first day of a series in which former Opposition Leader and diarist
Mark Latham answers questions from Crikey readers – unedited and

Craig Duckmanton: What really was the
deciding factor in your quitting politics – pancreatitis or the Labor
Party? If you had won, would you have quit based on the answer to the

Mark Latham: As the Diaries record, I left
because of a combination of health, family and political reasons. I’m
one of the few pollies to say that I wanted to spend more time with my
family and then actually do it. Come hell or high water (and even The
Lodge) I was out of there if I got sick again. I have no doubt that
retiring from politics has added years to my life, beautiful time spent
with the best family a man could hope for. You can’t beat that.


Shaun Micallef: Enjoying your diary enormously. Read out the
nice things in it on radio for a week (as a contrast to the other stuff
that the press were putting out there). Just wondered whether you got an
okay from Keating to quote the passages of private conversation you had
together. I ask this given your perfectly justifiable lambast of the
press for invading your own privacy?

Mark Latham: I’m
glad you enjoyed the book Shaun. And yes, like most parts of Australian
politics, the real thing is different to the media reporting of it. In
practice, a diarist cannot ask permission to publish material – my book
would have had an introduction and not much else (probably just a few
Joel Fitzgibbon yarns). All the diary entries concerning Keating relate
to public affairs, issues and personalities. I had several long
conversations with him about private matters but at no stage thought
they were suitable for inclusion in the Diaries. I think that’s a fair cop.

Brian Walsh: Know I am showing my
tabloid roots, but what about asking Latham to do a couple of top 10s?
We have seen the people that Mark doesn’t rate but I would like to see
the people he does rate. We know he thinks Julia Gillard could be ALP
leader but who would make up his top 10 “good” political operators.
Those he thinks have talent, courage, intellect and leadership
potential and a brief sentence explaining why they make his list. And
if we are doing a top 10 or top 5, it would be interesting to see who
he would rate as the top 5/10 journalists that he has dealt with – and

Mark Latham: How about I stick to the top five in each category Brian?

1. Julia Gillard for the reasons I have
outlined publicly. Now she’s all the rage. I’m told that even Jabba is
writing her up big time. No doubt about it, my endorsement still
carries huge weight in Canberra.

2. Carmen Lawrence because she
is one of the few pollies to admit that our democracy is in crisis,
riddled by public apathy and disengagement. She has thought seriously
about the problem and suggested some remedies (steadfastly ignored by
the system). Not surprisingly, she has said she now regrets pursuing
politics as a vocation and will retire at the next election.

Duncan Kerr for much the same reasons as Carmen – a serious thinker,
author and advocate of cultural change in Australian politics.

Joel Fitzgibbon because he’s a great bloke – one of the few normal
Australian males left in Canberra, not infected by the self-important
wankery that overtakes most people in Parliament House. The last of the

5. Kevin Rudd – a surprise packet, yes, a real
smokey. But let’s face it, the more treacherous types plotting to get
the numbers against Beazley, the better. I’ve always had a soft spot
for Heavy Kevvie, especially if he can (finally) push himself into the
starting gates and run past the Bomber.

Alan Ramsey – the great man of the Canberra Press Gallery, even if he
can be a cranky old bastard. He has a magnificent sense of political
history. An Australian original – fair dinkum and down to earth.

Michael Duffy – irreverent, unaffected by the self-importance of the
media, an outsider who thinks and writes with style and originality.

3. Peter Roebuck – I love his reflective, stylish pieces on the cricket. Writes a spanking good column.

4. Roy Masters – the Roebuck of rugby league. Go the fibros!

Mungo MacCallum – a very funny man, so funny that he had to get out of
Canberra and now writes a column on the north coast of NSW. Always
worth reading. Sadly, there are no Mungos left in the Canberra Press

Alex Dunnin: Mark, I love the
book. This is my 3rd in your trilogy. The hysterical reaction of people
mentioned in the book seems way out of proportion with what the book
actually says about them (though I’m only half way through so far). Why
do you think the reaction has been so intense?

Mark Latham: Well Alex, the book challenges the reputation and
authority of the commercial media at several levels. It exposes their
unethical behaviour and voyeurism. It challenges the notion that the
media actually know what’s going on in politics (most of what they
report, of course, is bullshit). Plus the Diaries puncture
their self-importance – the strutting, big-noting style of your average
journalist, personified by the likes of Glenn Milne and Peter Hartcher.
One other factor: the book goes up the Murdoch mob for the rent and,
naturally enough, the Evil Empire responded in kind. Mate, you need to
get out of the habit of regarding the commercial media as objective,
factual and committed to the public interest. They are, in fact, full
of personal agendas, incompetence and crass, profit-driven
commercialism. Funny thing that.

Nigel Wilson: For some time now
I’ve been puzzling over the ALP’s policy on the sale of Telstra. The
main argument seems to be in regard to the telecommunication service
levels in the bush. Why be concerned about voters who never vote for
the ALP? It seems to me that if the ALP were to reverse their policy,
and then this would place pressure on the Nats to change the Libs
stance, or to cross the floor, leading to coalition disagreement. So
why does the ALP persist in standing up for the bush which will never
deliver a single vote for them?

Mark Latham: Good
question. Most Right-wing Labor MPs think that privatisation is a good
and logical thing – they opposed it purely on perceived electoral
grounds, a poll-driven approach. But it’s a bit like Beazley’s policies
over the years to appeal to the so-called sugar seats – it never works,
the Nat farmers still vote for the Nats. But I must say that the Labor
Left-wing opposed the privatisation of Telstra for what they saw as
sound policy and ideological grounds. They tend to be more genuine in
their beliefs and values. Let’s give them credit for that.

Send questions for Mark Latham to [email protected].

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