In making a declaration with a notable historical parallel, Littleproud is exercising the kind of critical national leadership needed when Australia has never been more vulnerable to the divisive demands of the political class.
In 1944 Country Party leader Arthur Fadden fought the culture war as it was at the time, from the Opposition benches and against the elites, just as current Nationals leader David Littleproud is fighting the culture war by opposing the voice to parliament.
And just like Fadden’s Country Party, the Nationals will win because they have a clear position based on mainstream values.
Following a party room meeting on Monday morning, Littleproud announced his party would oppose Labor’s planned referendum to insert an Indigenous-only Voice to Parliament into the Australian Constitution.
This is a significant moment.
The party room decision by the Nationals comes in defiance of the manufactured consensus of the corporate sector, the media, academia, and the bureaucracy which has determined that racial division must be written into Australia’s foundational legal document.
In making this declaration, Littleproud is exercising the kind of critical national leadership needed when Australia has never been more vulnerable to the divisive demands of the political class.
Importantly, this is not the first time that a leader from Australia’s agrarian party has taken a stand against seemingly inevitable constitutional change.
Like Littleproud, Arthur Fadden was a rural Queensland MP, who held the seats of Darling Downs and McPherson from 1936 to 1958.
Fadden’s decision to oppose the 14 powers referendum proposed by John Curtin’s war-time Labor government is instructive on the importance of standing on principle and winning against the odds.
Curtin’s government was requesting from the Australian people extra, temporary powers to control economic activity in the country, ostensibly to manage the country’s recovery and reconstruction following World War II.
These demands included the power to make laws with respect to national health, corporations, and the production and sale of goods.
Importantly, this came at the height of Australia’s war-time involvement, where additional claims for emergency powers are always more compelling.
The demands were also made at a time when Labor were at the height of their political powers: in the 1943 general election Labor won 58.2 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, while the United Australia Party was in a terminal state.
What Fadden recognised was that Labor was not proposing merely administrative changes to government decision making, but a complete reconstruction of the government’s role in society.
At a packed town hall in Toowoomba in July 1944 opening the Country Party’s ‘No’ case, Fadden described the proposal in clear and direct terms, noting Labor’s proposal ‘means that in peacetime, you will work under government compulsion, you will eat and wear what the bureaucrats ration out to you: you will live in mass-produced government dwellings: and your children will work wherever the bureaucrats tell them to work… a yes vote would enable the government to implement Labour’s policy of socialisation. Nationalisation of industry would follow.’
Fadden won the fight – just.
Labor’s proposal was carried in South Australia and Western Australia but lost in the other four states.
It also failed to win a majority nationwide, topping out at 46 per cent.
Fadden recognised that, despite the war and despite Labor’s political ascendancy that these radical ideas were abnormal in Australia and should be opposed.
The rewards spoke for themselves: the 1946 election saw a 13 per cent primary vote swing to the Coalition, which returned to the treasury benches in 1949, kickstarting 23 years of uninterrupted Coalition rule in Canberra.
Littleproud’s Nationals recognise the same truth – that bodies and laws based on government overreach are not compatible with Australia’s egalitarian values.
A growing majority of Australians share the belief that we are all equal and that race has no place in the Australian Constitution.
Research by the Institute of Public Affairs in July this year found that 59 per cent of Australians agreed with the statement that “all references to race should be removed from Australia’s constitution.”
Just 12 per cent explicitly disagreed.
This is consistent with Australia’s history of constitutional change: As former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce noted on Sky News this week, “in 1967 we removed delineation of people based on their DNA. Now we have an issue which will bring back a form of delineation based on people’s DNA.”
This is the kind of clear speaking that will resonate with Australians, in the same way that Arthur Fadden won his culture war by speaking clearly about Labor’s socialist plans.