Robert Henderson:

Given your counsel about the control by the machine of the ALP I would
be interested in your view of Bob Brown and the Greens. Mr Brown has
always struck me as someone who is at least consistent in following the
principles in which he believes and, if the ALP is out, where do we
turn ?

Mark Latham: As I wrote in my diary, I regard
Senator Brown as a man of principle and good humane values. I grew to
like him during our contact and meetings last year. In particular, he
is the only party leader in Australia today who shows true independence
and pride in our nation in his foreign policy statements. He is not
subservient to the United States. Unfortunately, more Australians are
going to die and suffer because of the policy making of the Big Macs –
the politicians, journalists and businesspeople that have signed up for
the American Club, accepting the Club’s largesse and then echoing the
American line on every issue. The support of Howard, Beazley and the
Murdoch media for the war in Iraq is a leading example.

Decent,
clear-headed Australians look at the terrorist issue and ask: how can
we make our nation safe? This means disassociating Australia from the
folly of American foreign policy, which is adding to the number of
terrorists and terrorist attacks around the world. In contrast, the Big
Macs look at every international issue and ask: how can we support the
United States? They have made our country a bigger target for terrorism
and embedded Australia in a war they cannot win. We would be much
better off with Brown’s independent foreign policy.

——————————————————

Steve Palmer: Are you going to come out of your funk in 12 months time and look back and remark “holy crap, what have I done?”

Mark Latham: No, not at all. The Diaries
chart my journey to disillusionment with the ALP and its machine men,
starting in the late 1990s. What I called Freddie Funk (not wanting to
be part of the Federal Labor Caucus) was one of the reasons I got out
of parliament. You have to belong to that thing to really understand
how bad it is. I have greatly enjoyed my lifestyle and newfound freedom
this year, so I would be very surprised if your scenario was correct. I
should also point out, the only prominent ex-politician I have heard
talk about his experience with depression is Jeff Kennett, who said
that it took him days to get out of bed after one of his Victorian
election defeats. I get out of bed bright and early every day – always
have. Kennett’s experience with depression seems to be the reason why
he tries to publicly prescribe and shift this condition onto other
people, including me.

Kennett has shown himself to be poorly
suited to heading the government-funded BeyondBlue organisation. When
he was forced to withdraw and apologise for his public comments about
me earlier this year, the health professionals at BeyondBlue were
appalled by his recklessness. I am sure they would prefer a serious
person, a trained professional, to head their organisation and its
vital work in the community.

——————————————————

David Tillott:
Your interview with Matthew Abraham on ABC Adelaide was the funniest
radio I’ve heard since Doug Mulray in the 80s. Much funnier than
Costello’s “custard tart before the meat pie ” skit on Lateline. Are you any chance of penning a decent Aussie sitcom? Also, how does Dubya’s handshake stack up against The Deputy’s?

Mark Latham:
Yes, I must confess to having some fun with Abraham, one of the
gibberers on ABC Adelaide, as my press secretary used to call them. I
would love to write a show about nothing, but can’t think of anything
to say. On the handshakes, Howard must have tried one of his
bonecrushers on Bush. Why else would Dubya call him the Man of Steel?

——————————————————

Emily Ross, editor, Leadership, BRW: With the significant exceptions of your wife Janine, Julia Gillard and your sisters, the women in your Diaries
include busty scrubbers, snivelling women in the corridors of
Parliament House, a pole dancer, an unsexy Prime Minister’s wife, horny
office workers, girls in bars who can’t take a joke and a girl you had
a fling with that you were “surprised” to find in such a senior
editorial role at a Sydney newspaper. Clearly Australian politics is a
man’s world. Is the sexism in the book reflecting your own values or
are the Madonna/whore depictions of women in the book just a reflection
of the culture you were operating in?

Mark Latham: This is like The Life of Brian, what have the Romans ever done for us? My Diaries
highlight my love and admiration for the great women in my life (my
wife, mother and sisters), they want the ALP to have its first female
leader (Gillard), they explain how I promoted Penny Wong and Tanya
Plibersek on the frontbench (subsequently demoted by Beazley), they
note my frustration in not being able to get Carmen Lawrence back onto
the frontbench to reinvent democracy, they declare Hazel Hawke to be
the true hero of the Hawke years, they talk about the inspiration of
Mem Fox for our national reading program, they mention the success of
the early release of Labor’s women’s policy in 2004, they detail my
support for the Families in Partnership group (mothers caring for
disabled children) and they criticise many more men in politics than
women. But no, I’m a sexist pig. What have I ever done for the modern
feminist cause?

As for pole dancers and busty scrubbers, they
actually exist in our society and, whether Emily likes it or not, I
came across them. What was I supposed to write about – the lass in the
Kalgoorlie pub who asked me to autograph her right boob? Perhaps this:
“a recent graduate of the June Dally Watkins school of etiquette
approached me in the front bar of the hotel, removed her right breast
from her dress, handed me a marking pen and asked me to autograph one
of her mammary glands, which I promptly did with a grim but turned
face.” Well, excuse me for not being an upper class twit.

As
for Jeni Cooper, we had a wild and passionate relationship in 1988 when
I was working for Bob Carr and she was working in the NSW Parliamentary
Press Gallery. I loved her dearly and did everything I could to make
her happy. We were young and carefree, carried away by impulse and that
first early thrust of passion in life. I was Brando and she was
Schneider. You get the drift.

But for all that, Jeni didn’t seem
to take her job seriously. On one occasion, I wrote her weekly column
for her. I tried to immerse her in my policy wonk interests but she
wasn’t keen. I vividly recall urging her to read Francis Castles’
tremendous Australian Public Policy and Economic Vulnerability, but she
said she wasn’t interested in “heavy books.” So I’m stuffed if I know
how, just a few years later, she ended up in a senior position at News
Ltd and then went on to run the Sunday Telegraph. I regard this as a legitimate matter of public interest and concern.

My Diaries
describe the things I saw and heard around me and inevitably, they rub
up against the political correctness of the Left and Right (people
trying to impose their pure, idealised view of the world on others).
There is not much I can do about that, it comes with the territory in
being a diarist. Perhaps, because diaries have been so rare in
Australian politics, this explains some of the hysterical reaction to
my book: the realisation that so much of what happens behind-the-scenes
in politics is a million miles from either an idealised progressive or
conservative view of the world.

Maybe I could have pulled more punches, but then my Diaries
would have drifted towards the sanitised pap that most politicians
produce after they leave parliament. It’s one of the issues I grappled
with over the 11 years of recording entries – what to put in and what
to leave out. There was no easy answer, just a constant series of
personal judgements. As a general rule, I didn’t diarise private
information about other people unless it directly impacted on me and
the political events around me.

For instance, I recall
considering a diary entry on Laurie Oakes’ behaviour one night at an
ALP National Conference in Hobart but it would not have been fair on
the other party involved. As it turned out, by Oakes’ own standards,
infamously displayed in his coverage of the Kernot/Evans matter, this
would have been an appropriate incident to record and publish. It was
just one of the many difficult decisions I had to make.

Another
concerned the News Ltd journalist Phil “the Poet” Coorey, who spent
Question Time in the Canberra Press Gallery (circa 2002-03) writing
outrageously cruel and sexist poems about female MPs, and then passing
them along for the titillation of his colleagues Matt Price and Malcolm
Farr. Price gave me copies of them, which I was tempted to diarise, but
decided they were too personal and too severe. Thankfully, News Ltd
sent Coorey to New York and I have not heard of him or his poems since.

So Emily, your point about the male culture of Australian
politics is not without validity. But please be assured, my book should
be the least of your worries. I was proud to publish my Diaries
in full (bar a relatively small number of matters that were deleted for
legal reasons). Coorey and co will never publish their poems. But of
greater significance and concern, they survive and prosper at News Ltd,
Australia’s most popular media company. Day after day, they are paid
good money for displaying the worst side of human nature. That’s a
worry for any society.

——————————————————

Judy King, Principal Riverside Girls High, Gladesville, NSW:
How
do we build a Labor Party without factions? Is it possible ? Can we
break the old, tired, outdated alliances with their favours and
partronage outed by Mark Latham in the Diaries? Is there room
for young, energetic capable politicians who are non-aligned ? Why are
16-year-olds who want to join the Labor Party in year 11 and 12 at
school still asked what faction they belong to as the very first
question by the party recruiters and branch organisers? No wonder they
are disillusioned before they are allowed to attend even one meeting

Mark Latham:
This is one of the key themes in my book. The power of the factions and
machine men in the ALP is now so entrenched that it overwhelms all
other considerations. After 16-year-olds are asked what faction they
belong to, the next question is: how many of their schoolmates can they
stack into the branch (no money needed, a factional or union slush fund
will cover the costs). I’m afraid these debilitating habits are so
entrenched that they cannot be broken – they are the Australian Labor
Party these days. There is no activity or significant party forum that
operates without them. You should urge your students to pursue
alternative ways of creating a better society.

The other side of
politics is just as bad. The prominent conservative columnist, Janet
Albrechtsen, once an advocate and believer in civility, now concedes
that our public life is based on a poisonous culture: “the traditional
rituals of politics – the disloyalty, leaks, rumours, rebellions and
endless speculation.” And if you don’t like this kind of work
environment, according to Albrechtsen, tough luck, get used to it.
Young people should avoid this sick culture like the plague.

Send questions for Mark Latham to [email protected].

Peter Fray

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