Is Mark Latham nuts? You be the judge.

Now, two episodes are causing further concern.

Just over a month ago, Latham had a go at the “new political correctness the hypocritical demand of the Conservative Establishment in this country for civility in political debate.” And boy, did he line them up: Tony Abbott, Piers Akerman, Michael Duffy, Janet Albrechtsen Mike Gibson, for Christ’s sake Brendan Nelson, Wolfgang Kaspar, the Centre for Independent Studies, Andrew Bolt and Christopher Pearson, to name a few. He even had a barb for a former Czech prime minister, Vaclav Klaus, for good measure.

As another one of his targets, Paddy McGuinness, observed the following week, it was “an entertaining speech, as such payouts often are but a little worrying. Not because of the names he named but because of the sheer looniness of the speech.”

“Indeed,” McGuinness continued, “it led quite a few people to wonder whether Latham might be losing his marbles, or perhaps indulging excessively in strong drink. There is no supporting evidence for the latter, and the former might be interpreted as common abuse. In which case Mr Latham would have no problems, since the case he is putting seems to be that there should be more common abuse in the political debate.”

McGuinness also had some inside running. Latham’s staffer, Michael Cooney who seems to work both sides of the street, given that he’s written for Pearson’s Adelaide Review had e-mailed him the original speech.

It had contained much more detail such as fascinating vignettes of home life with Gerard and Anne Henderson of Sydney Institute fame, material that Latham had omitted when he spoke. Then there were the references to “fruit loops” and “fair dinkum nutters” that sparked off some joshing on the drunk or mad theme from the two.

On Tuesday night, Latham returned to his topic and Vaclav Klaus in a second speech. “Earlier this month,” he said, “Paddy McGuinness wrote a column in the Sydney Morning Herald complaining about my condemnation of Vaclav Klaus at a CIS function last year. Paddy said that I was not civil enough in my attitude to someone he described as a `distinguished foreigner’. He said that people at the function were wondering about my stability and/or sobriety. There is a bigger truth to be told here and a bigger truth to be told about the Centre for Independent Studies. McGuinness was not at the function in question. He has been wired up and badly used by the head of the CIS, Greg Lindsay. In fact, I recall asking Mr Lindsay why CIS stalwarts, such as McGuinness and Frank Devine, had not been invited to hear Klaus and the other speakers at the 2001 consilium. Lindsay said that it was `because Paddy has been coming to CIS lunches, getting drunk and then abusing people’.”

That was for starters. Paddy and Latham, he then declared, were “brothers in arms”. “We should unite to fight against the born-again wowserism and double standards of users like Greg Lindsay. I say to Paddy: you might have ratted on the Labor Party; you might not be able to find any coloured clothes that fit; you might not live in a trendy house in Darling Street, Balmain; your life might be a wreck; but, for goodness sake, don’t be used and abused by the likes of Greg Lindsay.” And there was more on Vaclav Klaus.

The following day the e-mails got going again. McGuinness wrote to Cooney:

“Clearly both drunk and mad.

FYI (don’t bother telling Mark):

* Far from excluding me from CIS functions, Greg invites me to many and only complains that I don’t go often enough;

* He of course never said anything like it to Mark;

* I left the Labor Party (ie, did not renew my membership) in the late 70s, holding no official position;

* I have my clothes made to measure according to my own choice of colour;

* I do in fact live in a very nice, large house in Darling street, Balmain which also harbours the Quadrant office;

* My life is a ‘wreck’ only insofar as my beloved wife of 27 years died in 1999;

* Greg Lindsay has been, and remains, a good friend of 25 years.”

Thursday saw another pyrotechnics display by Latham as he rose to tell the Main Committee about “an interesting email that my office received just yesterday from Paddy McGuinness totally humourless and menacing in its intent. There is an attempt to intimidate my staff I am a little bit concerned about this, Mr Deputy Speaker. I bring it to the attention of the parliament and I would ask you, on behalf of the parliament, to notify security that, if they see a sinister figure dressed all in black with a big white beard and carrying a copy of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, they might want to take the appropriate action.” Vaclav Klaus missed out this time.

McGuinness was back in touch with Cooney come Friday:

“Your boss is getting madder and madder every day. The Labor Left are laughing their heads off at him, and the Right is extremely embarrassed.

“Now he claims that I am threatening you when I give you good advice! And simply proves that it is good advice.

“Can you persuade him to take me to the Privileges Committee? Should be fun.”

It should be fun indeed. But the McGuinness campaign isn’t the only one Latham has been running.

On Monday, the Crikey sealed section made a reference to Latham and he was soon up on his feet making a personal explanation and a reference to “Andrew Parker’s column in something called crikey.com”.

Parker, a lobbyist and former staffer, is just one of the names along with Greg Barns, David Gazard, Bill Royce and, more recently, Christian Kerr often bandied about as the figure behind Hillary Bray. He isn’t.

Being tagged as Hillary could damage Parker professionally, so he reacted like everyone else who’s bagged under privilege. Despite being overseas, he got in touch with Latham the following day and asked him to clarify things:

“Dear Mark,

“I left a message with your office and thought I would email you with some comments following me being named as the author of some/part or all of the crikey.com web site.

“I am not sure what I have done to deserve it, but your comment is absolutely wrong, Mark.

“In fact, it is damaging to me as a business person who deals in the world of government, politics and media. What’s worse, it is cheap shot that wasn’t worth mentioning. Defend yourself sure, but why bring me into this issue when you know – given there is not a sliver of evidence – that I have nothing to do with this web site. Why repeat unsubstantiated gossip?

“Maybe it was just a throw away line – but Mark it does me considerable damage and is plainly untrue. I am not and never have been Hilary (sic) Bray or Crikey. I run a business of 23 people – ALP and Libs – and don’t have a spare second, let alone the time to write a web page each day.

“Hopefully you will consider this and correct the record. It would certainly be appreciated.

“Regards,

“Andrew

“P.S. Below is what I sent to Crikey today.”

“Dear Stephen,

“Greetings from Europe, where anti-American sentiment wins elections…

“I’d appreciate if you would run the following words in reply to the goings-on I’ve read about this morning (your afternoon).

“Many thanks.”

“Stephen,

“Thank you for response to what Mark Latham said in the House about me/Hilary et al. I appreciate the correction.

“For the record, repeating the very words of the publisher, I, Andrew Parker, am not Hilary Bray and never have been. I have just called Mark Latham – from the northern hemisphere where I am working this week – to say as much. Having left a message, I figure it easiest to reply directly to Crikey. I’ll also email Mark to request he make a correction.

“Labelling me – or the dozen or so others consistently named as Hilary – is the easiest hit and run of all. No proof, no evidence – just brand ’em as Ms Bray and drive on. Mark did not call me before using Coward’s Castle to say what he said. So as plainly as I can, Mark and dear crikey.com readers, you’ll need to move on to your next target in the search for the Holy Grail (no pun intended), because as the publisher says, as I say and the lack of any evidence says – I am not Hilary Bray.

“Andrew Parker”

Now, eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that Parker can’t even spell Hillary the way two-L Hillary spells it. That’s a sign of innocence, to begin with. But Latham didn’t correct the record. Instead he responded:

“G’day Andrew, your over-reaction gives you away. I do have evidence from one of your co-authors but naturally, he wishes to remain anonymous. I’m sure you’ll understand. You’ve had a pretty good run with this caper. Don’t be too precious. From your email you’d think I’d just outed you as the Boston Strangler. Give my best to all the other Wets online and for fuck’s sake, how about winning a few debates inside the Government, not just through Crikey.

“(Iron)Mark. ”

Parker like yours truly wasn’t sure about Latham’s “evidence”, and responded:

“Mate you are just going to have to believe me – no evidence exists because I ain’t ever contributed. I’ll buy you a meal when I get back and put this beyond any matter of doubt.”

Now, it just happened that the regular Hillary column was in a day late last week, as I’d been working on another Crikey project. It began with an attack on PC fanatics, so I said it was late as I’d been off in London joining the protest against New Labour’s hunt ban sop to the left. That really got Latham’ cogs whizzing:

“Mere coincidence? Earlier this week you tell my office that you are in London, plus give Crikey your ‘greetings from Europe’ then Hillary Bray starts his latest column with ‘Sorry for being late, yours truly was in London over the weekend.’ Looks like a case of hit wicket at Lord’s.

“Best, Iron Mark.”

So, what are the cumulative affects of all these Latham obsessions? They mean everyone is asking the McGuinness question.

Drunk or insane?

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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