It’s time for Mark Latham to put up or shut up in his incessant criticism of the men and women who, unlike him, have stuck with their political careers.
Ever since his colossal dummy-spit and departure from the Labor leadership and politics — an event that now seems from another time and country — Latham has pushed the view that politics cannot be used as a vehicle for genuine reform, and that anyone in politics is thus primarily there for the money and perks.
Like many a Latham policy when he was leader, his attacks on his former colleagues are cheap populism. Australians love to bag their politicians, despite being well-served by the bulk of them, particularly at the Federal level, where corruption is virtually unknown. Given how poorly-paid our senior politicians are, this is a pretty good return on the small investment we make in our political system. Malcolm Turnbull would grace any boardroom in the world, and yet we get him for a measly couple of hundred thousand dollars a year. We get Kevin Rudd, one of the most intelligent men to ever occupy the Lodge, for only a little bit more.
Latham wants an “independent statutory office to randomly examine MPs’ finances.” This isn’t actually a bad idea, even if it might turn off many of the sort of people that we want to encourage into politics — ie people who have had real-world success, instead of the useless ex-staffer hacks that both sides are increasingly keen on, especially at the State level.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
But, typical of Latham’s all-or-nothing approach, he ignores the extensive work undertaken by the Government to improve political accountability. That’s understandable, since Latham finds it impossible to give the slightest recognition or acknowledgement to Kevin Rudd. It is on Rudd’s watch that Labor has pushed not merely to reverse the Howard Government’s attack on accountability for political donations, but to extend accountability requirements, as well as banning foreign donations. It is on Rudd’s watch that the ALP has started self-reporting donations below the Howard Government’s $10,000-plus threshold. It is on Rudd’s watch that the policy development process will be exposed like never before through FOI reform and that we can see who is lobbying our ministers.
Latham concentrates instead on the Register of Pecuniary Interests, presumably so he can have a spray at his former friend (Latham appears to have a lot of former friends) Joel Fitzgibbon. Despite the Register’s inadequacies — and there are many, including the fact that it is not readily accessible to the public — Fitzgibbon was still caught out on his travel, and the Register helped expose the relationship of Rudd, Wayne Swan and other ministers with Chinese business interests.
Latham “favours” the interpretation that our Federal MPs’ lack of corruption is more because there’s no process to catch them than because they’re not corrupt. He should back up this extraordinarily serious charge with some facts. He was a politician for 12 years and briefly leader of his party. Surely he must have some evidence of the corrupt conduct he alleges is going on. If not, he should stop giving vent to his jealousy and bitterness.