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The Latham Diaries - Mark Latham

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The Latham Diaries - Mark Latham

The Latham Diaries - Mark Latham

The Latham Diaries by Mark Latham

Good condition hardback: .2005 edition

Mark Latham resigned from parliament in January 2005, after only fourteen months as leader of the Opposition, amid bitter post- election recrimination, and how own ill health. This provides a unique view into the life of a man, the Party, and the nation, at a crucial time in Australian history.

About Mark Latham


Mark William Latham (born 28 February 1961), a former Australian politician, was leader of the Federal Parliamentary Australian Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition from December 2003 to January 2005. Latham captured national attention and, initially, high levels of public approval with his policies and unconventional approach, but also attracted controversy surrounding his past. In the October 2004 federal election, Mark Latham was defeated by Prime Minister, John Howard. Deteriorating relations with his party and ill health saw him resign as Leader on 18 January 2005. Mark Latham was born in Ashcroft, a suburb of south-western Sydney in New South Wales. He was educated at the selective Hurlstone Agricultural High School, where he was dux, and at the University of Sydney, where he graduated with a degree in economics. He worked at the Green Valley Hotel for a little over six weeks. He also worked as a research assistant to the former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and worked on the latter's book The Whitlam Government.

In 1987 he was elected to the City Council of Liverpool, in Sydney's south-west, and was mayor from 1991 to 1994. Mark Latham played rugby union with the Liverpool Bulls club and had a stint as its president. Mark Latham's term as mayor saw radical changes introduced to the council, with large spending on public works, to be paid for by a combination of loans and efficiencies achieved from outsourcing many council services. The public works, including libraries, a pedestrian mall and public art, have been highly praised in accounts of the period. In an article in Quarterly Essay (issue 15), journalist Margaret Simons, who conducted an extensive investigation of the period, concluded that there were real issues in the financial management of the council. These mostly related to the drafting of the outsourcing agreements. Simons also said most of the allegations come from council members who were sacked for incompetence by the state government.

On 1 June 2004, Mark Latham told Parliament that during his time as mayor he had reduced Liverpool's debt-servicing ratio from 17 percent to 10 percent, which he said was less than half of western Sydney's average. He also said Liverpool had adopted a debt-retirement strategy that he claimed would have made it debt-free by 2005, but which was not implemented by his successors. Councillor Colin Harrington, whom Mark Latham defeated during the mayoral elections of 1991, later said these figures were not accurate. He said the average debt-servicing ratio for western Sydney was 12.1 percent and he said the council's financial staff could find no significant reference to the debt-retirement strategy.

In January 1994 Mark Latham was elected to the Australian House of Representatives for the Sydney seat of Werriwa, which had been Gough Whitlam's seat from 1952 to 1978. He was elected to the Opposition front bench after Labor lost the 1996 election, and became shadow minister for education. After the 1998 election he resigned from the front bench following a policy dispute with the opposition leader, Kim Beazley. The two became political enemies following this incident.

On the backbench, Mark Latham published Civilising Global Capital: New Thinking for Australian Labor (Allen and Unwin, 1998), in which he argued that Labor needed to abandon many of its traditional policies and embrace the aspirational values (home ownership, higher education) of the upwardly-mobile skilled working class and small business class. His policies as the leader of the Labor Party were largely derived from the stance taken in this book, which ideologically is described as 'the third way'. These views alienated him from many Labor traditionalists, but his aggressive parliamentary style won him many admirers. He once referred to Prime Minister John Howard as an "arselicker" and to the Liberal Party frontbench as a "conga line of suckholes" . He also described U.S. President George W. Bush as "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory". On politics, Mark Latham commented in 2002: "I'm a hater. Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity. And the more I see of them the more I hate them. I hate their negativity. I hate their narrowness. I hate the way, for instance, John Howard tries to appeal to suburban values when I know that he hasn't got any real answers to the problems and challenges we face. I hate the phoniness of that".

Mark Latham was a strong supporter of Beazley's successor Simon Crean, defending the beleaguered leader against his critics within the party. He called Crean's principal frontbench detractors, Stephen Smith, Stephen Conroy and Wayne Swan "the three roosters". When Crean's position finally became untenable and he resigned, Mark Latham contested the ballot for leader against Beazley. On 2 December 2003, less than 10 years after entering Parliament, Mark Latham won the vote for the leadership by 47 votes to 45. Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were early contenders for the leadership, but both withdrew in favour of Beazley and Mark Latham respectively. At age 42, Mark Latham became the youngest leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party since its first leader Chris Watson, who became leader at age 33 in 1901. In his first press conference as leader, Mark Latham championed his belief in a Ladder of opportunity that would bring prosperity to all Australians.
The Howard government targeted Mark Latham's brash personality and his colourful past. Howard characterised him as "Mr Flip-Flop", referring to a character in a children's book. Peter Costello attempted to damage Mark Latham's economic credentials by referring to the experimental economic ideas that he had put forward as shadow treasurer, such as abolishing negative gearing and replacing the GST with a Progressive Expenditure Tax. Frequent references were made to Mark Latham's temper; he was alleged to have broken a taxi-driver's arm in a scuffle arising from a fare dispute . However, Mark Latham was uncharacteristically calm in the face of these attacks, surprising many members of the media.

On winning the leadership, Mark Latham moved swiftly to heal the rifts in the Labor Party and to moderate his abrasive image. He appointed his predecessor, Simon Crean, as shadow treasurer, while also retaining a number of Beazley's supporters in senior positions. In July 2004 Beazley himself was re-elected to the ALP front bench as Shadow Minister for Defence.Mark Latham gave a promise not to use the kind of "crude" language he had employed in the past. He and the party's foreign affairs spokesperson, Kevin Rudd, met the United States ambassador, Tom Schieffer, to stress Labor's continuing support for the Australian-American alliance. In January 2004 the Labor Party national conference was held in Sydney. During the conference Mark Latham received very positive media coverage and introduced his plans for early childhood literacy. He introduced an unusual campaign style, choosing to focus on "values" issues, such as reading to children and economic relief for middle-class Australia, which he termed with the political slogan ease the squeeze.

Mark Latham also put forward plans to reform the education and health systems. In contrast to the intense stagecrafting of Mark Latham's image at the conference, he boosted his profile by means of loosely organised "town hall"-style direct meetings around the country. By March, Labor had taken the lead over the Coalition in the opinion polls, and Mark Latham had a higher personal approval rating than any opposition leader since Bob Hawke in 1983. Commentators began to discuss the serious possibility that Mark Latham could be Prime Minister by the end of the year. In March, following the Spanish elections at which the pro-American People's Party government was defeated, Mark Latham sparked a new controversy by committing a Labor government to withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas. At that time, Australia had about 850 troops in Iraq, mostly involved in patrol work and in training members of the new Iraqi defence forces. Howard accused Mark Latham of a "cut and run" approach and said "it’s not the Australian way not to stay the distance".

Until March 2004 Labor under Mark Latham's leadership held a strong lead in national opinion polls. Mark Latham's commitment to withdraw from Iraq caused a sharp drop in Labor's lead, but following the revelations of prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison, Labor's lead increased again, suggesting that support for involvement in Iraq had declined, undermining Howard's position. In June 2004, Labor's "troops home by Christmas" policy came under fire from U.S. President George W. Bush who, at a White House press conference during Howard's visit to Washington, described it as "disastrous". Bush's comments raised controversy in Australia over whether Bush was interfering in Australia's domestic political affairs, whether the election of a Mark Latham government would endanger the U.S. alliance, and whether the comments were made with Howard's prior knowledge. Shortly after, Mark Latham announced the recruitment of Peter Garrett, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and former lead singer with the rock band Midnight Oil, as a Labor candidate in Kingsford Smith, a safe Sydney electorate being vacated by the retiring former minister Laurie Brereton. Garrett revealed that he had been approached by senior ALP figures including John Faulkner and Kim Beazley months before, and had taken this long to make up his mind.

Most commentators regarded his recruitment as a high-risk tactic, seeing the potential advantage to Labor of Garrett's popularity among young people as being offset by the possibility that his record of radical and anti-American statements in the past would offend moderate voters. The second coup scored by Mark Latham was the announcement that he would abolish the generous superannuation schemes available to members of parliament; his plan was quickly adopted by the Howard government in the face of a rising wave of public support.

Other announced policies and initiatives included: the introduction of federal government parenting classes for those parents deemed to be failing to adequately discipline their children; a ban on food and drink advertising during children's television viewing hours; the introduction of a national youth mentoring program; the government distribution of free story books to the families of newborn children; a federal ban on plastic shopping bags; and the introduction of legislation to prohibit vilification on the basis of religious beliefs or sexual orientation, similar to laws adopted in the state of Victoria that some critics said had led to a restriction of free speech. Some of these initiatives prompted Howard to criticise Mark Latham as a "behavioural policeman". In July 2004 Mark Latham again became the centre of controversy when it was alleged on a commercial television network that he had punched a political rival during his time on Liverpool Council. Mark Latham strongly denied the accusation. On 6 July 2004, he called a press conference and denounced the government for maintaining what he called a "dirt unit," which he said was gathering personal material about him, including details of his first marriage. The government denied that any such unit existed, but some observers speculated that Liberal Party researchers had accumulated more potentially embarrassing material about Mark Latham, which would be used during the election campaign (a threat which never eventuated), in addition to claims that Mark Latham was an inexperienced economic manager.

Between March and August Mark Latham's position in the opinion polls gradually declined, leading to renewed speculation that Howard would call an early election. During August, Labor claimed a tactical victory over the government on the issue of the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement and there were allegations in a Senate inquiry that Howard had lied about the "Children Overboard Affair" during the 2001 election campaign. By mid-August, Labor was again ahead in all three national opinion polls. On 18 August, however, Mark Latham was admitted to a Sydney hospital, where he was diagnosed with pancreatitis. The elections were held on 9 October 2004. Although opinion polls showed the ALP leading the government at various stages of the six-week campaign, the government was re-elected with an increased majority. This was despite Mark Latham being generally credited with a strong performance and a victory in the sole campaign debate. In the days after the election Mark Latham was criticised for releasing many key policies too late, a case in point being Labor's policy regarding conservation of Tasmanian old growth forests. Among those critical of Mark Latham were journalists Tom Allard and Mark Metherell, who said "the flurry of releases meant Mr Mark Latham went off message from Labor's core strengths of health and education." Labor's party president, Carmen Lawrence, blamed the unexpected severity of the defeat on an effective Coalition "scare campaign" focused on Mark Latham's limited economic management experience, and the alleged threat of a rise in interest rates under Labor, which was not effectively countered, reportedly in an attempt by Tim Gartrell to conserve funds for later in the campaign (where, in previous years, Labor had been outspent by the Liberals).

Gartrell also apparently failed to anticipate the interest rates scare campaign (Latham Diaries, pp. 336-41, 372). The inability of his campaign to counter the Liberal campaign would later be cited by Mark Latham himself, in the Latham Diaries, as a key reason for the election loss (Latham Diaries, pp. 336-41). Latham wrote that he had told his wife Janine that "I've tried to carry the whole show on my shoulders: my family, my community, my party. But now I'm stuffed. I have collapsed under the weight of those fucking ads." (Latham Diaries, p. 339) Michael Costello, a former chief of staff to Kim Beazley, said: "This is a complete train wreck. We now face at least two terms before we can win government again. We face at least three years with John Howard pretty much in control of the Senate." On the morning of 8 October, the day before the election, a television crew filmed Latham and Howard shaking hands as they crossed paths outside an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio studio in Sydney. The footage showed Latham appearing to draw Howard towards him and tower over his shorter opponent. The incident received wide media coverage and, while Latham claimed to have been attempting to get revenge for Howard squeezing his wife's hand too hard at a press function, it was variously reported as being "aggressive", "bullying" and "intimidating" on the part of Latham. The Liberal Party campaign director, Brian Loughnane, later said this incident generated more feedback to Liberal headquarters than anything else during the six-week campaign, and that it "brought together all the doubts and hesitations that people had about Mark Latham". Latham disputes the impact of this incident, however, having described it as a "Tory gee-up: we got close to each other, sure, but otherwise it was a regulation man's handshake. It's silly to say it cost us votes - my numbers spiked in the last night of our polling." (Latham Diaries, p. 369) According to Latham's account of events, Latham came in close to Howard for the handshake to prevent Howard shaking with his arm rather than his wrist.

Latham became the first Labor opposition leader since Frank Tudor in 1917 to fail to make a net gain in seats from the government at his first election. Some commentators, including Kim Beazley, said Latham's leadership had rescued Labor from a much heavier defeat. [5] Beazley said polling a year before the election indicated the ALP would lose "25-30 seats" in the House of Representatives. Instead the party lost a net four seats in the lower house, a swing of 0.21% and there was a 1.1% swing to the ALP in the Senate (see Australian federal election, 2004).

Labor's defeat led to media criticisms of Latham's personal style and policy priorities, and also to a crisis in confidence in his leadership within the Labor caucus. Several prominent members of the front-bench, notably John Faulkner, Lindsay Tanner and Bob McMullan, chose not to recontest front-bench positions. McMullan made it clear he was unhappy with Latham's leadership style and gave an interview suggesting there would be a leadership challenge early in 2005. The national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, Bill Shorten, was also highly critical of Latham.In December, after Latham was incorrectly reported to have blamed Labor's state premiers for the defeat, an unnamed Labor frontbencher predicted a leadership challenge within the next few months, saying Latham's supporters had lost confidence in him. Latham also had a heated public confrontation with the Labor deputy leader in the Senate, Stephen Conroy, renewing speculation there would be a challenge to Latham's leadership in the new year. Latham was helped by the fact that there was no obvious successor to the leadership. The most likely candidates, Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Stephen Smith, accepted senior positions on Latham's frontbench and pledged loyalty to him. The leaders of the Socialist Left faction, and the centre-left under Martin Ferguson and Julia Gillard, also maintained their support for him. There was little support for a return to Beazley, and neither Tanner nor McMullan were seen as viable leadership candidates. In the longer run, however, many commentators doubted Latham would survive until the 2007 election after such a heavy defeat.

The final crisis for Latham's leadership erupted in the aftermath of the December tsunami. With both Latham and his deputy leader, Jenny Macklin, on leave, the acting opposition leader, Senator Chris Evans, issued statements in the aftermath of the tsunami. Latham was criticised for not issuing a statement as leader personally, particularly at a time when John Howard expressed national sympathy over the disaster, pledged billion in aid to Indonesia and declared a national day of mourning. Latham rejected the criticism of his non-appearance after the tragedy, saying "none of my verbiage could make any practical difference - bring back the dead, reverse the waves, organise the relief effort". Macklin issued a statement on the disaster on 30 December before also choosing to take leave.

Several days later, Latham said he had been ordered to rest as a result of a recurrence of his pancreatitis. It was subsequently alleged that during the period of his illness he had been seen in a resort resting with his family. Latham's colleagues in turn became increasingly angry over his failure to communicate with them or to release a full statement about his health. Opinion polls in January showed a sharp decline in Latham's support and a preference for the return of Beazley as Labor leader. On 18 January, citing "life-threatening" illness and family concerns, Latham announced his resignation from the Labor Party leadership and the House of Representatives. He strongly criticised the media for invading his family's privacy during his illness. Latham had been federal Labor leader for 13 months, the shortest tenure of the same since Billy Hughes was expelled from the party in 1916. Latham was also the second federal Labor leader, after Matthew Charlton in 1928, to leave politics without ever having held ministerial office.

Political journalist Mungo MacCallum wrote: "Latham became leader too early in his career, he lacked the skills needed to deal with the webs of intrigue within his own party, he refused to massage the media and the advisers he did listen to were out of their depth against Howard's praetorian guard. But he had many qualities that were not only desirable and attractive but are in short supply in today's ALP. In other circumstances he could have developed into a formidable leader, even prime minister. As it is, he remains one of the great what-ifs."

 

The Latham Diaries by Mark Latham

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