Tim Blair


New Criterion



Monday, July 05, 2004

Is he a larrikin?

On the distinction between the two characters depends Mark Latham's fitness to govern. What more do we know after Ross Coulthard's profile of the man?

In truth not a lot. We have credible evidence from two witnesses that Latham did indeed throw a punch at a verbally aggressive ratepayer when Latham was pushing his way up the Labor ladder at Liverpool Council. It is no more damaging than Latham's assault on the taxi-driver, but confirms the diagnosis of a man with the thug's propensity to swing first and talk second.

If you think that's a qualification for political leadership, go back to the 1930s where you belong.

The Labor Party wheeled out Bob Hawke, the archetypal Labor larrikin, in Latham's defence. 'He's just an ex-larrikin' was Bob's call. Two problems with that.

First, Hawke himself was never just a larrikin, but a man with a track record of leadership, many loyal supporters, and a well-founded grasp of major public policy issues. How much of that applies to Latham?

Those who had the pleasure of Bob Hawke's acquaintance during his drinking days will recall that Hawke's verbal aggression, which was monumental, never led him to attack his opponents physically.

Second, Hawke's endorsement is tainted by the grossest financial self-interest. Hawke now sells his access to governments, for very high prices, and would benefit substantially from the election of a Labor government. Sad but true.

Auntie's television news last night was satisfied to run the Labor Party's defence by paranoia, voiced by Jenny Macklin but supported by none of Labor's thinkers. Auntie suppressed entirely the more damaging part of the Coulthart story, Latham's dishonesty and disloyalty in dealing with those senior local government Labor figures who had supported him politically and financially.

Here is the account of Frank Heyhoe, the man who organised the whip-round to finance Latham during his university years.
ROSS COULTHART: The way Heyhoe tells it, Latham was secretly backing a property developer - Pat Pantaleo - because Latham needed the support of Pantaleo's powerful South Liverpool party branch if he ever wanted a seat. Frank claims Latham's deception unravelled when driving home one night he went to the house of one the names on the list he'd been given.

FRANK HEYHOE: I went in to see, and when I met this guy he looked a bit puzzled when I said thanks very much for your support. He looked a bit puzzled and there was a knock on the door and the guy opened the door and it was Mark Latham.

And when Mark Latham came in this chap said, "Mark, this man's come to see me about voting for him in tomorrow's pre-selection, but I do what you ask me to do. I vote for Mr Pantaleo. That's what I promise, and I still have the bit of paper you gave me Mark to vote for Mr Pantaleo." And I just looked at Mark Latham and I said, "Thanks a lot Mark. That's great. Good stuff." What did I say to him? "You'll get by. You'll get by."

Auntie may ignore them, and Crikey calls them all leftists, but many of these men who now detest Latham are clearly the salt of the old Labor earth, and they are not going away. Their calm and credible voices will be in the minds of many Labor-leaning voters as election day approaches.

And the bad news on Latham seems unlikely to stop.
Labor leader Mark Latham, when mayor of Liverpool in NSW, tried to run a fellow councillor off the road

Like the image of Latham's Parliamentary defamations, also given a re-run by Coulthart. It is striking to think that such infantile abuse as Latham's description of Janet Albrechtsen, a sober and informed columnist, as a "skanky ho" (he actually said 'shanky')was scripted and read out calmly in an empty House of Representatives.

When Paul Keating resorted to similar language it was in heated debate, and more carefully targeted.

All this adds up to something less forgivable than youthful larrikinism. It indicates a man whose judgement you can not trust, who is personally untrustworthy, and whose answer to opposition is uncrafted violence.

Is this your leader?

It seems the Latham style still appeals to younger voters, confirming the importance of raising the voting age to 21 years.
Among Longman's 18 to 19-year-old voters, 52 per cent said they would support the ALP

Glenn Milne, in the Australian, concludes "The worst that can be said of that is it puts him in pretty good company in Canberra", but fails to put Latham in the company of former Prime Ministers, or Party leaders, Labor and Coalition. The comparisons would not be in Latham's favour.

Mind you, those Yanks are trying to help Latham again.