preservation of a healthy democracy. Many people who are fortunate enough to live in a democratic society take freedom of expression for granted and do not realise that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Unfinished business

A great Australian who, for nearly six decades, assiduously worked for the preservation of that basic freedom in our society was the leader of the National Civic Council, Mr Bob Santamaria. He gave Australia leadership, vision, strength and decency. It is certain that the enemies of the NCC do not want to be reminded of the invaluable work that Mr Santamaria performed throughout his life. But we will not forget. We will not forget that, largely due to his efforts, Australians live in a country that is free from the worst excesses of totalitarianism and arbitrary oppression. But the fight for freedom inevitably remains an unfinished business.

The inauguration of the B.A. Santamaria Library in Perth is undoubtedly the beginning of a fourth and most glorious period in the history of the Movement and of the National Civic Council. During this period, people will be able to familiarise themselves with arguments with which to fight the Culture War. I am pleased that the library contains many of Mr Santamaria's works.

I have had the opportunity to listen to Mr Santamaria on several occasions. I was always impressed by the Cartesian clarity of his analyses of national and international affairs. The clarity and coherence of his ideas were always matched by his sincerity, genuineness and modesty. He had an unusual ability to identify the issues that matter most and to bring his considerable personal, intellectual and practical knowledge to bear on them. His strength lay in the fact that he was able to perceive their significance and likely impact upon the cohesiveness of our society.

Mr Santamaria could easily have achieved high political office if he had been willing to make opportunistic compromises, for which many of our politicians are so rightly reviled. Instead, he chose to sacrifice a profitable career for the pursuit of higher ideals. He has made this country a better place to live in.

Our gratitude, even if expressed profusely, is but a poor substitute for the praise which Mr Santamaria so richly deserves. I express the hope that his work will continue to flourish for a long, long time and that the B.A. Santamaria Library, which is hereby launched, will be an essential part of that process.

* This article is based on a speech Professor Gabriel A. Moens delivered on the occasion of the inauguration of the B.A. Santamaria Library, Cloverdale, Perth, on 10 June 2009.

(1.) Robert Manne, "The fiftieth anniversary of the National Civic Council", News Weekly (Melbourne), 26 October 1991, p.11.

(2.) George Pell, "NCC 5oth anniversary celebration--Bishop Pell's address", AD 2000, vol. 4, no. 10, November 1991, 13.

(3.) F.A. Hayek, The Political Order of a Free People (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), p.135.

Gabriel Moens is dean and professor of law at Murdoch University, Western Australia.
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Author:Moens, Gabriel A.
Publication:National Observer - Australia and World Affairs
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2009
Words:2384
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