It was a relaxed and upbeat Mark Latham who wondered into the ABC Melbourne studio at 4.10pm yesterday afternoon for a 20 minute chat with Crikey, who was filling in for the mystery woman that will eventually permanently replace Virginia Trioli on the Drive shift.

Given that no-one in the media has been more supportive of The Latham Diaries than me, it would have been churlish of Iron Mark to say no because he wasn’t due at Melbourne University to deliver his gloomy lecture until 6pm.

I came clean early on in the interview and admitted I was guilty of spreading the bogus bucks night video on Crikey. “Shame,” he said, as we quickly moved on.

Much of the chat focused on Latham’s relations with and criticisms of the media and specific journalists. However, after telling listeners that he had largely rejected interview requests from commercial media and shock jocks such as Alan Jones and John Laws to avoid “yet another slanging match,” Iron Mark suddenly popped up on MMM not long after finishing his chat with Aunty.

Latham also laughed off Strewth’s claim in The Australian on Wednesdaythat he had sought an opportunity to address the Press Club in a televised address. The item read as follows:

Latham presses his luck

MARK Latham is obviously a sucker for punishment and has a hide thicker than the late Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Latham has approached his publicists at Melbourne University Press to get him an invitation to speak at the Canberra Press Club. This would ensure he’d be televised nationally and receive yet more publicity. But what sort of publicity? Considering he’s bagged almost every journalist to ever say “hi”, he would be throwing himself holus-bolus into the lion’s den. He must think he’s the lion.

“Turn it up, as if I’d want to go down there, I’ve had my say, mainly through the ABC,” Latham responded. Don’t hold your breath for a Strewth correction and the clowns should also know that it is the National Press Club.

Latham didn’t deny pulling out of an appointment with Meet The Press after learning that Michelle Grattan and Glenn Milne, who he calls the “poisoned dwarf,” would be the two journalists firing off the questions along with host Paul Bongiorno. However, he specifically singled out Milne as being gutless in refusing to use one of his long columns to address the many criticisms of Milne’s work in the diaries. Latham cited his move to the backbench in 1998, when he claimed that Milne told him it was because he was about to be charged with sexual harassment and this had come from the Beazley camp. He takes Milne’s silence as confirmation it is true.

“You can tell the critics, because they are mentioned in the book,” Latham told ABC listeners, when asked why Laurie Oakes had not responded to 22 mentions but instead launched a vitriolic attack.

Latham also stuck by his contested Mark Arbib diary entry which reads as follows:

The focus group also showed that it’s popular to bash blacks: “You need to find new issues, like attacking land rights, get stuck into all that politically correct Aboriginal stuff – the punters love it.” Maybe he should have had lunch with Pauline Hanson, though not at Azuma’s.

Arbib claims Latham drank two bottles of red wine at the lunch, but Iron Mark responded: “I was recovering then from the pancreatitis attack in August last year. If I’d drunk two bottles of wine then, I can assure you Stephen, it probably would have killed me.”

It was actually Monday, November 1, so there’s one small error – he was out by two months and was supposed to have fully recovered from the pancreatitis attack by the time of the election and its immediate aftermath.

However, the other defence Latham invoked was Arbib’s offsider, Warren Mundine, being “out there challenging the land rights agenda” at the same time. “He wouldn’t be doing that unless Mark Arbib ticked it off.”

Latham’s comments on defamation were interesting. He said that virtually all of the hand-written diary entries were offered up to the publishers, but then “less than 10%” was removed for “prudent” legal reasons. He even specifically mentioned Malcolm Turnbull as a litigious character who had sued him before and was therefore not mentioned adversely.

Asked if Richard Butler and his first wife Gabrielle Gwyther were two individuals who were partly saved by the lawyers, Latham refused to be drawn, although last week’s Bulletin splash would suggest the latter is certainly true.

Latham also appeared on Lateline again last night in what was quite an aggressive exchange, as Tony Jones took a very strong line on the damage Latham was doing to people’s private lives and Latham responded that Jones and his sources should come out in the open and specifically challenge the facts.

Given that Maxine McKew, the regular stand-in host on Lateline, must be acutely embarrassed by the diaries, it is not altogether surprising that Jones is going in relatively hard. The private banter with Latham during our interview was polite and I tried to encourage him to stand for a few public company boards. “Why haven’t you run for PBL yet?” he asked.

He seemed very surprised to learn that John Gay only owned 5% of Gunns and the remaining 95% was wide open. “Good luck in getting on the Gunns board,” was his last observation as he headed off to his next engagement.

Imagine that, Iron Mark running for corporate boards. Stranger things have happened.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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