Christian Kerr wrote the following piece on 5 January. Since then it has emerged that Latham has been laid up with a relapse of his pancreatitis – but perhaps the public should have been told that earlier?
From the January 5 subscriber email
Labor heavies will admit – off the record, on the QT and very hush-hush – that they have taken a calculated risk to renew and recycle their federal leader by keeping him out of media until Parliament returns next months. It’s a gamble that might have gone terribly, terribly wrong.
The idea was sound – pull Latham during the silly season, give him a rest and let him look like a cleanskin when business as usual resumed in Canberra. Now, it appears that Mark Latham might end up being the highest profile Australian tsunami victim.
Yesterday the political buzz really got going. Had Labor been swamped by the Asian tsunamis? Where was the Opposition? Kevin Rudd rose to the occasion today with a characteristically dull but competent op-ed in The Australian.
However, in the same paper, Sam Maiden swept over the political landscape as brutally as any tidal wave with a yarn headed “Latham a ‘no-show’”.
“Mark Latham has failed to respond to Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer’s offer of a formal briefing on the tsunami tragedy and confirmed yesterday he had no immediate plans to interrupt his four-week summer holiday,” she wrote.
“The Labor leader, who has maintained a public silence on the disaster, was offered a briefing by Mr Downer’s office over the weekend.
“In a pointed barb at Mr Latham, the Foreign Affairs Minister said this week the offer remained on the table, but is now ‘up to them’ to respond to…”
Downer’s office has clearly given Maiden a bast*rd of a brief on the subject – but Labor’s response to the disaster has been feeble. Last night the only mention of the matter on the ALP website was a limp list of links from National Secretary Tim Gartrell.
If you checked Google News at the same time, about the only new yarn you would have found on the Labor leader was the yarn from last weekend that said voters are almost evenly split between Mark Latham and Kim Beazley on the question of who should lead the Labor Party.
“Nearly three months after the federal election, an exclusive Sunday Telegraph/Galaxy poll has revealed that former leader, Mr Beazley, now on the backbench again, remains the most obvious alternative Labor leader,” Tony Vermeer wrote.
“Twenty six per cent of respondents said he was the best choice to lead the ALP, compared to just 28 per cent for the present leader, Mr Latham…”
Latham, of course, got hit by a different sort of tidal wave back on October 9. He’s been clinging to the wreckage since then, but three months is a long time to hang on. Will he be able to keep his grip through this buffeting? The buzz around Canberra is that he’s already dead in the water.
The Tsunami – Mark Latham speaks!
Well, actually no. The alternative Prime Minister is still enjoying his holiday. But Labor’s acting leader, Chris Evans, did release a statement this afternoon welcoming the PM’s announcement of a national day of mourning to acknowledge the victims of the Tsunami disaster.
For those wondering who Chris Evans is, he is Labor’s leader in the Senate and shadow minister for social security. One wonders if anyone else remains inside the Labor tent at the moment?
Deputy leader Jenny Macklin is on leave while Iron Mark enjoys his month off, apparently oblivious to his obligation to show some leadership and say something about the appalling tragedy unfolding in our region. Something. Anything.
From the January 6 subscriber edition
Political correspondent Christian Kerr writes:
Tsunamis move slowly. And so, it appears, does the Federal Opposition.
Yesterday, days after the subject first came under discussion, Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd urged the Prime Minister to put pressure on Burma’s military regime to provide more details about the impact of the tsunami in the country.
Rudd hung his comments on the Jakarta conference:
“As Mr Howard heads to Jakarta for the summit on the tsunami impact on the region, for him gently to raise with his ASEAN counterparts of which Burma is a member can apply some leverage on the regime in Rangoon to come clean with what precisely has occurred in the aftermath of the tsunami,” he said.
Nice try, Kruddy. It didn’t make up for the fact that the Labor Party seemed to have disappeared in the whirlpool of events after the tsunamis struck. The ALP were on the missing list, and Rudd’s disaster relief efforts seemed too little, too late.
Now we know that Mark Latham hasn’t been swamped by what has happened, but instead is unwell. That doesn’t excuse Labor’s actions. It simply compounds the strategic errors at the very top of the party.
Labor has a deputy leader, Jenny Macklin. She’s not much of a deputy, but she has the job description. A Google News search has her just offering these platitudes on December 27, “Labor’s Jenny Macklin says the opposition supports the Governments plans. Anything we can do to contribute to the relief effort of course is welcome,” on ABC Asia Pacific. Labor’s ALP homepage is blank.
Senator Chris Evans is acting Labor leader, but the tectonic plates of the party took so long to move that a formal statement from an Opposition leader – deputy, acting or otherwise – didn’t seem to appear until yesterday. Macklin, though, was commenting on her portfolio, higher education, during the period she was acting leader after the disaster struck – see ‘Uni fees price out foreign students’ or Medicine universities cost more as veterans get some relief – and is commenting on the subject today, even though she is supposedly on leave.
Labor has been on the missing list since the waves struck. We should have been told that Mark Latham was on the list of the injured, though, instead of being left to worry about where he was. Now that we know the conclusion is inescapable. When any of the current leadership team stick their hands up they’re drowning, not waving.
Latham has been sucked into the maelstrom. He can’t escape. Mark Latham is not only unfit physically. He is unfit to be opposition leader.