Thursday, October 06, 2005

Loose cannon

That nasty ol'Latham answers reader's questions in today's Crikey email;

Niall Clugston: During the election campaign you famously refused to take a call from Lachlan Murdoch. How common are such approaches to political leaders and how influential do you think people such as the Murdoch family are in this way?

Mark Latham: Sorry Niall but you have the wrong date and wrong take on this matter (see page 387 of my book). In general, most politicians are compliant with the big media interests – just look at Howard's agenda to give Packer and Murdoch a bigger share of Australian media ownership. In fact, I can't think of an issue over the past nine years where the Howard Government has acted against the wishes of Murdoch or Packer. Even against all the evidence, Howard and Murdoch still have a unity ticket on the fiasco in Iraq. The last Prime Minister to stand up to one of the media barons was Keating, when he disagreed with Packer on the question of the pay TV cable (see page 103 of my book). For his sin in defending the public interest and sound competition policy, the Packers have been on Keating's hammer ever since. The latest instalment was John Lyons' extraordinary piece of hate mail against Keating in The Bulletin magazine. Sure, you can take them on in politics but understand this: they will exercise personal vendettas against you thereafter. It takes a gutsy guy like Keating to even try.


Patrick Hayden: Given Mr Latham's criticism of Kim Beazley, which is preferable for Australia – a Howard Government or a Beazley Government?

Mark Latham: Don't limit your options in life Patrick. My preference is for a Gillard Labor Government. But to answer your question directly: even Beazley is better than Howard. I would vote for anyone, even Julia Irwin or Mike Hatton, to get rid of the Rodent. With Bill Heffernan as his close mate and moral guardian, how low can any man go? I know my Diaries were hard on Beazley and the ALP machine men but really, what can you say about someone closely connected to Heffernan? What has happened to this country when a Senator can try to fit up a High Court judge as a kiddie-fiddler and then a few years later, the Senator is rehabilitated as the Prime Minister's confidant and political hitman? It's a sick, sick world down there in Canberra.


Andrew Probyn: How about asking him whether it's true that Tassie Governor Richard Butler inquired of Latham during his trip to the Apple Isle early 2004 whether he'd consider making him Governor-General.

Mark Latham: No Andrew, this was another canard invented by the media. I've got no idea where it came from, but I did not discuss the office of Governor General or any other position with Butler. As it turned out, Paul Lennon did not believe that Butler was fit to be Governor of Tasmania. He told me he was very unhappy with the Governor's behaviour at the Danish royal wedding. Poor Butler, he was sacked by Lennon for being like Lennon.


Don Dillon: Dear Mark, now that we know how you really felt (when you were elected party leader in 2004) about political life in general (you recently cautioned Melbourne University students to eschew it as a career) and your Labor Party in particular, why didn't you resign instead of leading it into the last federal election? Though the Australian people would presumably never have known it, had you won the election, would that not have made you (presumably) the most hypocritical (despising your own party and most of your colleagues) prime minister Australia has ever had?

Mark Latham: Turn it up Don, you need to read the Diaries plus check the public record. My criticism of Beazley and ALP machine politics was well known throughout 1998-2003. The surprising thing for me was that, after I became Labor leader in December 2003, the media never really asked about these internal party issues. They were more interested in my views on Bush, etc. My position was no different to the dozens of serving Labor MPs who dislike the influence Beazley and the machine men have had on the modern ALP.


Steve Gungadin: At last week's Latham lecture at Melbourne University, I was the 22-year-old ALP member who stood up and asked the big man whether he might be willing to write a second book with suggestions as to how to practically start and address the ALP's problems. Unfortunately – and as reported in The Age the next day – he didn't answer my question. So, again: "For those idealists who still believe the ALP is still worth fighting for but do not have the power or influence you had as leader, what practical measures can be taken to work towards party reform?" This might not cause enough of a reaction from Latham to be worth printing but there are actually quite a few of us out here who would like an answer.

Mark Latham: Well Steve, the first book (the Diaries) describes the problem as insoluble, meaning that a second book would be superfluous. This is the classic dilemma for social democratic parties, so well articulated by Robert Michels 50 years ago: the machine men who have control of the ALP through the unions and other factional methods will never relinquish that power. In fact, over time, it is becoming increasingly concentrated in their hands – the total corruption of the party organisation. Have a look at the situation in your home state of Victoria right now – the attempt to install a new generation of Yes men to Robert Ray and Beazley in the key seats. Is that the sort of party you want to be active in? Not all problems in life can be solved and unfortunately, the machine grip on the ALP is one of them. Intellectually, there is no shame in saying that a problem is insoluble. That's the point I was trying to make to you at Melbourne University. If you have a feasible solution, and with all the idealism and optimism of a 22-year-old, put it into place over the next decade or so, then you are a better man than me Gungadin. But my friend, the sad truth is, it is highly improbable. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you can stop wasting your time with organised politics and pursue more fruitful activities, like community activism, local welfare work and actually helping people in need. One of the reasons I produced the book is to let people like you reflect on my experiences and then chart your own course. Good luck.

I stole them, for your benefit.