Edition 1SUN 27 APR 1997, Page 043
PM can't ignore demons of the Right
By RICHARD FARMER
Back in the pre-Whitlam days, Labor was reduced to political impotency by not knowing how to react to the various shades of Marxism within its own ranks.
The Liberal and National Parties now risk the same fate as they try to work out how to live with Pauline Hanson and the motley collection of parties springing up on a belief that the established conservative Coalition does not take its policies far enough.
The Labor Party's dilemma of old has many similarities with that of Prime Minister John Howard today. Within the Labor Party there were many who agreed with the Marxists about the utopia of the socialist State to come.
The differences were about how to get to the promised land, rather than what would eventually be found in the collectively owned paradise.
An acceptance that the ends justified the means meant that many Labor officials were reluctant to confront the totalitarian Marxists and thus made plausible the taunts of the Menzies Liberals that Labor was soft on communism and would fundamentally change the nature of Australian society.
It took nearly 20 years of electoral defeats before Gough Whitlam could finally crush the influence of the Left-wing fanatics and make Labor fit to govern.
It was a difficult task that took great political courage but without the confrontation engineered by Mr Whitlam, thinking Australians would have voted Liberal forever.
Since then, Labor has been judged a plausible alternative government and has spent more years in office than out.
Now it is the turn of the Liberal and National parties to have their credibility eaten away by the fanatics who say many things that appeal to a considerable proportion of the membership of both parties.
For make no mistake, the anti-immigration, anti-Asian, anti-Aborigine and anti-welfare message of the newly emerging Right has plenty of Liberal and National supporters, just as the socialist State used to have within Labor.
The political danger comes when the sensible majority of Australians in the centre begin to worry about what kind of country they would be living in should a government ever do the things the fanatics call for.
The reaction so far of Mr Howard suggests that he is still more concerned with the short-term problem of keeping peace within the Coalition than with the slightly longer-term one of maintaining harmony in the community.
His historical guide is the Labor appeasement of the 1950s. He needs to be careful that his excessive caution does not produce for him the same fate that befell Harold Vere Evatt and Arthur Calwell.