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It's back to 1950s in Adelaide as ALP Groupers flex muscle

By Malcolm King - posted Tuesday, 18 July 2017

One of the great achievements of the Reformation and the bloody wars that followed,was to remove the Catholic Church from government and replace it with men and women who prized humanism over the doctrinaire, a commonwealth over theocracy and openness over cloistered secrecy.

There are ten Catholic MP's and fellow travellers in the ALP in South Australia who belong to a Catholic right wing faction. They are members of the Catholic controlled Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA), which is the beating heart of this group of Groupers.

The Catholic right don't always act in concert on conscience votes but use their numbers with other ultra-orthodox members, to vote against legislation on same sex marriage and the decriminalisation of prostitution, to name just two.


Bernie Finnigan was a key member of the faction but he left parliament after being found guilty of obtaining access to child pornography. In his 2006 maiden speech Finnigan said, "I am a servant of Christ and a subject of His reign in history."

The right to practice religion is sacrosanct but in a in a secular society, a politician must act for the common good. Not a Vatican edict. Representative democracy serves the people, not the Pope.

South Australia is decoupling from the Federation on a raft of levels and this political regression is as astounding as it is under reported. One can't reconcile it with the political realities of a modern Australian state.

Don Dunstan wrote in his memoir, Felicia, "the Movement in the 1950s aimed to make the Labor Party the political instrument of Catholic social policy." The ghost of Bob Santamaria's Movement still stalks the Labor Party in South Australia.

With Attorney General John Rau's "crime and punishment" regime in full swing - which is aimed at young people and the poor - it's back to the 1950s in the City of Churches. This is not a liberal, progressive city. It's a frightened city that knows that deflation and rising unemployment and under employment are killing the state. This is fertile ground for ecclesiastical hardliners.

Ten years ago I worked as a senior media adviser to the leader of the Australian Democrats in Melbourne. Senator Lyn Allison visited Adelaide to talk about the RU486 abortion pill legislation. She had sponsored the Bill to removeapproval of RU486 from the Minister for Health and Ageing (Tony Abbott), so it could be listed directly with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.


The abuse didn't come from the anti-abortion groups (which made a change) but Catholic MPs in the state Labor Party and Catholic members of Adelaide's electronic media. Maybe we didn't kiss enough rings. Nonetheless, the Bill was passed on a conscience vote.

In South Australia the power of the dissenting churches and Chartist ideals has crumbled as the cold winds of Vatican orthodoxy blow hard. Yet no story about this incense-swinging faction, which has nested itself like a cuckoo in the state ALP, would be complete without some history on the union that supports them.

The genesis of the SDA's power goes back to the 1950s, when it was feared that communism would take over the Australian union movement.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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