While many journalists will be urged by their Labor Party contacts to dismiss The Latham Diaries
as the ravings of an embittered madman, we shouldn’t forget one thing:
Mark Latham is making a major contribution to the collective public
knowledge of Australian politics.

The contrast between the image
projected by Latham and his former colleagues last year with what we
are being told now shows how much spin and deception there really is in
politics. We were all duped.

As an old spinner in the Kennett
Government media unit, I used to operate on the following rule of
thumb: If you assume the collective knowledge of the MPs, their staff
and senior bureaucrats represented 100% of knowledge about Victorian
state politics, how much did the public know? I reckon it’s as low as
5%. The state political journalists would collectively have known 10%
but they only tell the public about half of what they know, if that.

The
12-strong Kennett media unit would have perhaps known about 30 per cent
of what was really happening and then you go up into the advisers,
Cabinet and bureaucracy who all collectively knew more than the press
secretaries. Is this era of spin, where there are twice as many PR
professionals as journalists in Australia, the public is often left in
the dark.

Which means that anything that suddenly gives the
public greater knowledge about the inner working of key personalities
in politics should be welcomed. Sure, it’s bad news for the ALP – but
it’s good news for the public. While many of the insults are
gratuitous, we now have a far deeper insight into the federal ALP, and
if the ugly disclosures can trigger some reforms, then that would also
be a good thing.

Information is power in the modern age, so
anything that increases disclosure is to be welcomed, although with
Latham there are doubts about the accuracy of some of his claims.

As
someone who has burnt plenty of bridges, I know more than most what
it’s like to upset former friends and colleagues with public
disclosures. However, the alternative would have been keeping the
public in the dark and sweeping unpleasant revelations under the
carpet, all in the name of maintaining some personal allegiances.
Staying mates with someone like Terry McCrann would have been to
condone his appalling sycophancy when it comes to abusing his editorial
responsibilities by blatantly pushing the Murdoch family’s commercial
interests.

Ratting on your mates is regarded as a sin in
Australia, but if your mates have done the wrong thing and the ratting
merely comprises a truthful public disclosure of some relevant
information, then it should be encouraged.

Yes, Latham is
committing the single greatest dummy spit in Australian political
history. But you should also remember that he possesses a lot of
sensitive information which he is putting into the public domain. There
is a strong public interest in this so journalists, who make a living
from public disclosure, should welcome The Latham Diaries for what they tell us that we didn’t know before.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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