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Latham attempts to ease fear in voters -

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Latham attempts to ease fear in voters

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN: A strange thing happened in the campaign today - In Canberra, Mark Latham announced
he wanted to bring the business community into the Labor fold by promising a regular business round
table should he win the election on Saturday - something that I don't think would cost much.

And in Launceston, John Howard won the support of the militant CFMEU trade union with a formula on
old-growth forests which appears to protect loggers' jobs.

While Mr Latham was addressing the National Press Club, attempting to put to rest any lingering
concerns about his readiness for the job, the Prime Minister was forging his agreement with both
workers and industry employers.

But it wasn't quite a miracle formula because it was labelled "misleading" by environmentalists.

Shortly, I'll be talking with Greens Senate Leader Bob Brown.

But first, political editor Michael Brissenden.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: After five-and-a-half long weeks of campaigning, this was Mark Latham's last
real national platform, a final chance to convince a sceptical electorate that he has what it takes
to be prime minister.

Mark Latham likes to say this has been a referendum on Medicare.

John Howard says it's a referendum on economic management.

Both know it'll really be a referendum on Mark Latham himself.

Is he ready to govern?

Do Australians know enough about him?

And is the electorate ready to take the risk?

Today his Press Club address was not so much about easing the squeeze, more easing the fear.

First, John Howard's big one - interest rates.

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: When it comes to interest rates, I've also got to declare my
self-interest.

Janine and I, like so many Australian families, have a thumping great mortgage.

At the kitchen table as well as the Cabinet table, I'll be doing everything I can to keep interest
rates low.

Mr Howard started this campaign talking about trust.

He's ended it with the politics of the big lie.

Don't tell a small lie, tell a whopper.

And that's what he's doing.

Not one independent economist in Australia supports Mr Howard's claims on interest rates, not one.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Then there was this - aimed squarely at those who might think he's been
learning perhaps a little too much at the feet of his mentor, Gough Whitlam.

A Latham Government, he says, will be energetic and hard working but not rushed or impulsive.

MARK LATHAM: If we're honoured to win on Saturday, Labor's transition to office will be steady and
it will be disciplined, no adventurism and no cockiness.

Straight down to work, putting our plans into place.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And finally this - there will be no night of the long knives.

MARK LATHAM: We haven't got a list of political enemies, nor time to have a list of fights to pick
- far from it.

I want to ensure that Australians are working together with a sense of common purpose and a real
sense of community.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And perhaps in response to the specific fears that have been expressed, at
least anecdotally, by many in the business community, Mr Latham says one of the first things he
plans is a regular business round table.

But all of that's predicated on what even many Labor insiders now privately say is looking less and
less likely - a Latham win.

The polls still have them neck and neck, but Labor isn't getting any real last week momentum.

There's still three sleeps to go of course, and anything could happen, but one of the consistent
themes that does emerge in everyone's polling is that perhaps it's just not quite time yet, maybe
in another three years he'll be ready.

Not surprisingly, Mark Latham doesn't see it that way.

MARK LATHAM: And at 43 years of age I've got to say I'm ready to go, I'm in the prime of my life.

I think most Australians would agree - you get through your 20s and 30s, you knock around a bit,
you get the experience under your belt and then you go forward in your 40s and get stacks of things
done.

Well, I've achieved a bit in my life and I've got more to do for the benefit of the Australian
people.

I'm not waiting three years.

If I can get their support, I'll be stuck in doing things for three years for their benefit for the
opportunity of our society.

You know, I've believed in these things for a long long time and I hope if I get the honour and
privilege to serve as prime minister, I can implement them as the head of a great Labor government.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's been an odd campaign - well, perhaps they all are in their own way, but in
this, we've seen John Howard crisscross the country spending like an old fashioned socialist, and
Mark Latham taking daily delight in holding up the Financial Review's spendometer to claim he's
been the more responsible economic manager.

Well, today the spendometer showed both had reached a net policy spend of around $13.6 billion.

But in all of it this was probably the strangest sight of all - while Mark Latham was addressing
the Press Club, John Howard was shaking hands with the timber industry and the timber unions.

Mark Latham's forest policy was a bold appeal to the green sentiment on the mainland.

John Howard's, in return, was a salve to the small Tasmanian regional communities and timber
workers' jobs.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: But there has to be a solution that is both environmentally friendly
and fair to local communities and doesn't ask of a small number of Australians to carry the burden
of what the great majority of Australians want.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Both sides have been dodging and weaving on the Tassie forests.

Some in the Labor Party think Mark Latham may have gone a little too far.

It's even been suggested John Howard played him along on the issue, goading him with stories
suggesting he had big plans for the forests.

MARK LATHAM: He's set a new low in terms of political dishonesty, a commitment in the campaign fed
out to newspaper outlets, for the obvious reasons, to say he was going to stop old growth logging -
you can look at the headlines - and if he doesn't fulfill that commitment today, he's got a new
world record of land-speed for breaking a promise.

He did it during the campaign itself.

The man is fundamentally dishonest and shouldn't be trusted by the Australian people any longer.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Mark Latham's forest policy would see an inquiry into 240,000 hectares of
contentious forest, including wilderness areas in the Tarkine and the Styx Valley.

He says he expects that an inquiry will lead to the vast majority of that area locked up from
logging, and he's promised $800 million to help communities and workers in transition.

John Howard, in contrast, has offered $50 million.

But he for one doesn't see the need for more information.

JOHN HOWARD: The Government - my government - does not intend to have any more inquiries into this
issue.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Mr Howard's plan will honour the 1997 regional forest agreement, but will see
another 170,000 hectares of land set aside.

The difference is even the unions say a good deal of this area would never have been suitable for
logging anyway.

And it has to be said it's a bit hard to be sure.

There was no map issued with the policy.

But the conservationists say it's misleading and it's a wasted opportunity.

DON HENRY, PRESIDENT, AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION FOUNDATION: It's only a small part of what we believe
needs to be protected.

It's only a small part of those great old growth forests, the rainforests, that need protection.

And many of those areas that the Prime Minister's talking about are not these threatened tall
forests that deserve protection.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Is this a valid compromise between protecting the jobs on the one hand and
protecting at least some of the forests?

DON HENRY: I think it's a very sad day for forests and a sad day for workers.

It's an extremely modest financial package, probably in the order of $50 million.

It's not a package that will help with value-adding in Tasmania, with moving away from woodchips
that go overseas, where the jobs are in Japan and other places.

It doesn't give that money for the industry to grow jobs in Tasmania.

So it's actually a loss for forests and a loss for jobs.

It's a very sad lost opportunity for the future of this nation.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The last few days of the campaign always get dirty.

John Howard is a masterful last leg campaigner.

But, at the beginning of this saga, who would have thought the political wedge would have been
coloured green?

But here it is.

JOHN HOWARD: I think the Labor Party has let down their traditional constituents on this issue - I
really do.

I think they have sold out the interests of their traditional supporters in order to buy Green
preferences.

I think it's a cynical as that.

Their policy has not been driven by any desire to balance anything.

Their policy has been driven by a desire to get Green preferences and it's been as cynical and as
deliberate and as manipulative as that.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There's been a lot of talk in the past few weeks about doctors' wives and Green
preferences and the like.

Three days out, John Howard knows he can't win them back now but he's clearly hoping to wipe out
whatever impact that may have had on the mainland by gunning hard for a few Labor seats in
Tasmania.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Michael Brissenden.

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