The ALP’s new sensation is commanding a lot of media attention so we’ve packaged up our recent sealed section material for subscribers on Mark Latham.

LABOR DUMPS MICROSOFT WORD

Feb 6 sealed section

It is good to see Mark Latham believes in accountability as he’s just given Bill Gates and Microsoft Word the sack after earlier versions of his National Conference speech were examined by the world at large.

This message from Mark Latham’s office has just gone out to Labor offices:

“Please be advised, we will not be attaching word documents of our email releases in the future. The release will be presented as text in the body of the email. If you require a copy of the word document they will be saved on the L Drive under the relevant portfolio which all staff should be able to access.

Kind regards,
Maree Edwards
Media Officer
Office of Mark Latham

IRON MARK’S LARRIKIN LAFFS – AND LESSON

Everyone laughed when Iron Mark joshed on the weekend at the closing press conference of the successful Labor National Conference that he’d sell Kirribilli House and live in the Lodge.

He’d been so on-message since he became Labor leader – and here was the Latham of old with a beautiful line clearly designed just to needle the Prime Minister.

But look at the response. Mike Gibson told Iron Mark’s beloved Westies on 2WS that if it was sold, some rich Asian would probably buy it – the people who are supposed to be the salt of the earth in Latham’s eyes.

By Monday he was saying Kirribilli House was a valuable public asset.

“It’s valuable public land so you’d want to keep it in good public use so that it’s more accessible to the people of Australia who own it,” Latham told NSW Central Coast radio SeaFM.

“It’s a heritage site, it’s valuable public land on Sydney Harbour.

“The state government certainly wouldn’t want it sold, I wouldn’t want it sold.”

Still, he copped talkback flak for the gag throughout the week, according the shiny suit brigade from Rehame and their regular wrap of phone-in comment. Everyone played it straight.

And no doubt Iron Mark has learned that that’s how he will have to play his role as Opposition Leader. How does he maintain his originality and avoid becoming just another packaged pol? How will he stand out and stake his claim to be Prime Minister?

Ah. If it was obvious, don’t you think Peter Costello would have done it already?

LATHAM A HIT WITH THE JEWISH COMMUNITY

The Australian Jewish community seems to be warming to Mark Latham – if this week’s Australian Jewish News is any guide.

The AJN splashed the cover with a report on the ALP coming to a consensus on the “potentially divisive question of the Middle East” at the National Conference and going a significant way to repairing the discord between “certain sections of the party and the Jewish community”.

Read the full report here: http://ajn.com.au/pages/current-paper/national-01.html

The editorial was also very positive, stating:

“At a private Jewish gathering in Sydney last week, Latham impressed his audience with his knowledge of the Middle East, his understanding of the conflict and his empathy for Israel’s right to exist and to repel suicide bombers.”

“It is hoped that the current positive relationship between Labor and the Jewish community becomes an enduring feature of Latham’s leadership.”

Read the full editorial here: http://ajn.com.au/pages/current-paper/editorial-01.html

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IS LAURIE OAKES CALLING TIME ON JOHN HOWARD?

Feb 5 sealed section

John Howard claims that nobody has ever rattled him in politics but he couldn’t have enjoyed having all his greatest personal insecurities laid out for all the world to see in Laurie Oakes’ latest Bulletin column – “Cometh the hour, cometh Costello”.

We’ve waited a long time for the Oakes view of Latham and he has done a huge backflip from the position he took late last year saying he was a political mug who had been out-classed by Treasurer Peter Costello.

With all the Sunday morning political shows back this week except for Aunty’s Insiders, we’re hoping Latham will be in the chair with Laurie before Parliament resumes next week.

The Sphere of Influence wrote the following in The Bulletin:

“The surge Labor has gained under a new, young leader seriously calls into question Howard’s decision last July to stay on for another election. The way voters have responded to Mark Latham’s elevation vindicates the generational change argument that saw caucus ditch both Simon Crean and Kim Beazley. The zing Labor got from the change could have been the government’s if Howard had facilitated a properly managed transition to Peter Costello. Now it is too late. ‘They’ve been snookered,’ says a long-time observer of the Canberra fray.”

“There is worried muttering in Liberal ranks about the contrast between a 42-year-old opposition leader and a 64-year-old prime minister. The unflattering way one disgruntled Coalition MP puts it is that ‘Howard looks more and more like a cranky old man trying to hang onto his job’.”

Oakes also revealed some influential Liberals believe the “youth” issue has to be tackled:

“They see Costello as embodying both youth and experience, and for that reason are likely to urge that he take an even more prominent role in the run-up to the election than is usual for a deputy. Equal billing almost. There is also a school of thought developing that Howard should stop fudging on the issue of retirement and announce that he will be stepping down early in the next term. That way, it is argued, voters will at least get the message that generational change is on the way in the Liberal Party as well.”

Is it finally time for Howard to go? Oakes usually has his finger on the Canberra pulse.

Read the rest of his interesting column here: http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/EdDesk.nsf/All/2A7DEE849390DB15CA256E2E00079DE4

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PUNCTURING MARK LATHAM

Feb 3 sealed section

A subscriber writes:

“Was Iron Mark born in Hope, Arkansas and is his middle name Jefferson? He is sounding more and more like a cross between Ronald Reagan and Billy C. It seems to me that Howard is floundering. Beazley and Crean were static targets. Latham is not. Howard should have gone last year.”

W-e-l-l, there is a Hope Street in Penrith. But is that part of the great western suburbs, home of the salt of the earth, or Tory territory nowadays?

Anyway, it might be premature to start writing the Prime Minister’s obituary quite yet.

Yes, he could have bowed out on top back in June last year and become the only PM other than Ming not to get the boot or die in harness. However, he didn’t.

Iron Mark got a dream run last week at the Labor Party National Conference, but that was only a sideshow. The real game doesn’t begin until this time next week when Parliament resumes.

The election won’t be for six months, minimum. There’s plenty of time to puncture the Labor leader.

And while everyone’s being very polite at the moment, it’s important not to forget two crucial facts:

1. Simon Crean was completely f*cking useless; and

2. Latham doesn’t need to be anything other than poor to average to come across as much, much better.

Indeed, so useless was Crean that many in the media couldn’t help themselves. They were, er, unrestrained in their commentary.

There’s a feeling in some sections of the Labor Party that certain journos, particularly those from News Limited, went in just a little too hard.

Perhaps they are now feeling guilty – or at least that they need to cover their backsides.

And perhaps last week’s hype was just compensating.

PS Poll pundits, if you want to plot the path of the next election using a pendulum with built in demographic information for each electorate, click on http://www.mumble.com.au/federal/pend04/allpends.htm

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RED KERRY AND IRON MARK

Feb 2 sealed section

A subscriber writes:

“What is it with Kerry O’Brien and Mark Latham? After his bizarre and petulant performance just after Latham was made leader he did it again last night, with the sort of carping interview that just makes the interviewer look bad.

Trying to extract an admission the ALP Conference is as much a publicity vehicle as a real engine of policy was hardly something to spend half the interview on, since any person with half a brain understands no political party wants to have its fights in the open. So too his refusal to concede the constraints the Budgetary process places on Oppositions in terms of policy detail.

The average 7:30 Report viewer knows the rules of the game, so trying to get Latham to spell them out was a total waste of time. Mightn’t a question about the Hutton Report have been in order? Some interrogation of Labor’s position on the FTA? Questions about the substance of the refugee policy, not just its politics? Maybe the startling conversion of the Murdoch media to the ALP cause?

It’s not his job to give the guy an easy ride but last night was both weird and slightly ridiculous. Does he have some personal beef with Latham? Or is he still pissed off over being given the flick last year on Latham’s ascension? And why would Latham bother going back if Kerry can’t find something substantial to ask him? Any thoughts amongst your readers?

JB”

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MEDIA PLAYING LATHAM CATCH-UP

Jan 31 sealed section

Hugo Kelly looks at the wash-up to a high-spirited ALP National Conference which Crikey actually invested in covering by sending our longest serving contributor to Sydney for:

“As far as I know, nobody remotely thought before his win that Latham would be this sort of leader.”

Paul Kelly’s admission in yesterday’s Australian says what you need to know about the media’s ecstatic reaction to the rise of ‘The Australian Latham Party’. They didn’t see it coming – and so, of course, nobody saw it coming.

Not quite right, of course. Latham has showed clear leadership qualities if the gallery cared to observe, especially since his re-elevation to the frontbench by Simon Crean two years ago. Simon Crean. Remember him? He put much of the policy framework in place that Latham is now taking advantage of in his spectacular leadership honeymoon.

But the gallery heavyweights chose to listen to the Labor roosters who misinterpreted Latham’s energy, passion and ability to tell a compelling story in the language of the people. No, Latham was mad, bad and dangerous to know.

But wasn’t that how the Coalition characterised Paul Keating during his wilderness years?

But now Latham is the hot story, and the media is scrambling to catch up with the story they missed all along. Check out Kelly’s piece here: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,8538647%5E28737,00.html

The Government is experiencing a similar feeling of surprise and unease at the rise of the Lord of the Rungs. John Howard’s ham-fisted attempts last week to combat Latham reminded one respected gallery member of the spell John Hewson cast on Bob Hawke. The Silver Bodgie was unable to lay a glove on Fightback, a potent weapon when wielded by a younger, more energetic political foe.

But when former Treasurer Keating knocked over Hawke, suddenly the field of battle was levelled, and it was Hewson who panicked and lost his grip on the “unloseable election”.

There’s a similar inter-generational battle at hand now, with Latham – the tall, young, energetic streetfighter – comfortably swatting away a Coalition attack led by Howard – a short, balding, pedantic old man.

The PM must be hoping Melanie Howard and her new preppy husband are using effective birth control; God help his chances in the image stakes if he becomes a grandfather sometime in the next ten months. Turning 65 in July is bad enough.

Interestingly, Latham’s office is painting their man as a sort of John Howard for the 21st century. “He’s a conviction politician in the Howard mould – except a generation younger,” goes the off-the-record line.

And except that where Howard is a manager, Latham is a wrecker. Sorry, “a reformer”. That’s the line his media operators, led by ex-SBS and Radio National talking head Vivian Schenker and ex-NRMA headkicker Alex Sanchez are taking – and very successfully.

Not that they need do much spinning. The meeja’s lapping up every one of Latham’s zany ideas, repeating, spellbound, his regular incantations of his “from a log cabin to the White House” life story, and how it informs the detail of his dental health policy.

For goodness sake, the media ran around getting quotes for the sale of Kirribilli on Sunday, when Latham tossed up the idea in his last presser of the conference. Prices ranged from a conservative low of $60 million, to $100 million-plus.

Latham first raised the idea a few weeks ago of selling off the PM’s official residence as a perfect way of drawing attention to John Howard’s contempt of Canberra and his official residence there, The Lodge. Privately, at least one colleague was alarmed, and warned him off. Better to play it safe, he counselled.

Naturally, Latham ignored the advice, and went in boots first. A strategy that is so far paying huge dividends.

CAN HOWARD’S MEEJA BATTLERS STOMACH THE FIGHT?

John Howard’s media stormtroopers have so far failed dismally to successfully rally the cause against a resurgent Labor under Mark Latham.

Poor old Piers Akerman was relegated to page 32 of Saturday’s Tele and writes like a man who is still smarting from Latham’s claims in Coward’s Castle that Akerman took illicit drugs. Check out his full Sunday Tele column here: http://www.sundaytelegraph.news.com.au/story/0,9353,8548945-28783,00.html

Christopher Pearson resorted to a nasty dose of quotation-theft in yesterday’s Australian in an attempt to smear Latham.

Pearson, the rotund former Howard speechwriter who has been rewarded for his loyalty with a seat on the SBS Board, recycled a smear sheet put out by Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews, containing anti-Latham quotes from his Labor colleagues. Check his piece out here: http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,8537031%255E7583,00.html

Stuffing his story with no fewer than 15 quotes from the Andrews document, Pearson did his best to dump over Latham. The result was a column full of re-heated vignettes looking just a little desperate.

Almost as desperate as the original Andrews document itself. While calling itself the “Who’s Who Guide to the ALP Conference”, it contains not a jot of information unavailable in the public domain. Presumably the work of an intern in Tony Abbott’s office, it’s on the Coalition propaganda page here:

http://www.laborconferencewatch.com

Over at the Sunday Herald Sun, former Howard fan Andrew Bolt had a dollar each-way: “I don’t say Latham has the policies, smarts or appeal to win an election. But I do say Howard looks like a man who’s run out of things to say.” A bit like Bolt, himself.

The Sunday Hun devoted three times as much coverage to Saturday’s Flemington races than the ALP conference – or as Mark Latham described it yesterday, with the barest hint of a smile: “The supreme policy-making forum for the Australian Labor Party”.

Andrew Bolt was more savage on Latham in a vignette in Friday’s paper: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/common/story_page/0,5478,8534325%255E25717,00.html

Bolt’s boss, Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden, has long been a union-hating Liberal-backing editor so it was not surprising to see his Saturday editorial pour some cold water on Latham-mania: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/common/story_page/0,5478,8538370%255E24218,00.html

But the accompanying piece by chief political reporter Michael Harvey suggested he was also impressed by Iron Mark and the atmospherics at the National Conference.

WHAT THE LATHAM LOVERS ARE SAYING

Have you ever seen the Canberra press pack give an opposition leader as big a run as Mark Latham got these past three days. It has been truly extraordinary.

Matt Price summed it up as follows in the Sunday Tele: “Mark Latham delivered his ‘mighty crusade’ speech and the moutainous coverage and commentary has, in the main, been extraordinarily positive.”

Naturally you would expect former Labor politicians to be effusive in print but Stephen Loosely’s Sunday Telegraph piece is still well worth a read: http://www.sundaytelegraph.news.com.au/story/0,9353,8548946-28783,00.html

He called it as follows:

“Latham’s performance at this week’s National Conference was the most decisive by a Federal Labor leader in Opposition since E.G. Whitlam at Launceston in 1971. He has put his seal on the Party Platform.”

This next line was a little harder to believe:

“Among ALP sympathisers, there was more optimism at Wednesday night’s function than at any such gathering since April, 1983, when newly elected PM Bob Hawke addressed Sydney’s business community at the Regent Hotel.”

Annabel Crabb had a different line in The Age reporting that Latham annoyed some business guests by not “doing the tables” at the pre-conference dinner and was becoming remote with a new mobile number and far less frequent media doorstops than Simon Crean.

Mike Seccombe at least went to the trouble of reminding SMH readers how average Latham was before he assumed the leadership but other than that his piece would have pleased Iron Mark: http://smh.com.au/articles/2004/01/30/1075340842581.html

And Alan Ramsey dissected the media tactics employed by John Howard and Peter Costello this week, making them look shallow, worried and manipulative: http://smh.com.au/articles/2004/01/30/1075340844370.html

Michelle Grattan, AO, also appears to be another Latham convert: http://theage.com.au/articles/2004/01/31/1075340890718.html

Her Age colleague Shaun Carney took a different path suggesting that John Howard and Mark Latham are in fact very similar: http://www.theage.com.au/text/articles/2004/01/30/1075340840830.html

HILLARY BRAY AND WENDY WEDGE ON IRON MARK

Contrary to Hugo Kelly and most of the media, Hillary Bray is not much impressed with Iron Mark and explains why here: http://www.crikey.com.au/politics/2004/02/01-0004.html

Our very own wedge politics expert Wendy Wedge has also weighed into the debate pointing out that Labor’s approach of laughing at the PM is very effective: http://www.crikey.com.au/columnists/2004/02/01-0001.html

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HUGO KELLY ON THE LATHAM’S LOVEFEST

Jan 30 sealed section

Crikey’s roaming reporter, Hugo Kelly, reports from Darling Harbour that the shadow of Rupert Murdoch hangs over Labor’s national conference.

John Howard’s aspirational voters in Labor’s former heartland of Western Sydney woke up this morning to a new message: Mark Latham is on the rise, and it’s no longer dangerous to vote for the ALP.

The Daily Tele’s front page splash featured a huge photo of Latham giving the thumbs up, garnished with flattering words and the bold strapline: “Labor 2004 – Latham’s vision for power.”

Inside, the paper’s political correspondent Malcolm Farr dissected the “draft speech” blunder in detail – but who reads page eight of the Tele on their way to work on the Hurstville line?

The overall impression given to Tele readers was overwhelmingly favourable for Latham and Labor. The only real voice of dissent was poor old Piers Akerman, relegated to 15 whingeing pars on page 32, not unlike Andrew Bolt’s predictable whinge in the Herald Sun.

While less triumphant, Rupert’s broadsheet could hardly have been less positive. “Mark Latham has promised to forge a new social compact, commiting a future Labor government to rebuilding Medicare,

a new deal for education and an Australian republic,” gushed The Australian’s chief political reporter Steve Lewis, next to a big pic of Latham energetically throwing his hands around.

The positive energy generated at this conference amongst a previously demoralised Labor faithful is palpable. Goodwill reverberates through the cavernous white elephant that is the Darling Harbour Convention Centre – a centre built by the Wran state Labor government at scandalous cost to taxpayers under the direction of Laurie Brereton, who has been schmoozing the delegates here like a fender strat in his new capacity as Lathgm facilitator.

And the media drums are beating, feeding off that energy. The momentum generated by the universal wave of positive media coverage should not be underestimated. Especially when it’s countersigned,

Rupert Murdoch.

Will Labor’s 2004 National Conference be remembered as the long weekend that cranked Labor’s rusty engine into noisy life – and propelled Mark Latham into office?

Or will he yet go the way of Howard Dean – a fresh, dynamic face on the political scene who travelled like a winner, before cruelling his chances with the finishing line in sight?

Certainly the True Believers were ready and eager to hear Latham’s message; and even prepared to pretend the massive rift dividing the party over refugees and free trade can be hosed down and dealt with some time in the future.

Presumably after Latham leads them to victory in an October/November general election.

Excitable frontbencher Julia Gillard was swanning around with a leaked Health Department memo instructing bureaucrats and Coalition pollies how to celebrate the upcoming birthday of Medicare.

Public servants read the papers too. They have been supressed by Howard’s attack dogs for seven years now. Will they become emboldened by the Latham zeitgeist, and start leaking better quality stuff to

Labor frontbenchers?

The conference will focus this afternoon on asylum seekers. All but the most naìve Labor for Refugees activists had conceded by lunchtime that their amendments to Latham’s draft platform were doomed.

Their lightening rod of dissent, new ALP President Carmen Lawrence, no longer has a dead duck leader to batter around the head with the issue. The ascent of Labor’s new strongman has doused her appetite for a fight.

While everyone is trying their best to be civil, some ideological battles are still being fought: Delegates witnessed a feisty exchange late yesterday between Bob Carr and union cold warrior Doug Cameron.

Cameron accused the premiers, and trade enthusiast Stephen Conroy, of salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the idea of free trade. “The elite drool from every orifice at the thought of a free trade deal with the

US. The Premiers are even worse. I reckon there’s some Pavlovian science going on here.”

Striding on to the stage, fresh from eight days in Davos, Bob Carr responded to Cameron’s proposed “fair trade” change to the platform: “The amendment has got North Korea stamped all over it,” he

bellowed, to jeers from the TCF crowd. “The amendment is a beautiful song of praise to a closed economy…it deserves to be defeated.”

Back in the real world, Howard’s decision to call a doorstop presser at The Lodge yesterday with – ostensibly – nothing on the agenda was not the action of a relaxed and comfortable man. His claim today that Latham is a truth-bender was an interesting one. “When you get to the detail, this man is very sloppy with the truth,” claimed the PM.

Jungian analysts call this kind of behaviour a “projection”. Bob McMullin was telling any journalist who’d listen today that these were clear signs the PM is rattled.

It takes a lot more than a one-day media splash to rattle Howard. But well before he picked up his copy of the Tele this morning, he knew he had one hell of a fight on his hands.

If Latham can keep up the momentum and combine the combustible political rhetoric of Keating with the consensus approach of Hawke, he will prove a formidable foe. Everyone at this conference knows it, the media knows it – and the public re-education process is only just beginning.

GREAT MINDS? PROBABLY NOT.

When you put a hundred journos in a room and let them loose to cover a major political convention, you’re bound to get some overlap. But were today’s comment pieces by the SMH’s Mark Riley and The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan a case of great minds thinking alike?

Riley started his Page one piece with: “In the space of two short months the ALP has gone from the Australian Losers’ Party to the Australian Latham Party.”

Shanahan opened up on page five with: “In just eight weeks the Australian Labor Party has become the Australian Latham Party”.

Oh dear. Shanahan’s is the better piece. Read it here:http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,8531031%5E2702,00.html

We look forward to some media diversity in tomorrow’s papers.

 

Peter Fray

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