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Pronatalist Policy in Australia: 1945-2000

This is an interesting supplement to the drive for high immigration and a huge population in Australia. It also gives an account of the role played by The Movement (B.A. Santamaria) in the Australian Labor Party's long exile from government before Whitlam. Some interesting background on Labor Party figures currently in government or recently in opposition.

This research was concluded in 2000, when the ALP had been in opposition since Keating's fall, and the author welcomes feedback and new information on this period and its sequel. See also an analysis of what drives a similar pronatalist movements in Russia in Putin’s Pro-Natalism Miscarries

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New South Wales Royal Commission into the Decline in the Birth Rate

In 1904, in response to the decline in the population growth rate in New South Wales and Victoria, the New South Wales Royal Commission into the Decline in the Birth Rate (RCDBR)[1], composed mainly of businessmen with a financial interest in liquidating stagnating property assets, launched pro-natalist and immigrationist recommendations that were to set the tone for a long time to come. In the future much Australian industry, but especially the housing construction and infrastructure industries, was to become dependent on population growth.[2] This is a dependency it shares with other new world colonial states, such as the United States and Canada.[3 ]

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)

In 1944 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) took up where the RCDBR had left off forty years ago. Deploring the “forty year decline in the birth rate” and disparaging a rise in the birth rate between 1940 and 1943 as due to a temporary rise in marriages due to war time, the NHMRC called for pronatalist policies [4], encompassing the provision of housing, home help, child care for everyone, and kindergartens and better medical services. They also drew attention to the importance of the role played by economic security. The only alternative to an increase in natural increase would be an increase in immigration, but in 1944 that seemed to them an unlikely prospect.

Chiffley and Menzies and Immigration

However the Chiffley (Labor) and Menzies (conservative, Liberal) governments, although strongly populationist, seem to have largely ignored the 1944 pronatalist policies recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council and to have relied on immigration. This may have been because the baby boom made pronatalist measures seem redundant as long as it lasted. The initial hope was to rely on natural increase to make up one per cent of population growth and immigration to contribute another one per cent. In Australia the immigration program had marked nation building aims but also had the major function of providing a ready supply of labor for industrial expansion.

Papal conspiracy, Communism, Democratic Labor Party and ALP

But what had happened to the strong pronatalist traditions which had persisted through the Second World War to the 1944 Report of the National Health and Medical Research Council? How could they just have disappeared?
In fact pronatalism continued to exist, particularly in the Australian Labor Party, and especially among its Catholic members. However it is hard to find any record of related pronatalism and policies in the literature which has been written about family policy of this time. This may be because an entire block of pronatalists separated off from mainstream Labor parties in a traumatic split in 1954. The Democratic Labor Party which resulted from this failed to flourish.
Remarkably, these events do seem to have been the culmination of a down-under papist conspiracy, far-fetched as that may seem. At the time Protestants outnumbered Catholics in Australia and Catholics had encountered discrimination in the workforce, especially during the Great Depression. There developed a secret society of Catholics, organised and under the direction of bishops [5], to carry out a Vatican encyclical inspired plan to Catholise Australia.

Catholic Action and the Catholic Social Studies Movement and Dr Santamaria

The secret society, of which the full name was “The Catholic Social Studies Movement” grew out of “Catholic Action”, a concept developed in Europe in the 19th Century [6]. Catholic action had been active in Australia from the 1930s and was particularly concerned about the spread of communism. However “The Movement”, as it came to be called, had a wider range of free standing policies and combatting communism may in the end have been more of an excuse for its empire building activities. It was led by Dr Bob Santamaria, an Italian born Australian lawyer of unshakeable religious convictions, intelligence, charisma and a taste for power. The first edition of its weekly newspaper, Freedom, was launched in September 1943. The centre of the Movement was in the State of Victoria, although it was Australia wide.
The Movement was highly pronatalist and immigrationist [7]. The pronatalism and immigrationism, as well as important for increasing the number of Catholics in Australia, were also crucial to its major plan, which was to block further urban concentration and settle the hinterlands of Australia with a vast population of contented peasants congregated in rural communities. Redistribution of wealth – not communism, but in the context of setting up a population of small property and business holders - was the economic philosophy [8].
Among the stated policies of the Movement were:

“8. Payment of a marriage bonus and payment of adequate family allowances, 11. Possession of Family Homes for all.” [9]

In effect the campaign sought the reunion of Church and State, as we can see from the item about education:

“9. A National System of education, 20. Recognition of religion as the basis of education.”[10]

The leader of this movement, Bob Santamaria, gave pronatalist and defensive reasons for the emphasis on rural development in Rural Life, May 1951. He wrote,

“...The second reason was national. Professor Macdonald Holmes proved to us that the birth rate, the very strength, the very numbers of our community, depended upon the strength of rural life. We were given time and again the relative birth rates in metropolitan, provincial, and country areas, and it has been proved, not only through Australian experience, but through world wide experience, that any increase in population must come from the rural areas. Therefore if we hope for survival of the country everything has to be done to build up those areas which have been given us Australia.”[11]

Was Chiffley influenced by “The Movement” – Murray Darling Basin and Snowy Mountain scheme?

It is interesting to note that a number of policy items from the movement were eventually carried out. Arthur Calwell, (Labor) the first Minister for Immigration under the Chiffley Labor Government and main driver of the post 1945 massive immigration program was himself a practising Catholic [12], and, although he did not follow other Catholics into the Democratic Labor Party, it seems plausible his policies were influenced by ideas emanating from the Movement[13]. Among those polices taken up were two calling for the institution of a bigger migrant intake and intensive irrigation in the Murray Darling Basin, with hydro electricity generated in the Snowy Mountains to be used exclusively inland, to encourage industry [14].

ALP, Unions and Reds under the Beds and Santamaria

There is evidence that in later years the Labor Party showed a high degree of confusion on whether to take seriously the threat of imminent invasion, which, with the maoist revolution, suddenly replaced that of a communist takeover of Australian unions [15].

This is perhaps not surprising, given that Santamaria and Catholic activists who had preceded him in the Labor Party had initially been preoccupied with the 'enemy within', to wit, the issue of the communist take over of Australian unions. There was for years a battle for dominance within the party between its communist members and its Catholic members. When the Movement began to organise a secret resistance network to communism within the union movement and the Labor Party, the issue of communism as a threat was covertly sown but absolutely pervasive and deeply rooted. Suddenly, after the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, Santamaria virtually stopped pushing the communist union issue in order to take up foreign policy and the threat of invasion by Asian communists. His theme was “Ten minutes to midnight”[16].

ALP Split from within – confusion reigns

The seismic split that divided the Labor party in 1954 identified the Catholic activists from the Movement as the threat from within, and so this must have made those Labor party members outside the movement wonder if the communists really were the enemy. And, since the Movement activists had led the Ten to Midnight campaign about the threat of Asian invasion, it is not surprising that those Labor party survivors of the split had become disenchanted and distrustful of all that old rhetoric.

Liberal foreign policy

The rhetoric of course had taken on a life of its own, of reds under the beds and the yellow peril. It was now the basis of official foreign policy under the Liberals, with a major immigration program the chief strategy for defense. Birthrates were of course coming along quite nicely all by themselves.

Purge within ALP

In December 1954 the Movement-sympathetic Victorian Executive of the Australian Labor Party was outlawed. By means of elections run by the Federal Executive despite the defiance of the incumbent executive, it was replaced by a new anti-Movement Victorian Executive. On 30 March 1954 the John Cain Victorian State Labor Government resigned and reformed, excluding four Catholic supporters of the outlawed Movement-dominated Victorian Executive. Seven Victorian Federal parliamentarians – S.M. Keon, J.M. Mullens, R. Joshua, WM Bourke, TW Andrews, JL Cremean and WG Bryson – all Catholics except for R Joshua, were expelled from the Australian Labor Party because they refused to declare their loyalty for the new Executive.

Both ALP and the New Australian Labor Party (the early DLP) lose election

These seven expelled ALP members met in April 1954 and formed a new Australian Labor Party, known as the “Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist)”, which eventually became the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) [17].

Both Labor Parties contested the next Victorian election and, unsurprisingly, both parties lost to the Liberal Party.

It must all have been profoundly traumatic. Not only would documents and records have been lost, but there was a sudden rupture in the chain of human command and in the chain of human message bearers within the party.

Although the baby boom would have obviated any but extremist preoccupations about the birthrate, pronatalism must have been considerably “on the nose” anyway in the Labor Party, at both Victorian and Federal levels. It could not help but be associated with the policies of the treacherous Movement that had infiltrated the Party to such a degree. Even if there had been widespread concern about communism within and without the Party, the tactics of the Movement overshadowed this.

Whitlam Era: Pronatalism on the nose

At any rate, in these intrigues may lie the explanation for the apparent disappearance of pronatalism after 1945. It had been there but in one fell swoop a great many pronatalists had absented themselves to form a major political vehicle and had formed a new party. That party struggled on and probably assisted the maintenance of the Labor Party in opposition for many years. The Democratic Labor Party never really achieved much success for itself and whatever pronatalist agenda it retained failed to make much impact on Australian policy. In 1974, encouraged by Gough Whitlam, the last of the DLP members of parliament, Vincent Gair, resigned to take up an appointment as a diplomat to Ireland.

As well as distancing itself from a foreign policy based on threats of invasion, Whitlam’s government, from 1972, launched a number of widespread policies to promote family planning, women’s rights and equal opportunity. For a long time the Labor Party stayed well away from pronatalism.

“Movement” disbanded by Vatican 1957

The Movement was officially disbanded by the Vatican in 1957. The DLP became a Federal party, but never rose to any great success. Santamaria never became a member of parliament but was a major influence on the policies of the DLP. In December 1957 Santamaria formed the National Civic Council to continue anti-communist work.

The National Civic Council still exists. It has various offshoots, including the Australian Family Association, which is domiciled in the Thomas Moore Centre in North Melbourne. It is run by one of Santamaria’s daughters and produces a newspaper, the News Weekly, which has a circulation of 10,000. It is still a pronatalist organisation, but lately has become less supportive of high immigration [18].

For years Santamaria had a column in the Australian, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch who is a Catholic convert and was recently made a Knight of the Vatican. The newspaper is very much in favor of high population growth. Santamaria died in 1998. He had eleven children.

Pronatalism creeps back: Peter McDonald and others

Towards the end of the 1990s it seemed to me that pronatalism was returning to polite demographic discussion.

On the 14 October1999 there was a big demographic conference at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, “The Transformation of Australia’s Population 1970-2030.”

Chaired by ANU Demographer, Peter McDonald [19], the conference had a strong streak of pronatalism. It was the first conference of academic importance that I had attended where there was a serious and almost unquestioned assumption that Australia and much of the developed world were threatened by the ‘grave’ possibility of 'exponential decline' in population. Impressive Power Point displays showed the populations of the United States ballooning like a cheerful fat man, that of Australia dwindling and feeble and Japan, with a total fertility rate of 1.45 and zero net immigration fading to a pitiful anorexic spindle.

The presenter of this session on “Comparative Fertility Trends,” was Professor Phillip Morgan of Duke University. The assumption at the beginning was that Australia would not be able to get the kinds of skilled immigrants it was felt would be needed in sufficient quantities and that there would be economic chaos if the population were allowed to decline. This left the only option to somehow boost the birth rate. (Note that Bruce Chapman, ANU professor of Economics who presented the session on the future of the labor force did not share this opinion at all. Rather he surmised that, employment wise, it would probably be an easier world in the next 35 years than it had been!)

I have heard that the Federal Labor Party had eschewed mention of the declining Australian fertility rate for a long time through a strategic desire to avoid feminist backlash [20].

Kim Beasely as ALP leader, his MP father, and pronatalism

On 15 May 2000, however, the leader of the Australian Labor Party (in opposition), Kim Christian Beasely, made a press release regarding a discussion paper on ALP Family Policy. This was reported on West Australia local ABC news item on the 15th May.

Interestingly the current ALP leader’s father, Kim Edward Beazley, was still the patron of the Australian Family Association in 2000. The Australian Family Association in Victoria is housed in the same premises as as the NCC, at the Thomas Moore Centre and is something of a “sister group” to the NCC. Kim Edward Beazley was a West Australian member of Parliament and member of the Labor Party. In 1950 he was an Anglican [21] but showed sympathy to the Movement’s policy ideals, notably that of allying the party closer to US foreign defense policy than British [22]. He has long been a committed member of Moral Rearmament [23] and a dedicated anti-communist. In March 1955 the Federal Conference credentials of Kim Edward Beazley senior were suspended for three years by the Western Australian ALP along with those of three others who were identified as sympathetic to the divisive aims of the Movement [24].

The Family Policy that ALP leader (1996-) Kim Christian Beasely announced in 2000 included greater access to Child care and higher endowment, concluding with a statement to the effect that this policy package would also be likely to raise Australia's falling birth rate. This was most important as "the present birth rate was leading to an unsustainable population for Australia. There is a pressing need to encourage higher rates of childbirth."[25 ]

The paper itself, entitled “Family Futures” emanated from the office of South Australian member of Parliament, Mr Swan, the shadow minister for family affairs. It explicitly denied “putting pressure on people to have children, or any such antiquated rubbish, but rather, making life easier for families; both in financial terms and in terms of the time balance between work and family life. However, arresting our declining birth rate is only a threshold issue. If we can provide more people with the opportunity to start a family, we should be prepared to back this with policies that deliver ongoing support from the time children are born.” The bulk of the policies were for better provision of child care ; there was little, if any, financial inducement. Nevertheless it is inescapable that the document has for its major raison d’être increasing the birth rate.

Angela Shanahan

Apart from the more specialised Financial Review, the Australian (which also appears as the Weekend Australian) is the only wide circulation national newspaper in Australia [26]. In 1999 Angela Shanahan first appeared as an occasional feature writer in a column called Focus . Shanahan seems to have been selected by the Australian as a pronatalist writer. Her major qualification for this post, apart from her reasonable ability to write, is her claim to be the mother of nine children. Since mothers of nine are a distinct minority and therefore could not represent a large and influential market for the Australian, one assumes that the newspaper is towing a pronatalist line.

“Procreative minority” was the title of her piece in the Weekend Australian on 20-21/5/2000 [27]. In it she describes a “kind of pursed-lipped, neo-Darwinian attitude of “the poor breed like rabbits”” She pushes the line that Australia has a “shrinking and aging population”, concluding therefore that “opposition to income support for big families is puzzling.” She attributes this to “extreme environmentalism or an ideological antipathy to the nuclear, patriarchal family which, in feminist newspeak, is always oppressive.” She promotes the idea of greater financial support for big families because they produce the “taxpayers of the future.” Disparagingly, she describes single people as “lonely old singles who never did manage to confront their fading youth”, and she complains that her children will have to support these singles as well as herself and their father.

Essentially she is suggesting that government should pay a wage to women who produce children and that this should be scaled to the number of children and that the tax system should be reformed to tax families rather than individuals. She does not go into detail but refers to the policies of the National Civic Council linked Australian Family Association.

This paper was written in about 2000, placed here in pdf form on 28 June 2006, and slightly reedited for the internet on 9 Nov 2009. Copyright to Author, Sheila Newman
Astridnova[AT] Please cite: Sheila Newman, “Pronatalist Policy in Australia from 1945 to the turn of the century,” (2000)


[1 ] See most documents dealing with the history of population enquiries in Australia, e.g. Neville Hicks, This Sin and Scandal, ANUP, Canberra, 1978, p.93, Stefania Siedlecky & Diana Wyndham, Populate and Perish, Australian Women Fight for Birth Control, Allen and Unwin, Australia, 1990 and Borrie, W.D., (Chairman), Population and Australia, A Demographic Analysis and Projection, First Report of the National Population Enquiry, Parliament of Australia, 1975, Parliamentary Paper No. 6, Printed by Courier Mail Service, Campbell Street, Bowen Hills, Brisbane, Queensland 4006., Vol.1

[2] Sheila Newman, Malthusianism, Neo-malthusianism and Women’s Rights in Australia, from 1770 to the 1990s, published on French internet site, Populatique, CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research),, Ed. LeBras et Ronsin of EHESS. Curiously, the Commission had ignored the impact of gold rushes to New South Wales and West Australia in removing males of reproductive age from the South Eastern States, and they also ignored the dampening effect the desperate economic times must have on the remaining population.

[3 ] Conversely, from 1974, Western European economies began to gear to population stabilisation and decline and the housing industry adapted to factory built housing on demand, instead of engaging in land speculation. See

[4] Borrie, W.D., (Chairman), Population and Australia, A Demographic Analysis and Projection, First Report of the National Population Enquiry, Parliament of Australia, 1975, Parliamentary Paper No. 6, Printed by Courier Mail Service, Campbell Street, Bowen Hills, Brisbane, Queensland 4006., Vol.1, pp193-194.

[5] Paul Ormond, The Movement, Nelson, 1968, p 122. Ormond cites part of a letter from the Editor of the Melbourne Catholic newspaper, The Tribune, Mr Ted Adams, to T.M. Butler, (5 May 1961): “As at April 1955, the Movement was an authentic Catholic activity with a madate from the Hierachy. It was directed by and its executive officers were responsible to an episcopal committee. In such circumstances it was surely the function of a paper under Catholic control to reflect its policies without question, and to reject any submission which brought them into the sphere of open debate.”

[6] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, pp44-46.

[7] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, pp44-47.

[8] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, pp47-48. Murray cites the first issue of the Movement’s weekly newspaper, Freedom, where the movement’s policy was described under twenty points: 1. Public control of monopolies, 2. Public conrol of credit, 3. The Institution of Industrial Councils, 4. Assistance to small owners, 5. Part ownership of industry for the workers, 6. Co-operation in all aspects – producers, consumers, marketing, insurance and credit, 7. The principle of an Adequate Income for all, including a minimum wage that will meet all the needs of the family, allow it to provide for the future, attain to the ownership of property and imporve its cultural condition, 8. Payment of a marriage bonus and payment of adequate family allowances, 9. Wages a first charge in industry, before dividends or profits, 10. Equal pay for equal work, 11. Possession of Family Homes for all, 12. A strong program of regionalism, including spreading of all the conveniences of the city to the country home, 13. A national campaign for Family Land Settlement, 14. A radical crisis to solve the problem of rural debt, 15. Independent Farming as the normal productive policy, 16. Co-operation in agriculture, 17. A Fair Return for the farm production, 18. Self-government of agriculture, 19. A National System of education, 20. Recognition of religion as the basis of education.

[9] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, pp47-48. Murray cites the first issue of the Movement’s weekly newspaper, Freedom, where the movement’s policy was described under twenty points.

[10 ] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, pp47-48. Murray cites the first issue of the Movement’s weekly newspaper, Freedom, where the movement’s policy was described under twenty points
[11] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, p111
[12 ]Paul Ormond, The Movement, Nelson, 1968, p.116. Ormond comments that Calwell, who was a practising Catholic, felt that he had been ‘frozen out’ of his Parish Church when he did not go with the Democratic Labor Party at the height of the Labor Party Split in the 1950s. Instead he changed churches.

[13 ]Although note is taken that Calwell was criticised by Movement supporters for his failure to support the movement and was slurred as a communist. See for instance, Ormond, The Movement, Nelson, 1968, pp115-116.

[14] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, pp 55-56, “Mostly under the influence of [Colin Grant] Clark, [economic advisor to the Queensland Government and a convert to Catholicism], the main lines of Movement social policy by the early 1950s ... [included] 6. Social services designed to encourage big families, 7. A bigger migrant intake, to build up the population, with many of the migrants being settled on the land and a high proportion of them Catholics, 8. Intensive irrigation in the Murray Darling Basin, with hydroelectricity generated in the Snowy Mountains scheme to be used exclusively inland, to encourage industry....”

[15] K Betts, Ideology and Immigration, MUP, 1988, pp86-87. She cites Dennis Altman, Rehearsals for change: Politics and Culture in Australia, Fontana, Melbourne, 1980., p.101. Betts identifies the schema of threat of invasion as a motivation for populating the land. She comments that this was a topic of open debate towards the end of the 1960s, for a short time. “In the years after World War II the development of Asian communism seemed to make the issue simpler and starker, at least for conservatives.” She adds that the picture was rather more confused for the Labor Party, and describes Calwell’s attitude as combining strong committment to the threat schema, whilst refusing to assign that threat directly to either communism or to Vietnam. She cites Denis Altman as arguing that such confusion characterised Labor thinking in the pre-Whitlam era.

[16 ] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, p56.

[17 ] Paul Ormond, The Movement, Nelson, 1968, p.93

[18] Personal communication from Robert Birrell, reader in Sociology and Anthropology at Monash University and author of many books on population growth in Australia.

[19] McDonald’s articles about population projections have been cited by the Minister for Immigration (who is the defacto minister for population) and some McDonald material was displayed on the website of the Minister.

“Minister Releases New Findings on Australia's Ageing Population, MPS 115/99 .
...A new report entitled The Impact of Immigration on the Ageing of Australia's Population has been prepared by ANU demographers Professor Peter McDonald and Rebecca Kippen, and projects that the proportion of Australians over 65 will double over the next 40 years. Those over 65 are expected to represent 24 per cent of the Australian population - the result of Australians having fewer children and living longer. While the report found that the ageing of Australia's population is inevitable, it states that factors including current migration levels will have an impact on the composition of the population into the second half of the 21st Century. "This research indicates that calls for a significantly larger Migration Program on the grounds that it would help keep Australia younger are misdirected and ill informed. Higher net migration would add to the size of the population but would have little impact on the age of the population," Mr Ruddock said. "Equally, heeding calls for zero net migration would accelerate ageing of the population." Wednesday, 11 August 1999, Media inquiries: Susan Sare (02) 6277 7860 or 0407 415 797.

[20] In 2000 I listed my source as confidential, but I don’t think this factor is any great secret.

[21] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, p.146.

[22] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, p.42 & 146.

[23] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, p.264

[24] Robert Murray, The Split, Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, 1970, p.241

[25] Report on ABC News Item sent to me by email on 16 May 2000 by Vice President of West Australian Branch of Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population, Paddy Weaver.

[26] The print media is almost exclusively dominated by only two chains; the Murdoch and the Fairfax Press.
[27] “Procreative minority” is the title of her piece in the Weekend Australian on 20-21/5/2000 p.30.