“It was stupid, immature and reckless, and no wonder the Tories keep raising it,” Latham writes in his diary, of the time he got up in Parliament and called John Howard’s favourite columnist at The Australian, Janet Albrechtsen, a “skanky ho.”

“I can’t apologise publicly because the reason for saying it was actually worse than what I said,” Mr Latham records at one point in his diary but he then goes on to explain what really happened elsewhere:

Last night, for instance, Jo Fox, one of Carmen Lawrence’s advisers, issued a challenge: to describe Albrechtsen, so heavily loathed by the Labor femocrats as ‘a skanky-ho who must die’.

I didn’t understand what ‘skanky ho’ meant; it sounded like more American rap rubbish to me. But I can’t say no to a challenge, that’s my problem. So, away I went this morning, slipping a line into my speech on the Financial Sector Legislation Amendment Bill, which attacked Malcolm Turnbull over the HIH collapse. I described dirty Janet as a ‘skanky ho who will die in a ditch to defend the Liberal Party’.

Hopeless. I used the wrong term, that’s how much I knew about it, so I had to alter the Hansard Greens this afternoon, changing ‘shanky’ to ‘skanky’. Maybe not a smart move, as it turns out this is the equivalent of calling someone a ‘filthy piece of rugby hot-box’. Outrageous when you think about it, not that many people noticed, just a couple of journalists, expertly deflected by Cooney.”

Was it a dare or a bet? What’s worse, Jo Fox was the senior staffer for Carmen who was Labor’s then spokeswoman for the status of women. Carmen had no involvement in the bet, and almost certainly had no knowledge of her staff member’s role in Latham’s remarks, possibly even until now.

Labor people have every right to be angry at Albrechtsen, every week she writes a relentlessly one-sided piece of anti-Labor abuse full of thinly disguised racism. But to call her a “skanky ho” simply allowed her to play the role of Tory martyr and elevate her to a level her writing has never warranted.

Peter Fray

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