When are you apologising to Christine Jackman, Mark?

Former frontbencher and Dennison MP Duncan Kerr had some interesting comments to make on Seven Sunrise this morning.

He said Mark Latham’s staff should have put out a statement following the Indian Ocean tsunami to prevent the issue “blowing up” in the media, that they should have dealt with the issue earlier to avoid speculation over his future as party leader.

“I think his staff, if there was an error of judgment, his staff should have put out a statement indicating that he was – like all of us – enormously distressed about the tsunami but he was sick and not in a position to be publicly available,” he said.

“I think that would have seen that issue not blow up as it did.”

Well, d’oh, Dunc! And boos and hisses to Sunrise for not asking the logical follow up question, “But isn’t Mark Latham notorious for not listening to his staff?”

On November 21, Cameron Stewart and Christine Jackman published a lengthy piece in The Weekend Australian that pulled no punches on Iron Mark’s election efforts. Its title and the lead in it all: “Losing It. Late in the election campaign, alarm bells were ringing among Labor strategists as their leader showed worrying signs on disengagement. In the definitive account, Cameron Stewart and Christine Jackman reveal how Mark Latham lost it.”

It opened with the story of how a family barbecue campaign photo op at a park in Parramatta towards the end of the campaign got canned by the Labor leader:

“According to sources travelling with the leader and at Labor’s campaign HQ, Latham woke that morning and decided he did not want to attend a barbecue, regardless of how many supporters had been invited. Nor did he want to speak about families or easing the squeeze.

“ ‘The word came back that Mark had woken up and decided to talk about Kirribilli House instead,’ a senior member of Labor’s campaign strategy group recalls. ‘So that was the end of our opportunity to talk about tax and family benefits.’

“Says another: ‘We were like: What?! Why do you actually get the most experienced campaigners in the country nutting these things out and then on a whim change your mind about it…’

“To Labor insiders, the barbecue incident was a microcosm of all that was wrong with Latham and his campaign.

“Latham had all but rejected the party’s vast campaign machinery. The rookie leader was running his campaign the way he wanted it — on gut instinct alone. He had become a one-man show, dictating his daily message, his media opportunities and his campaign strategy. Labor’s small army of strategists and advisers had been pushed aside. They had become the ALP campaign’s fringe dwellers…”

How did Latham react? He launched an axe job on Jackman – who, of course, is close to The Australian’s editor Chris Mitchell. Have a look at the Hansards from November 30 and December 2.

First Jackman copped a going over under privilege in the Adjournment Debate from the little known Labor Member for Lowe in New South Wales, Latham lemming John Murphy, under the guise of a speech on “media ownership”.

Murphy referred to The Weekend Australian article: “It opened with a claim that during the federal election the Leader of the Opposition cancelled a barbecue for families that was planned for the seat of Parramatta and went elsewhere that day to make an announcement. The first point I make to the House tonight is that this claim is false. Further, I have spoken with a number of people from my electorate who attended the barbecue and who spoke with Mr Latham…”

Jackman contacted him – and on December 2 Latham got to his feet with allegation Jackman intimidated his office and a Murphy over the story.

Latham and Murphy told parliament they believed their duty as MPs had been affected by telephone calls from Jackman.

The pair said the calls followed complaints about The Weekend Australian report and a letter to the editor from Latham’s office stating their account of the barbecue yarn.

“A senior member of my staff received a threatening telephone call from Ms Christine Jackman, a journalist with The Australian,” Latham said.

“She issued a number of threats in an attempt to unreasonably influence my conduct as a member of parliament, trying to force me to take action against one of my parliamentary colleagues, the member for Lowe,” Latham told parliament.

“I regard the suggested action as totally unnecessary and improper. I believe that privilege has been breached in regard to myself and my colleague.”

The claim was duly referred to the Privilege Committee. The Oz released a statement saying it was “surprised” by Murphy’s and Latham’s allegations.

Given what we’ve seen of Latham judgement – and the judgement of Labor’s senior staff – over the last few weeks, is he now going to apologise? Is he going to withdraw the reference to Privileges?

Unlikely – as his current woes all stem from a refusal to admit any sign of weakness, from his decision to try and conceal the recurrence of his pancreatitis.

However, just as many Labor MPs have concerns about Latham’s judgement now, at least three Caucus members the – including a wannabe leader – were concerned enough to discuss the Jackman attacks with a very high ranking member of staff at The Australian.

Crikey understands that Julia Gillard, Penny Wong and Wayne Swan all raised the matter with Michael Stutchbury.

No wonder the comrades are getting ready to roll their lame duck leader.

Peter Fray

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