The 1957 redistribution created two new seats, Cronulla and Merrylands.
The 1957 redistribution created two new seats, Cronulla and Merrylands. Merrylands was a safe Labor seat while the Liberal Party easily won Cronulla. Two Liberal seats, Ashfield and Croydon, were amalgamated into a new electorate of Ashfield-Croydon. Both the sitting MLAs, R Murden (Ashfield) and D Hunter (Croydon), were endorsed for the new seat. Hunter was the successful candidate at the 1959 poll. The Labor seats of Paddington and Waverley were also combined. The long-serving Member for Paddington, M O’Sullivan, retired and the MLA for Waverley, WJ Ferguson, was endorsed for the amalgamated electorate of Paddington-Waverley.
The 1959 election looked to be extremely tight for the Labor Government. After 18 years in office, there was a feeling that Labor’s time was up. To add to the Government’s problems, the great ALP Split over the Industrial Groups had caused it much trouble. The ALP Industrial Groups were set up in 1945 to combat growing Communist influence in the trade union movement. In this struggle, they became closely associated with BA Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement, formed in Melbourne in 1942 for a similar purpose. The Groups were successful in ending Communist control in a number of influential unions. By the early 1950s, they were a significant force in the ALP in their own right. This and the links with Santamaria aroused much resentment among sections of the labour movement. In 1952, the Groups took control of the NSW Branch in alliance with the Australian Workers’ Union. Two years later they broke with the AWU and ruled alone. The Groups were proscribed by the Federal ALP Conference in 1955. A move by the Federal Labor authorities against Grouper dominated New South Wales was almost inevitable. When it came, the Group majority in NSW split into two sections in response. The hardliners were determined to resist Federal intervention at all costs, even if it meant splitting the Party and destroying the New South Wales Government. A more moderate section adopted the strategy of negotiating a compromise with the Federal Executive that would see only a limited form of intervention. The Sydney Catholic hierarchy and Premier Joe Cahill threw their weight behind this latter group. Those prepared to compromise to preserve Labor in power carried the day and, after much confrontation, manoeuvring and negotiation, a deal was finally hammered out that left the moderates of both sides in control. Only the most extreme Groupers were purged. However, the months of public brawling had damaged the Government. Those who would not compromise left Labor and formed the Democratic Labor Party. While only a splinter group, its decision to direct preferences away from the ALP was a potential threat.
One of the main reasons Labor avoided defeat at the March 1959 election was the weakness of the Opposition. The Liberals in the later Cahill years reached their post-war nadir. Continuing electoral defeat had sapped the morale of the Parliamentarians. Many, in particular Opposition Leader Pat Morton, became only part-time politicians, more interested in pursuing lucrative private activities than devoting time to their Parliamentary duties. There was also a widespread feeling in the Liberal Party that the Federal Liberal Government was giving little support to the State Opposition and that the Party machine in New South Wales was more concerned with keeping Menzies in office than assisting the State Liberals. The New South Wales Liberals received little support from their natural allies in the business community who were not inclined to back an obvious loser. Internal tensions also continued within the Parliamentary Party with Deputy Leader Bob Askin intriguing against Morton.
All of this added up to a widespread perception of the Liberals as a permanent Opposition.
The other crucial factor in Labor’s victory was Cahill himself. As has been noted, the damage caused by the Split in New South Wales had been minimised and this ensured that the DLP had little support compared to its Victorian counterpart. The Catholic hierarchy in Sydney remained behind the Government and Cahill worked hard to ensure there was no serious leakage of Catholic votes from Labor. Cahill also deliberately distanced his Government as much as possible from Federal Opposition Leader HV Evatt to prevent any electoral backlash. In this Cahill was greatly assisted by the fact that he was widely known for his conservative views and devout Catholicism. Another move by Cahill to revive the Government’s electoral fortunes involved two major vote-buying concessions. These were an additional week’s leave and the beginnings of equal pay for women. Both were in place by polling day. Cahill grew increasingly in public stature during his final years in office. In June 1959 he became the longest continuously serving New South Wales Premier. Cahill still had residual credibility with the voters. The Government just got over the line. It won 49 of the 94 seats and 49% of the primary vote. In spite of predictions prior to the election, DLP preferences proved to be irrelevant to the outcome. DC