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Latham's future uncertain -

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Latham's future uncertain

AM - Thursday, 13 January , 2005 08:21:19

Reporter: Catherine McGrath

ELEANOR HALL: Federal Labor leader Mark Latham is a man under siege, with a media contingent camped
outside his western Sydney home, while some of his Labor party critics whisper that he will not be
leader for much longer.

Tomorrow Mr Latham is expected to make a statement about his health, after he was told by doctors
that he is suffering from severe pancreatitis and will require on-going medical attention.

But while he is not even talking to his closest political allies, supporters are maintaining that
Mr Latham will continue as leader.

Critics though say he's a dead man walking, and that his recent political judgements have sealed
his fate.

Yesterday, former leader Kim Beazley ruled out challenging but wouldn't speculate on whether he
could be drafted.

And now, Labor frontbencher Julia Gillard, a Latham loyalist but also a possible successor, has cut
short her holiday in Vietnam and is returning to Australia.

We are joined now in Canberra by our Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath.

Catherine, what's the speculation about what Mark Latham will say at this press conference
tomorrow?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well Labor MPs are waiting to hear for themselves. Now he did contact Joel
Fitzgibbon, his closest political ally, during Tuesday, but he hasn't spoken to him since.

Now, we expect he's speaking to Laurie Brereton, who was very instrumental in getting Mark Latham
into that position, but otherwise, he's really not talking to his colleagues. He's speaking to his
family and making a decision.

So the belief is, that Mark Latham hasn't reached a decision yet on what he's going to do, because
his medical condition is so severe that he has to decide a) how he's going to manage it and b)
whether he can continue in the job.

So, in terms of the Labor Party, they're waiting to see. They don't know what he's going to say.
His supporters are saying that they expect and hope that they will continue.

ELEANOR HALL: And how significant is it that Julia Gillard is returning early from overseas?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well it's significant in the fact that at the moment, with so much happening,
and so much riding on Mark Latham's announcement, MPs don't want to be out of the country, and
particularly someone like Julia Gillard.

Now, she is a Latham loyalist, as you mentioned. She's been one of his key backers and even though
she didn't get her preferred job as shadow treasurer, she's very much in the Latham camp.

But if Latham decides himself not to continue, or if his supporters for some reason decide that he
shouldn't, then they're likely to put their support behind someone like Julia Gillard.

So she needs to be in Australia when this is going on. She needs to be here for his announcement.
She can't afford to be out of the country.

ELEANOR HALL: And Catherine, what do we know about Mr Latham's medical condition?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well, it is very serious and I've had that confirmed from a number of sources
over the last few days. He will need ongoing monitoring and that could mean that from time to time,
he's going to need treatment and possibly extended treatment.

Pancreatitis can be a one off event. For him that is not the case. It's moved now into the chronic
phase and that could severely limit his health over time. So, not just the way he could perform his
job, but it may severely impact on his quality of life.

Now, if this condition isn't managed, what could happen, for example, is that he could have chronic
pain for the rest of his life.

ELEANOR HALL: Now, you've been speaking to a number of Labor MPs. What are they prepared to say
publicly?

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well, not very much, not very much at all. They're waiting to see. Now, as I
said, his supporters are hoping and very much saying on the record that they expect him to come
back. But of course, their future is tied up with Mark Latham's future, and if he steps down, then
for all of them, that means a backward step for their own careers.

So they're very much hoping that he stays on, but even they are admitting he's made political
mistakes, and that makes him staying on a very difficult proposition.