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Surprising support for Latham -

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Surprising support for Latham

AM - Thursday, 13 January , 2005 08:23:36

Reporter: Catherine McGrath

CATHERINE MCGRATH: For those who are Mark Latham critics, they're either openly criticising him
more and more, as time goes on, or they're waiting to see. But some responses are not always as
expected. For example, Duncan Kerr didn't vote for him in the leadership ballot but says that he
should be, at the moment, left alone to recover.

This is part of what Duncan Kerr said to me when I spoke to him earlier.

DUNCAN KERR: Well, I think there's a growing sense that Mark deserves a fair go when he is
recovering from illness, and certainly I think that if his health is fully restored, and that's
what he tells us on Friday, then all the discussion of the last couple of weeks will be put very
much into perspective.

We'll move on and the judgement of his future and that of the Labor Party and his colleagues will
be around the issues of how well we perform as we move through the next term of government, and how
we take the fight up to John Howard and the Liberal Party.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: So how do rate any of this analysis over the last couple of weeks, that has said
that politically he has failed over the last few weeks by being quiet, by not speaking out or being
perhaps less than honest about his illness?

DUNCAN KERR: Look, I think truthfully this is a silly season story. I actually feel sorry for Mark.
I didn't support him in the leadership challenge when it occurred but you've got to feel sorry for
a bloke who went through a period where nothing he could do, was seen as the media, as a fault, but
of course after the defeat in the election, everybody's been in there to put the boot in.

I think, if you're ill over Christmas and you've handed over responsibility to the Deputy Leader,
you're under doctors orders not to speak or to take part in public affairs, truthfully, it's pretty
hard to see any blame that could be attached in those circumstances, and the party itself expressed
grave, grave regret for the loss of human lives in the tsunami.

I mean, truthfully, any Australian who hasn't been deeply moved by this would have a heart of
stone. I think though, it's just one of those things that Mark has been caught up in a period where
there isn't much to talk about and he unfortunately has been the thing that people have talked
about.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: So you don't really think then, from what you're saying, that there was any need
for him to make his own statement because acting leaders were making statements?

DUNCAN KERR: Look, I'm sure, given the way that this has been reported, Mark and his advisers
would, in retrospect say it would have been wise to at least put out a short statement explaining
why he wouldn't be available publicly.

But, as I say, if his medical reports are that he's fully fit and he's continuing as leader, then
the judgements about those issues will be quickly swept into the past.

So I mean, people don't make perfect judgements all the time. The more so if they're struck down by
a serious illness, and I know how painful this is because I had a friend who was in hospital for
three months with it.

So, I'm not certain that you should be making the hardest of calls on political judgements when
somebody is suffering from an excruciatingly painful illness.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Some of your colleagues, those that fall into the anti-Latham camp are saying
privately that he's a spent force, politically. You don't subscribe to that?

DUNCAN KERR: Well, look I mean, people will continue to make evolving judgements about the
strengths or weaknesses of political leaders, but I don't think that while a person is suffering an
illness, his colleagues should be doing other than wishing him a full recovery.

I mean, I didn't support Mark in the last leadership challenge but I think he's entitled to a fair
go, particularly at a time when his health is obviously of concern to him and his family.

I only wish him a full recovery, and of course judgements in politics continue to be made on an
ongoing basis, but surely, all we could do is to hope that they're not made on the basis that he's
a sick man.

ELEANOR HALL: Tasmanian MP Duncan Kerr, speaking to Catherine McGrath.