One of the stories I read in The Australian
after the October 2004 election was that ALP headquarters wanted to run
“Honest John’s end of term sale” ads in response to the $6 billion in
handouts at the Liberal campaign launch, but you vetoed it. The same
story said you refused to spend the day on talkback radio attacking
Howard’s profligacy. Is that true, and if so why?
Mark Latham: The
ALP ran the Crazy John ads to which you refer, so much so that the real
Crazy John complained about it publicly. If you read about it in The Australian
it was bound to be incorrect. One of their star journalists, Christine
Jackman, also reported that I cancelled a family-day BBQ at Parramatta
on the last Saturday of the campaign. Yet, in fact, I attended, along
with my family and scores of others.
Where do they get these
people from and how do they get promoted through Murdoch’s ranks? The
editor of that paper, Chris Mitchell, should have been barred for life
after his disgraceful (and erroneous) hatchet job on the late Manning
Clark when he was editor of the Courier Mail. Instead, he got promoted to be editor of The Australian. And then he promoted Jackman.
for refusing to spend the day on radio attacking Howard’s profligacy,
no-one in the ALP campaign team ever put that proposition to me. On the
day of Howard’s campaign launch, I flew from Melbourne to Perth for the
scheduled launch of our child care policy the next day. The man who
drew up the schedule, Mike Kaiser, subsequently backgrounded the media
with the canard you mentioned – that is, he wanted to abandon his own
campaign schedule. This is the same Mike Kaiser who was forced to
resign from the ALP and the Queensland Parliament in 2001 for electoral
fraud. Not exactly a reliable source of information unless, of course,
you work for The Australian.
Lynn Mason: How do we get rid of the Media Moguls?
Don’t buy their products and hopefully, put them out of business.
Consume other forms of media instead, especially the ABC. Also, check
the facts for yourself by going to the original sources of information
Mark, a few questions… 1) Are you amused that no journalist mentioned
in the book has responded directly to the attacks, only dishing out
stock responses about bitterness and hateful minds? 2) What are your
thoughts on the People Power party (or soon to be) and their potential
in Australian politics? Depending on how the public takes them, could
you see Labor pinching some of their ideas, à la Howard with Hanson, or
would they take any perceived connection with you and your ideas and
run a mile? 3) Had any surprising job offers since the book came out?
4) After a magical alignment of stars, could you ever be enticed into a
role in a Gillard government?
Mark Latham: 1) Yes I am. It has been remarkable that so many editors and columnists criticised in the Diaries
have produced columns and articles about the book without responding to
the matters raised about them. It’s like an enormous cone of silence
has descended on Australia’s commentariat. Look at the list of Trappist
monks: Paul Kelly, Glenn Milne, Matt Price, Tony Wright, Sam Maiden,
Michelle Grattan, Michael Costello, Stephen Loosley, Lincoln Wright,
David Penberthy, Jeni Cooper, Shaun Carney, Tom Switzer, Cameron
Stewart, Phillip Adams, Paul Armstrong, Rodney Cavalier, Louise Dodson,
Laurie Oakes, Gerard Henderson etc. Silence has been their only defence.
of note, and despite the bluster of Beazley and co, no-one has taken
any legal action against the book. All this confirms, of course, the
credibility and accuracy of the entries. No ALP figure is willing to go
to court and perjure themselves by saying that these things did not
For some time now, I have taken comfort in Senator John
Faulkner’s observation that political history is written in books, not
newspaper articles. Can anyone remember, for instance, who were writing
articles on politics in Australia’s tabloid newspapers in the 1980s?
Inevitably, this will be the fate of the Bolts and Akermans of the
world in 20 years time. By contrast, I am confident that students and
historians wanting to know what happened behind the scenes in the ALP
for the decade 1995-2005 will find my diaries handy and informative.
This is, after all, the reason why I published them.
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problem with people power is that the Australian people are not
interested. Apathy rules, I’m afraid. This allows the major parties to
practice a very centralised style of politics, avoiding public
participation in the decision making process and creating a club-like
environment in Canberra. I’ve always tried to be a club-buster and
hopefully, my Diaries have done some of that.
3) I’ve had job offers from the media (no way) and universities (maybe some time in the future) but also a few unusual ones:
- Crowd control at one of our local clubs in South-West Sydney (a chance to bring back the biff).
- Tourism Ambassador for a NSW country town (but only if they build a Big Diary in the main street).
- An advertisement for boofy men’s clothes (but I’ve lost too much weight, so I’m back on the dogs eyes and clerk of the course).
- And guest speaker at a hairdressers’ convention in New Zealand (thought about it, but there were not enough fringe benefits).
I am close to being convinced that dramatic action is required to
reduce CO2 emissions in an effort to reduce climate change. What are
the prospects of working within either major party to achieve policy
change in this area? Will either major party ever address this issue
(before it is too late)? I am sceptical about the benefit of voting for
the Green Party given that I regard many of their policy positions to
be naive (at best). Is it the case that you say that I have to assist
the activist group that I least dislike. Almost the same as being part
of a political party is it not?
Mark Latham: I agree with
you on the urgent need to tackle the climate change problem – the
greatest environmental issue of our time. There are two problems with
getting the major parties to take this issue seriously. One is the
strength of the business lobby, with its political donations (trying to
buy access and influence) and its public hectoring on any policy with
threatens its profits and greed. Howard and Beazley are very sensitive
to the demands of big business. The other is the likelihood of scare
campaigns in the electorate against policies that take climate change
seriously. I have been guilty of this myself. The day before the
Cunningham by-election in 2002, the ALP National Secretariat asked me
to be part of a scare campaign against the Greens on possible job
losses in the Illawarra if their greenhouse polices were ever
implemented, and I foolishly agreed. In truth, the Greens are more
likely to do something substantial on climate change than the major,
pro-business, pro-opportunism parties.
Not a political question I am afraid but rather I am interested in your
observations regarding the importance of strong family relationships
you make in the introduction to your Diaries. I agree with you
that a person’s sense of value comes first and foremost from their
personal relationships. This sense of value strongly effects one’s
ability to interact and contribute elsewhere. I have therefore wondered
why we seem so willing to sacrifice this for “career goals.” It also
presents an irony for employers who seem willing to absorb this
misdirected commitment, when it is probably having a negative effect on
employees. Interested in your thoughts.
Mark Latham: I
couldn’t agree more. The ruling culture in our society places a heavy
premium on career goals and the accumulation of material goods. Just
look at the glorification of “winners” and the denigration of “losers”
in our popular media. In my experience, however, people with so-called
successful careers can also be intensely unhappy. Almost by definition,
how can someone who spends most of his or her time away from home have
a happy home life? This was one of the paradoxes about parliamentary
life: the number of people who bitterly complained about the toxic
lifestyle but keep doing it. Below the surface, Canberra is a very
lonely and sad place.
If people can manage it financially, they
would be better off pursuing a sea change: a life based on strong and
loving relationships, a premium on family and community, instead of
careerism. That’s certainly been my experience. This year I have kept a
(private) diary on my life at home. It makes for better (more joyous)
reading than my political diaries, that’s for sure.
But none of
this is rocket science. None of us will ever lie on our deathbeds
wishing we had worked longer hours – our thoughts will be about
personal relationships, the good and the bad. So my advice: if you find
love and personal bonds in your life, buck the ruling culture, and make
the most of them. Every day you spend away from loved ones is a day you
never get back.
Send questions for Mark Latham to [email protected].