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Aug 1, 2014

‘Political feminists’ and compulsory voting on Mark Latham’s hit list

"There is no policy oomph from feminist dogma," Mark Latham told the audience at his book launch last night, saying that political feminism was out of touch with mainstream Australian concerns.

The Labor Party has lost touch with mainstream Australian concerns partly through a narrow focus on political feminism, Mark Latham told an audience in Melbourne last night.

The former Labor leader criticised “female Labor MPs who regard the gender prism as a frontline political concern”, saying that it led to no policies of relevance to the broader electorate. He gave the example of Anna Burke, Speaker in the last Parliament, who missed out on an opposition frontbench position. “She said that it’s shameful that in the Victorian Right, there was no female frontbencher. But breaking it down that way — according to gender, geography and factionalism — and thinking everyone has to have a slot … no one cares about this,” he said.

“There is no policy oomph from feminist dogma,” Latham continued. “It’s all about quotas and affirmative action, and things that for women in other workplaces are achieved on merit. The political concern about this inside the Labor Party is isolated, inward-looking cultural issue rather than mainstream concern.”

Speaking at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre to spruik his new book, The Political Bubble, Latham criticised many things about the political class — political operatives and journalists who make their living from political activity — that he believes isolated them from mainstream Australian concerns. His book, he revealed, was originally going to be focused on the politics of smear, looking in particular on the Australian Workers’ Union affair, which he says unfairly dogged former prime minister Julia Gillard’s term in office. Gillard had been treated “egregiously” in a way no Australian political figure before had ever been, he said, asking what successful, right-thinking person could possibly want to get involved in a political culture so toxic.

But what about his own part in that? Latham has certainly been happy to dish it out. Grilled by interviewer Jill Singer on comments he made about Gillard’s childlessness, Latham acknowledged he probably shouldn’t have commented at all. In Febuary 2011, Latham wrote in Spectator Australia that ”the femocrats will not like this statement, but I believe it to be true: anyone who chooses a life without children, as Gillard has, cannot have much love in them”. He repeated similar comments in April that year.

Last night, Latham said the comments were “harsh and poorly expressed”. “I said it from my perspective where having children with my wife … far overshadows everything I could contemplate in work or politics.” Latham said he couldn’t understand why anyone would choose a career over having a family. That was why he didn’t miss politics, he said when asked about it earlier, as his life with his family was most important to him, and he did not believe he could be an effective minister and a good father with small children.

But the book isn’t just about the politics of smear, as Latham believed these issues had much to do with the insular nature of Australian politics itself. A culture of self-reliance meant most Australians had far less need for politics, he said. They tuned out and would vote for anyone who could “shake up the system”. This explained the rise of the Palmer United Party vote — “a measure of how politics has become info-tainment”.

“Most large, traditional institutions are struggling when it comes to trust,” Latham said. “The solution is to both broaden the political class, and at the same time, limit what that class can actually affect. There should be community preselections for political candidates, for example, but at the same time, contentious and technical policy-making on areas like climate change should be hived off to RBA-like entities deciding on the policy details and operating at arm’s distance from the government.”

Controversially, Latham believes compulsory voting should be abolished. Disinterested voters only remember three-word slogans, and politics becomes about sloganeering. “Under voluntary voting, parties would have to come up with genuine policies that matter to people to encourage them to go out and vote. For example, Labor would be encouraged to have a genuine climate change policy, while the Liberals would have to encourage their small business base to vote, so would be encouraged to have a genuine industrial revelations policy.”

Voluntary voting would make parties more courageous and genuine instead of skirting around the issues that matter to their core constituents, he said.

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14 comments

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14 thoughts on “‘Political feminists’ and compulsory voting on Mark Latham’s hit list

  1. AR

    It’s hard to disagree with the intent of the abolition of compulsory voting but I don’t have Latham’s optimism or regard for the average punter.

  2. Tom Jones

    Mark Latham deserves to be ignored. On the one hand he argues for diversity but on the other hand doesn’t see that women are included in that diversity. On any criteria of merit Anna Burke deserves a shadow portfolio. He is nothing but a self publicist who never adds anything of merit. He destroyed Labor’s electoral chances but thinks he knows better than anybody else. The hubris is boring.

  3. pritu

    On feminism – Relevancs deprivation, Mr Latham?
    On compulsory voting, he may have a point, but it is not a straightforward thing as the same forces that bring out the ignoramus voter in favour of three word slogans would work the same lot into high dudgeon about some imagined horror to vote for the moneyed mob.

  4. michael crook

    He is wrong about compulsory voting. His and our job as self professed progressives should be to educate our communities, and ensure that they are aware of political and social realities and to not trust the fantasy world presented by the commercial media and it’s god, consumerism.

  5. Mel Campbell

    “It’s all about quotas and affirmative action, and things that for women in other workplaces are achieved on merit.”

    What an absolute banana. ‘Merit’ is a frickin’ canard. There are EXTREMELY MERITORIOUS WOMEN out there – indeed, women regularly discover that in order to enjoy roughly similar workplace respect and seniority (let alone remuneration) to their male colleagues, they need to be twice as qualified, twice as talented, work twice as hard, sacrifice twice as much, and then they get dismissed as being ‘cold’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘loveless’. Appealing to ‘merit’ basically means ‘I don’t want to recognise institutionalised sexism’.

    In the past Latham has been refreshingly critical of Labor’s faction system, arguing it is the machine that isolates those in the political bubble from the Australian public. Rather than arguing for the abolition of compulsory voting, he’d do better arguing for the abolition of the factional machine, which ensures a government of insiders for insiders, concerned only with incumbency for its own sake rather than representing the concerns of the public.

  6. fractious

    Latham:
    “Under voluntary voting, parties would have to come up with genuine policies that matter to people to encourage them to go out and vote.”

    Britain being a shining example of how well that works in practice.

  7. klewso

    I agree with a lot of what Latham says, not just pro patria.
    Imagine Curtin or Whitlam or Chifley being kept out by “Affirmative Action”? We really need more Thatcher’s, Mirabella’s, Bishop’s, Cash’s, Crossin’s, “Gillard’s” (when he went paddling with the media on that occasion) don’t we? It’s a bit like the returns for women’s professional tennis isn’t it?
    But then he says he doesn’t miss politics – while the political class comprises  ” political operatives and journalists who make their living from political activity” – while profiting by writing about it? 

  8. danger_monkey

    I’m with you fractious.

    I’m an American living in Australia, and let me tell you, the three word slogan rules in US elections, and frequently plays to the lowest emotion.

    Compulsory voting may be no panacea, but it’s better than the other options.

  9. Max Factorius

    Latham is right. And very brave and honest to say it.

    Populist political feminism is a distraction from the essential political issues and serves as a social undercurrent for gender division.

    And he’s right about Gillard. “men with white shirts and blue ties”. A distracting side issue gender driven statement at a time when everything was crashing down around her, but diversive.

    Latham should have focused on the role of the MSM as the community cheer leaders for gender divide.

  10. Alex

    I think Latham’s losing it. His comments about the childless are ‘egregiously’ judgemental. And, compulsory voting reduces nepotism and the influence of lobbiests and vested interests. Just think about the NRA in the US; whenever their interests are threatened they get all their members out to vote knowing there will be few motivated to match them with an opposing vote.