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Latham and after

January 19th, 2005

I don’t think the Australian media has much to be proud of in the way it’s treated Mark Latham, over his entire period as Labor leader and particularly over the past few weeks. When he was new and exciting, he got fairly uncritical reporting and was built up further. Then, inevitably, he was torn down and, after the election loss, subjected to quite unfair criticism. This is the nature of the way media treats celebrities, including rapidly-rising politicians, and there’s probably nothing much that can be down about it, but it’s still depressing. And, of course, the Labor Party itself didn’t behave too well. Latham made some significant tactical mistakes, particularly regarding the way the Tasmanian forests issues were handled, and he had same bad luck, but he still performed better as leader, in my view than anyone Labor has had since 1996, and arguably since 1993.

Meanwhile, the view that Kim Beazley must lead again is being presented as irresistible by all the papers. One striking thing is that a lot of them refer to opinion polls showing that Beazley is the popular choice, but none of the polls I’ve seen (survey-based or write in) give him more than 35 per cent support. Both the Age and SMH have Internet polls running, and in both cases the combined vote for Rudd and Gillard exceeds that for Beazley. Given that most voters have already made up their minds about Beazley, this is not very promising.

Still, it looks as if we’re going to get him back again, and I’ll just have to hope he outperforms my expectations.

fn1. Keating did a great job demolishing Hewson, but let this narrow victory go to his head, and his second term was a disaster for Labor.

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  1. wpc
    January 19th, 2005 at 07:15 | #1

    The left wing media act like a pack of savage dogs, when their latest saviour fails them (that is, not winning the election).

    Beazely is a chance to win the next election, what hampers him is the party behind him.

  2. Malatesta
    January 19th, 2005 at 08:09 | #2

    Who is keeping watch on Kopassus? The RI leadership blather on about democracy and unity. Compared to what? Singapore? Semi-privatised, autonomous, heavily armed, government-sanctioned, geographically isolated units, driven by greed – TNI- will become more corrupt, and will fuel more instability in Indonesia. Who will confront the US leadership over covert plans?
    If Beazley has the guts to run the blowtorch over Bush’s belly on this issue, he may have earned the right to stand for leader.
    Otherwise, we may have to wait until July, when Cosgrove retires. Will Downer hang around to see the dirty washing hung out, or will he take the Washington option?

  3. Homer Paxton
    January 19th, 2005 at 08:34 | #3

    I remember talking to some friends of mine in both the liberal and labor parties on election day. 9 this is usually the best time to talk to them. They are just waiting then.)
    There was a consensus that Iron Mark had outcampaigned Howard.
    They all thought that the election would be close ( both parties polls were similar to Morgan) with the Liberals particularly nervous about how close the election would be.
    Interestingly my Liberal friends were critical about the interest rate scare campaign believing voters wouldn’t be so stupid as to belive such guff. My lavor friends thought the conservative economic policy would counteract this campaign.

    By monday all these views had changed.
    howard was a campaigning Genius and Latham was hopeless!!!

  4. Mike
    January 19th, 2005 at 08:40 | #4

    What if Labor had won the election? Would Latham still be quitting for health reasons?

  5. Homer Paxton
    January 19th, 2005 at 10:17 | #5

    My father-in -law who was a doctor says yes!

    Two periods of pacreatitus with no understanding of how it occured usually means more.

    Bad news and working in politics impossible.

  6. January 19th, 2005 at 10:33 | #6

    I think “bittersweet” sums up the rise and fall of Latham well. I’ve written something of a detailed rant on the Latham phenomenon here.

  7. January 19th, 2005 at 10:45 | #7

    I thought Latham would be a good leader for the ALP. I was wrong, as I was projecting my own personality (similar to Latham’s) onto the poltical stage. I think this is what the media did to Latham. Since journalists personalities are not particularly attractive to their particular publics there is no reason that Lathams should have been attractive to the general public.
    Hence the savaging of Latham was a kind of instinctive self-loathing by the press gallery, who dont like to be reminded of their own flaws when “one of their own” bites the dust.

  8. January 19th, 2005 at 10:46 | #8

    “The left wing media..”

    Change your medication wpc.

  9. January 19th, 2005 at 11:06 | #9

    Agreed, he must subscribe to Green Left and think it’s the Herald Sun.

    Quiggin, I understand your sense of despair at the apparent return to Bomber. I think the ALP is very hyper sensitive at the moment, and is simply scared of trying another ‘newie’ given the last one didn’t work.

    I’d prefer either Rudd or Gillard, myself.

    Most bloggers seem to be giving it to Beazley on a plate though…

  10. January 19th, 2005 at 11:50 | #10

    Mumbles was right. Beazley is the correct choice. The ALP should have stayed with him after Tampa/911, which were freak events.
    He is not inspiring but he is not threatening and is generally liked by most people. One day the housing bubble will end and put an end to all this cult of leader personality.

  11. Paul Watson
    January 19th, 2005 at 11:54 | #11

    “Then, inevitably, [Mark Latham] was torn down and, after the election loss, subjected to quite unfair criticism. This is the nature of the way media treats celebrities, including rapidly-rising politicians�

    John, I’m not sure whether you’re also suggesting that the media’s treatment of Latham in the past couple of weeks has been unfair. If so, I beg to disagree.

    Latham’s stepping down as party leader, and even the unsatisfactory way in which he handled the process, can be justified by his medical condition. Much less justifiable, though, is Latham’s concurrent decision to exit politics altogether. Although few in the media have pointed this out, the latter fact means that the 43 y.o. is, in all probability, retiring absolutely, so as to never work again.

    Never working again, when faced with an intermittently debilitating illness in one’s early 40s, is an option very few Australians would have. The generous parliamentary super scheme explains the financial “how�, but I still find Latham’s hypocrisy breathtaking, in preparing to take a capitalised/notional lump sum of $1.4m* from the public purse.

    This is rank hypocrisy for at least three reasons. Latham’s public chest-beating over excessively generous parliamentary super, and the subsequent “reform’s� exclusion of all incumbent MPs, even the relatively youthful (such as himself) now looks like a pretty natty golden parachute. Then there’s the fact that the man’s never had a job outside politics – and thanks to his golden parachute, will now never need to even consider such.

    Finally, there’s the biggest hypocrisy of all for the pseudo-working class Latham. A typical 43 y.o. with an intermittently debilitating illness *may* genuinely be unable to hold down their job, without severely compromising their health (and here, IMO, being an opposition backbencher in a safe seat is less stressful than many other jobs). But whether this would be sufficient to qualify the person for the disability support pension is less certain. My hunch is that a 43 y.o Joe Citizen with pancreatitis, who had just quit his job, would be expected to line up for the dole. Given Latham’s previous public attacks on “slackers�, it is rich indeed that he’s now going to be cashing in all his bludger’s perks at once.

    * David Uren “Latham retires on plan he tore down� The Australian 19 January 2005 (no URL)

  12. January 19th, 2005 at 12:07 | #12

    Paul, So what do you expect him to do? Die in the job to prove a debating point? When someone has had the fear of god put into them by a scare of this type, the wind is just sucked right out of them. The normal human response is to crawl away to rest and rest and rest. Hypocrisy? I doubt he’s got the spirit for even that at the moment.

    Latham did not institute his super scheme. And when he reduced its benefits he did so with the prospect of many yeras left in the job.

  13. January 19th, 2005 at 12:26 | #13

    My best guess at the moment – not an absolute majority, just the marginal leader over the others, like Beazley – is that Latham could easily have cancer of the pancreas. If so, and if it was known during the election, there was a far greater hypocrisy of a different sort: criticising John Howard’s chances of being a stayer when they didn’t have one themselves, and keeping the Australian electorate from making an informed decision.

    As to the media, my impression is that they treated Latham fairly in their reporting, but that they harassed him “unfairly”. That is, unfairly by any normal person’s standards, but ironically enough not by the standards he himself applies. And, of course, he is in one of the few groups who holds themselves out as willing to take that sort of thing, not like the usual victims of doorstep media tactics.

  14. John Quiggin
    January 19th, 2005 at 12:27 | #14

    I don’t agree at all with your main claim, Paul. A huge proportion of the 50+ workforce has left the workforce because of illnesses that don’t really incapacitate them for work but make them unemployable in the current climate. The proportion is lower in the 40-50 age group, but not many people in this age group have had illnesses as severe as Latham’s, which are clearly life-threatening.

    It’s true that Latham has benefited from a scheme more generous than most of us can get, but I don’t imagine many of us would want to trade places with him right now.

  15. JC
    January 19th, 2005 at 12:45 | #15

    Jack said, Beazley is the correct choice. The ALP should have stayed with him after Tampa/911, which were freak events.

    I disagree Jack. I always thought a person’s true character was shown when they must endure a crisis of the unforeseen.

  16. still working it out
    January 19th, 2005 at 13:34 | #16

    Paul,

    I think any politician with some sort of integrity would expect themself to work quite hard and make themselves stressed even in a safe seat on the back bench. That may be not always be the case, but it is what a person of integrity would do. Representing one hundred thousand or so constituents well to the best of your ability is an inherently stressful job.

    What are you advocating? That he sits on the back bench and does his party and electorate a disservice by taking it easy? No doubt you would critisize him for that if he did not decide to retire from politics altogether.

  17. Vee
    January 19th, 2005 at 13:35 | #17

    I’m more curious now that when Beazley takes over (I expect him to win though probably not my preferred candidate) how his illness will hold up?

  18. January 19th, 2005 at 13:41 | #18

    Paul W, you committing defamation, or do you have info i haven’t seen to the effect that he’ll never work again? I thought it was that he says he won’t work in POLITICS again.

    And JC, I agree, how they handle crisis is a key indicator of leadership ability. Howard in particular seems to handle crises very well, and this wins trust in a time of uncertainty.

  19. JC
    January 19th, 2005 at 13:58 | #19

    Martin, I will agree with you on Howard in times of crisis. His actions during the immediate aftermath of the Tsunami disaster was exemplary and going back to things like Port Arthur causes me to give credit where it is due.

    Of course, Tampa and to a lesser extent, 9/11 (and the resulting War on Terra) not only demonstrated the ineptitude of the opposition but the conniving and lack of compassion of this Government. Yes they have been very successful, but with what result for the rest of us?

  20. Rex
    January 19th, 2005 at 14:10 | #20

    Look. I just want to say that I was right. I was right all along about Beasley, and Crean, and Latham, and about the leadership and about the ALP. I was right about the election and I was right about Howard, and about Iraq (and I think I’m on the record as saying so).

    I was even right when I didn’t have an opinion.

    What get’s up my goat, is all these people now saying they were right when plainly they weren’t as right as me. What is it with them eh? The need to prove their powers of prescience is it?

    The papers a full of it, media scuzzbuckets giving us the benefit of their wisdom and insights on Mark Latham, honed, refined and evolved over, let’s see now, 10 days! Its amazing how those shills conveniently forgot what they were writing 10 months ago.

    Its time that people were held to account for their statements just as politicians are. Its time that journalists stopped using the internet and making up stuff to fill in the holes in their articles created by laziness and lack of imagination. Its time that you went to visit old Aunt Mabel in the nursing home like you said you would.

    As I look back on the past year, and compare relative rightness, I am forced to conclude that we’re dealng with a bunch of amatuers. Sure, there’s only so much rightness to go around, but that’s no excuse for trying, ’cause as an old girlfriend used to day “trying’s lying”.

    By way of wrapping this up I feel I should warn you that I plan to be right from now on. VERY right. There will not be a political thrust that I havn’t already parried, a post-justification I can’t justify or rumour that I haven’t already made up. It’s no-holds barred in the rightness comp, the gloves are off, the gauntlet thrown down. If The Australian can get away with making up the news, then I plan on making up the truth.

  21. JC
    January 19th, 2005 at 16:04 | #21

    Rex, you are right in saying that you were right all along. You are so right that even the right will be saying how right you were. Which is their right, unless of course you are on the right too. Which is not alright, right?

  22. January 19th, 2005 at 16:29 | #22

    The ALP used to be a great parody of a party but I’ve gone off them in recent times. Real satire comes from being indistinguishable from the real thing and they just aren’t believable in the role of a political party any more. They’re looking more and more like the Don Chipp Pantomime Players (aka the Democrats).

    A Rudd-Gillard joint team definitely seems much more promising than a Beazley resurrection.

  23. Razor
    January 19th, 2005 at 16:31 | #23

    A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all lefties. My lemon sucking with Corona was going really well over the break and then Latham’s staff managed to fuck everything up even more – if it weren’t for the Tsunami donations I would have moved onto Bollie or Veuve.

    Anyway, my question is “what in God’s name were Latham’s staff and the rest of the ALP hierachy (ie Deputy/Acting/Fill-in Leader by default and birthright etc) doing?” How hard is it, if you know your Boss is crook, to punch out a media statement – just has to be a couple of sentences, and release the bloody thing. I couldn’t stand the man myself, but what were his loyal supporters doing? Was this a fiendish plot where he had lost suppport of his personal staff, (he does have staff doesn’t he?) let alone the cactus. Did they all say “bugger it, if he wants a statement he can do it himself.” As I said, I don’t like the guy, but I reckon his staff, his deputies and any designated acting-leader-whatevers over that period should be publicly outed for their dismal performance. Basically, if the guy was really crook (and I believe he was) then they should have been able to kill all the presss bullshit that just built and built until he was forced to lance the stinking boil by the State Premiers. They can’t even run their party in opposition, how can they be expected to run a country?

  24. Naomi
    January 19th, 2005 at 16:43 | #24

    Oh, I agree. I mean the kneejerk response of any pollie, lobbyist, staffer or parliamentary office cleaner is to release a press release, at the first sign of a story. Maybe they were drinking pina coladas, maybe they hate him?

    On the issue of Latho’s entitlements, I don’t think anyone can say what he’s going to do with his super. The man may well donate half of it to charity, or set up a think tank, or subsidise a blog. Just because he’s entitled to it doesn’t mean he will take it. But in any case, why shouldn’t he take it? He’s put in 17 years of hard work, and done a lot to shift thinking in this country. And what about his wife and his little boys? Janine’s career has been on hold since marrying Mark, and they’ve still got a mortgage and need to eat. Don’t they deserve to be cushioned from the vagaries of political life, just a little?

    Honestly, some people are just so mean.

  25. Razor
    January 19th, 2005 at 17:16 | #25

    I believe that pollies are very under-paid and the old super system was only partly worth the gap between what a pollie is paid and what they should be paid. I hope the knacker-lacker gets heaps of dosh for his past service. I thought he was a dolt going down the populist line of reforming the super. I certainly wouldn’t put up with the crap they put up with for a pittance. I suppose that’s why I have my own business (and reading and typing this stuff is costing me money, but I enjoy it!)

  26. wpc
    January 19th, 2005 at 21:12 | #26

    cs: Change my medication? That’s the best you can do?

    Couldn’t you have at least tried something like “Piss off, you evil redneck nazi. Why don’t you go back to throwing rocks at asylum seekers through the barbed wire fence?”

    Left wing agitators just aren’t putting in the effort that they used to.

    By the way, Latham put in years of service to Australia, in a crap job, where half the population hate you for no good reason.

    He deserves every cent of his entitlement.

  27. January 19th, 2005 at 23:04 | #27

    So much to say, so little time to say it…

    You’re all wrong, all of you, only I am ever right. If you disagree, that’s further evidence.

    More seriously, I shall have something more solid to say on the topic when I have time, including pointing out the unexamined assumptions in “he deserves it because” this, that, or the other. For instance, you would hardly expect a burglar to seek to justify his ill gotten games by the amount of work he put in; somewhere you have to find a little more than that as a theory of political value. (Oh, I shall be criticising the reasoning, not all the pragmatic positions – some of those are necessarily coincidentally right on the stopped clock principle, but that’s not what I meant by “right”).

  28. January 19th, 2005 at 23:08 | #28

    Freudian slip, “games” for “gains”. Please restore a proper preview facility.

  29. January 19th, 2005 at 23:19 | #29

    The Editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald, while noting Latham’s ‘enigmatic style of leadership”, and other matters, failed to acknowledge, or address, his specific criticisms of the media noted in his statement. Such a strange omission.

    I suspect the problem is not just the leadership of the ALP, or for that matter, the Liberal Party, but rather the lack of meaningful public participation in either of them. Politics is thus reduced to a spectator sport, and the media in its own estimation is unaccoutable.

  30. January 20th, 2005 at 00:08 | #30

    I was trying to be kind wpc. Forgive me.

  31. paul2
    January 20th, 2005 at 06:29 | #31

    Trying to think of a metaphor for all of this: a Mexican festival of the dead (parading bloated effigy of exhumed beaming Beazley) ? or Humphrey McQueen’s description of the succession of national political figureheads in the late 20′s/early 30′s ‘when the big men belted out their pop songs, only to be booed off stage’ ?

  32. Paul Watson
    January 20th, 2005 at 09:22 | #32

    In a potted response to the various criticisms made of my above comment:

    “Paul, So what do you expect him to do? Die in the job to prove a debating point?� (wbb)

    “What are you advocating? That he sits on the back bench and does his party and electorate a disservice by taking it easy?� (still working it out)

    Latham should do what any normal worker would have to do when faced with a serious, non-work related illness: use up their paid sick leave and then otherwise limp along, either on a still-employed basis doing light duties (subject to their employer’s discretion), or on an unemployed basis, by resorting to the ordinary welfare system. I don’t see why an ALP backbencher doing light duties should be thought of as such a curious/heinous thing: I’ve had a shamelessly bludging local member (and sometime frontbencher at that – Lindsay Tanner) for many years, with nary an eyebrow being raised by anyone.

    At the very least, Latham should have held on to the next election, both to avoid causing Labor unnecessary by-election angst, and to *finish the job (= MP term)* he started, *knowing* he had pancreatitis.

    “Paul W, you [sic] committing defamation, or do you have info i haven’t seen to the effect that he’ll never work again? I thought it was that he says he won’t work in POLITICS again�. (Martin Pike)

    Martin, we’ll see. Again, I’d like to see someone come up with a possible, plausible job (J-O-B, not sinecure) for Latham that would less stressful than a “light duties� backbencher.

    “On the issue of Latho’s entitlements, I don’t think anyone can say what he’s going to do with his super . . . He’s put in 17 years of hard work, and done a lot to shift thinking in this country. And what about his wife and his little boys? Janine’s career has been on hold since marrying Mark, and they’ve still got a mortgage and need to eat.� Naomi

    Err, Naomi – what is social security supposed to be for, if not for providing a roof over one’s head and food on one’s table, when all else fails?

    Oh, that’s right – Latham’s “[doing] a lot to shift thinking in this country� seems to mainly boil down to his keenly participating in the Right’s vicious anti-welfare agenda. And the Right could never accept poetic justice for one of their own having to join the Centrelink queue, could they?

    “A huge proportion of the 50+ workforce has left the workforce because of illnesses that don’t really incapacitate them for work but make them unemployable in the current climate. The proportion is lower in the 40-50 age group, but not many people in this age group have had illnesses as severe as Latham’s, which are clearly life-threatening. It’s true that Latham has benefited from a scheme more generous than most of us can get, but I don’t imagine many of us would want to trade places with him right now.� (John Quiggin)

    I probably didn’t spell this out clearly enough, John, but I was trying to make the point that recent tightening of disability support pension eligibility would quite likely see Latham found ineligible for it, despite his being objectively sicker than many (older) current DSP recipients. Again, this crackdown can be traced straight to Latham’s very own policy drawer.

    Oh, and personally I’d happily trade my current status as a semi-healthy Melbourne renter on $10k a year, for Latham’s Sydney home-owner pension of $65k a year – pancreatitis and all. Even if Latham’s still got a hefty mortgage, windfall capital gains of recent years would mean that he could afford to buy – outright – a nice house almost anywhere else in Australia.

  33. John Quiggin
    January 20th, 2005 at 09:32 | #33

    “Again, this crackdown can be traced straight to Latham’s very own policy drawer.”

    I take your point on this in broad terms. I’d be interested if you had any direct statement by Latham (or other Labor pollies) on the DSP crackdown.

  34. Paul Watson
    January 20th, 2005 at 10:16 | #34

    John, is this direct enough:

    ‘Before he became leader Mr Latham said: “The Disability Support Pension needs to be overhauled and mutual responsibility policies applied to those with a genuine capacity to work” and “Something (also) needs to done about the outrageous growth in the Disability Support Pension”.’
    http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/minister1.nsf/content/time_for_action.htm

  35. John Quiggin
    January 20th, 2005 at 10:29 | #35

    That’s direct enough for me, Paul

  36. Matt
    January 20th, 2005 at 11:02 | #36

    Latham was right to quit the parliament after quitting the leadership. That’s exactly what Beazley should have done in 2001.
    The ALP should have learned the perils of keeping old leaders in parliament over the last four years. They are a lightning rod for malcontents within the party and mischief makers from outside.
    If Latham’s example were a more concrete convention, the ALP may well have made substantial progress after 2001. As things stand, the ALP seems to be looking backwards. I can’t see it going well – within a fortnight the papers and government will be using the words “ticker” and “verbose” a lot more often.

  37. ray
    January 20th, 2005 at 12:49 | #37

    I get a bit tired of this, “how can they be fit to govern if they can’t sort themselves out” line. What happens inside the party has little bearing about how policy is formulated and delivered. We’re talking about ego and ambition here and it just happens that the politics game attracts an amazing amount of coverage, because we pay their salaries. Any Australian organization will have its fair share of behind the scenes chicanery going on which whilst tedious, generally doesn’t distract people from the overall goal of running the company.

    If Mark Latham was PM, does anyone seriously think that Australia’s commitment to countries affected by the tsunami would have been radically different? I’m pretty sure that for the vast majority of day-to-day issues you would notice a negligble difference between the two governments. Sure, the ALP might wind back some of the “mutual obligation” stuff, but at the end of the day I think the one thing the ALP has hopefully learnt from this is that the electorate has changed quite dramatically from the previous one it presided over. This is now a much richer, more indebted country, that is scared of losing it, whether the threat is higher interest rates or funny looking non-Christians who don’t share our “values”. We don’t care if we go and fight in places we probably have no reason to be in, as long as no one gets hurt and as long as there is no payback.

    For what it’s worth, a Rudd/Gillard combination is my preferred pairing, mainly because they can’t be tarnished with the trade union brush and (hopefully) don’t have too much baggage to be used against them later on. Plus, I suspect Rudd might be a bit smarter than most of the Liberal front bench and it it’s gonna take some pretty skilful play to win next time round. On the flipside, so what if Kim is a two time loser, I reckon if blogging had existed in the 90′s, our current prime minister would have copped an enourmous pasting and been written off by all and sundry and look what happened…

  38. January 20th, 2005 at 17:12 | #38

    You can’t possibly say that the ALP looks worse in opposition than the Libs. Aside from politics, the job sucks.

    With Mark’s future – I don’t think too many senior politicians stay out of boardrooms, partnerships, consultancies and think tanks if they need them. It is actually an opportunity for him to do valuable work that doesn’t pay very well, given that he actually doesn’t need to earn an income.

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