It’s just before Christmas, the best
time to sell a few books. So Mark Latham was out at Sydney’s Gleebooks
in conversation last night with fellow author Margaret Simons, and
taking advantage of the forum to throw potshots at some favourite

The Sydney riots were a handy backdrop for Latham to
pursue his thesis of a breakdown in social cohesion. True to his
disengagement from formal politics, Latham told the crowd the Sydney
riots underscored his lack of faith in the system.

advice? “Look after your own. If everyone looked after their own a lot
better we’d look after each other a lot better as well.” He was at
pains to explain this was not some perversion of nimbyism, but rather
encouraging genuine connections between people.

Lamenting the
first mobilisation in his lifetime of a large number of Australian
citizens against another group of Australians due to racism, he was
quick to find a cause – the fruits of “Howard’s Australia.’

Howard’s statement when aged 50 that “Australia has too many Asian
migrants.” Latham sees no reason to suppose that Howard’s opinions have
altered, pointing out that by 50 most adults have considered opinions.

reflected that historically, the White Australia policy inculcated
generations of Australians into racism, and contended that until now
apathy has kept the peace. Until now people have complained to their
mates while having a beer at the bar.

People, he said, have
been stirred up by exaggerations from the conservative media and
politicians about the war on terror. “So much of society has broken
down…as a society we are substantially weaker…we need to build
trust between people.”

He saw the reactions of politicians as
proof they are helpless. “When people start taking to the streets and
talking the language of racial hatred then that is racism.” Quoting the
Chinese proverb that the first step in solving a problem “is to say
what it is,” he singled out Bob Brown as an exception, a politician
“who tends to bell the cat more.”

His conclusion: “In this
situation the political system is impotent…the media are going to
report then people are going to forget.” But, Latham argues, this isn’t
a law and order issue, it is to do with society itself. And politicians
have not yet developed the necessary tools or language.