It’s make or break time and Mark Latham appears to have performed well
at the belated official Labor Party campaign launch in Brisbane.


Iron Mark’s modest proposals


Political editor Christian Kerr writes:


Steve
Bracks caused the biggest Australian electoral upset in 50 years when
he knocked off Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett in 1999 and the campaign
theme song was the Hunters & Collectors classic, Do you see what I see?

An
equally under-done and fresh-faced Federal Labor challenger wants to do
the same to another towering Liberal in this Federal contest, so it was
no surprise that Iron Mark Latham entered the Conservatorium of Music
at Griffith University this afternoon with the same song blasting out.

And
those with memories of the big spending Whitlam years will be muttering
“do you see what I see” as the son of Gough continues his love affair
with prudence.

Last night’s forecast that modesty would
be a key feature of the Labor launch today seems to have been spot on.
Maybe a little too accurate. What was that line of Churchill’s about
another Labour leader, Clem Atlee? “A modest little man, with plenty to
be modest about.” Latham almost strayed into this area.

Latham’s
modesty today prevented him from embracing prudence, although Medicare
Gold was a $3.7 billion splash and could be hugely expensive in the out
years. Will this make Australia the best place in the world to be grey?

There
was no sign of any aspiration to be a great reforming prime minister
and no real attack on Howard over his election spending spree. There
was no real rhetoric. He gave as a shortish speech and the PM was quick
to attack his lack of any mention on economic policy or interest rates.

Still,
it takes us back to our observation after the launch of Labor’s tax and
family payments policy, “Indeed, the Opposition Leader seemed to be
asking a question of the punters: What’s better – good, modest policies
or outrageous promises?”

This seems to be the Latham approach.
He made it clear early into his speech with the line “Trust the
people”. It contrasts nicely the Prime Minister’s “trust” lines – the
Prime Minister who is spending so much and promising so much.

Latham
made plausible promises. Low key, carefully targeted, plausible
promises. There was no John Howard scatter-gun and none of the John
Howard “we’ll spend x million over x years”.

That’s clever.
Latham knows you don’t need to let off $6 billion worth of fireworks at
once to create magic. A few simple sparklers still delight us. And
there are what we suppose we must call the character issues. He knows
he needs to be restrained – personally, as much as politically.

Hence
the modesty. That was good. Shame about the woodenness, though, which
will have some claiming that Mogadon Mark is back. Latham doesn’t need
a personal mute button. He only needs to adjust the balance. Ten days
out from the poll, it seems as if he still has to fax the sound issue.
He’s got a good tune – but is it getting out clearly?

The
early feedback seems good as Dennis Shanahan on ABC radio and Paul
Bongiorno on Ten’s 5pm news both gave his performance the thumbs up.

Laurie
Oakes also seemed positive on the 6pm news and flagged that John Howard
might copy the quarterly pension indexation announcement.


Wrinklies rejoice

Our man in the Press Gallery, Hugo Kelly, analyses the Latham launch:

John Howard hasn’t responded in substance to Mark Latham’s policy launch, but we can imagine what he’s going to announce:

*I’ll
trump Labor’s Medicare Gold Card with a Platinum Card giving frequent
flyer points rewards for voters with persistent medical conditions.
Rewards will include personal consultations with the Calition’s Dr
Feelgood, Tony Abbott;

*Labor’s $300 million dental scheme
doesn’t go nearly far enough. The Coalition’s ‘Happy Smile’ Program
will deliver free dentures to all Australians over 45. Whether they
need them or not;

*Aged pensions will be indexed daily, using a
calculator fashioned from the dusted-off remains of the Coalition’s
1996 Debt Truck.

It’s that kind of campaign. John Howard
continues to get away with mortgaging the nation’s future surpluses
with a shameless spending splurge, while Labor must make do with
prudent programs targeted as deftly as possible.

So what’s deft about throwing money at pensioners?

At
first blush, Latham’s clear and persistent pitch to old folk seemed a
little odd – after all, they would appear to be less likely swingers
than their baby boomer offspring.

But there’s the key. Latham’s
pitch was not just about the golden oldies – it’s about the Baby
Boomers. They’re worrying every day about what to do with their
doddering parents. Boosting grampa’s role as glorified baby sitters at
$20 a head is a start.

Giving them access to improved dental
health is better. Indexing their pension quarterly is handy. And
slapping them on the back and handing them a Medicare ‘Gold Card’ may
seal the deal for oldies and their aspirational offspring.

The personalities of today’s launch were just as interestsing as the politics.

Gough
Whitlam was there, of course. And so was the Silver Bodgie, p*ssing on
Whitlam’s historical record. Said Hawke: “Mark Latham has set the
agenda more than any Opposition leader in history..”

And there
was Paul Keating? Mr 17% interest rates kept out of the spotlight. No
emotional embrace and no Hawkie appearance in the video. As Laurie
Oakes points out today, Keating’s advice has been entirely subterranean
during the campaign – check out the Sphere of Influence’s Bulletin column here.

Latham
made sure to shake star candidate Peter Garrett’s hand. Decked out in
his ‘Sunday corporate’ look with checked shirt and blazer – and minder
Simon Balderstone by his side – Garrett will be wheeled out next for
Latham’s crucial Tasmanian forests policy launch.

The
unveiling of Janine Lacy was a masterstroke. She looked good, sounded
articulate and bright, and the news grabs will resonate strongly in
family-land.

His best line? On Howard: “I say to the Australian people, I’m ready to lead, he’s ready to leave.”

His
worst line? The eyeglazing attempt to sum up Labor’s tax plan in one
sentence: “Fairness, aspiration and participation”. Sounded like a
focus group on Mogadon.

Characterised by his closing lines
about how he’s grown, thanks to Janine and the boys, Latham’s pitch was
an attempt to answer voters’ two crucial unanswered questions in this
campaign:

1/ Who is Mark Latham?
2/ And why should we ditch Howard?

Whether voters will buy his call to arms for “the urgent need to change now” remains to be seen.

Janine and the boys’ love may have made him “a better man”.

But
do Australians believe that unless they support him, it “will be too
late to save Medicare”, “too late to increase bulk-billing and improve
our public hospital system”, “too late to solve the family debt crisis
and deliver tax relief for all Australian taxpayers”, “too late for the
security and safety of our nation”, “too late to shift policy and
resources to our part of the world, getting it right in Asia in the
fight against terror?”

Or will they buy Howard and Costello’s $12 billion bribe?


Latham looks to The Lodge
Subscriber email September 30

Our man in the press gallery, Hugo Kelly, reports from Eden-Monaro:

Did Mark Latham win Election 2004 yesterday? If atmospherics mean anything – and political history tells us they mean everything – the answer is yes.

Latham’s quietly compelling performance in Brisbane has changed the
election dynamics. You can’t pick up a paper throughout the nation
today without seeing the Latham family smiling back at you, promising
to look after your parents and never beat up any more taxi drivers.

John Howard’s response this morning has been to call Labor’s Medicare Gold a “hoax”.

Not good enough, John. He needs to demolish Latham’s vision, and it will take more than words.

Hard-headed political observers are now speculating that a Labor
mini-landslide is not out of the question. Look at the number of
Coalition marginal seats filled with elderly voters who will be tempted
by Mark Latham, family man: ten of them, all with more than 12% of
voters over 65.

The media now must turn its thoughts to what a Latham Government would
actually mean. Yesterday’s white bread speech was cleverly pitched over
the heads of the commentariat and the lobby groups, straight into
middle class lounge rooms.

There was no mention by Latham of tradition Labor constituents. Where
were the Aborigines, the migrants, the refugees – Labor’s paymasters,
the unions?

Latham has left the ideology to the Greens. He knows he’ll get their
preferences anyway, and in his world, ideology spells confusion,
division and trouble.

So in yesterday’s speech there were only vague nods to Labor’s traditional heartland:

“That’s the Australia I believe in:

* No matter where you come from, you should have the same chance to succeed in life.
* A society where we look out for each other, not just ourselves.
* And if someone falls, we pick them up and give them a second chance in life. No one gets left behind.”

Nice sentiment. But what does it mean, and what will a Latham government mean outside his white bread consituency?

Stand by for plenty of Saturday reads in the papers about the Latham
agenda. And surely, surely, it’s time for some heavy media artillery to
prise apart Howard’s Great Lie: That by spending ridiculous amounts of
taxpayers’ money into the future, the Coalition can guarantee lower
interest rates. Equally, there needs to be some serious scrutiny on the
affordability of Medicare Gold.

Over at Centrebet, the bookies have spoken. Labor’s odds have been
slashed overnight from $3.30 to $2.70. At better than 7/4 the old
money, this is still great value for punters.

CRIKEY: See item 9 for much more on the latest betting trends in the marginals.

*Disclosure: Hugo Kelly is a former
Labor staffer who has never voted ALP or Liberal in his life. His copy
was edited by former Liberal staffer Stephen Mayne who has voted for
both majors but usually ends up supporting whoever is in opposition.

Media drools for Medicare Gold

And Iron Mark’s play for the grey vote seemed to go down very well with the commentators this morning:

Paul Kelly (The Australian) – Potent strike into Howard’s heartland: “HOPE, urgency and Medicare Gold constitute Mark Latham’s now formidable assault on The Lodge.”

Michael Gordon (The Age) – Aiming at Howard’s heartland: “The Opposition Leader makes an audacious attempt to outflank the Prime Minister…”

Louise Dodson (SMH) – Old gold – it’s a Medicare miracle

Malcolm Farr (Daily Telegraph) – Grey power:
“MARK Latham yesterday played his boldest policy card of the campaign,
with a promise of free hospital care for all Australians aged 75 and
over and cheaper private health insurance for all others.”