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Latham not optimistic about party reform -

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ELEANOR HALL: Former Federal Labor Leader Mark Latham says he is not optimistic that this defeat will help to bring about reform in the Labor Party.

He says that despite Kevin Rudd's attempt to give party members a bigger role in electing the new leader, the person who he thinks is best placed to lead a reformed party is unlikely even to be considered.

Mr Latham predicted last week that Labor's vote was improving in Western Sydney, but when he joined me this morning he said that Labor's defeat is still massive and that the result does not justify the leadership switch from Julia Gillard back to Kevin Rudd.

MARK LATHAM: Oh, I don't think it's really arguable that he somehow saved the furniture. When Julia Gillard left office, her last day as Prime Minister the betting markets were saying that Labor was going to win 50 seats. The result looks of the order of 55-56.

Is it really worth it? I think the saddest part of Labor's campaign wasn't on the campaign trail, it was below the surface. The number of branch members and electorate staff, organisers, who told me that after the Rudd-Gillard civil war, the treachery, the bastardry, for three years, their heart wasn't in it this time - and unfortunately they couldn't believe in the way in which Rudd came back and the way in which he destroyed the Labor Prime Minister in Julia Gillard.

So the part of the Labor Party that matters most - its heart, its soul, its rank and file - and for them, the story is pretty sad indeed.

ELEANOR HALL: Are you saying though that you don't think that the Labor Party should have switched?

MARK LATHAM: You know, it's easier for all the media urges (phonetic) to sit there in their media offices saying oh, you know, Rudd saved five or six seats. But Labor's more than an outfit where you look at some finely calibrated outcome on the Mackerras Pendulum. It's more than a vote gathering machine. It's a political cause, to try to make Australia a better and fairer place - people who put their heart into it.

And if you haven't got your true believers you've got no Labor Party. So then they were gutted. They were gutted by the experience. And to turn a party inside out, upside down, to have a three year civil war for the sake of half a dozen seats, of course is pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

ELEANOR HALL: When he made his concession speech, Kevin Rudd didn't sound like he'd just lost the election. How bad a result is this for Labor?

MARK LATHAM: It's terrible. It's the lowest primary vote since 1934. The loss of what looks like about 17 seats. Makes me think, Eleanor, back in 2004, when we had 60 seats, and I copped all that bucketing for what was said to be an appalling election result, what I should have actually said was look, the polling showed we were going to win 35 seats. We got to 60.

So therefore I could have been a Labor hero, walking in, waving my arms, smiling, wife beaming by my side.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you really think Kevin Rudd is a Labor hero?

MARK LATHAM: Well, no. No.

ELEANOR HALL: Well you've been calling for a reform of the party for a long time. Could a defeat like this actually end up delivering it?

MARK LATHAM: Well it needs to. The underlying problems for Labor are not about personalities, they're about structure and culture. The party at Caucus level has become dysfunctional. It's become an example of institutionalised instability and chaos.

And the reason is they've got a Caucus now of what looks like about 85 members with 25 of those union-sponsored subfactional warlords. People who want to manipulate the numbers, control the leader, run the party.

ELEANOR HALL: So who should be the new leader? Who's best-placed to reform the party?

MARK LATHAM: Well, someone who's committed to sorting out the problem of the subfactional warlords. If you sat back objectively and said, well what does Labor now need in its leadership? You'd say, well we need someone who's not from the union background, someone who's not part of the subfactional warlords - the people immersed in the Rudd-Gillard quagmire over the last three years.

We need someone who's had a real life outside of politics, not just an apparatchik. Someone who's mature, had some cabinet experience.

ELEANOR HALL: Is there anyone who fits this criteria?

MARK LATHAM: Yeah, at this point Eleanor, you and your listeners are probably thinking, ah, Labor's going to be led by the invisible man. Well actually, if you took that logical, objective criteria, there's only one person who could possibly match it and that's Mark Dreyfus, the outgoing Attorney-General.

Now, he won't be running for the Labor leadership because he's not part of the gang. That's the sad thing about Labor Party - that objectively the person who could present a new face, a new outlook, won't even be thought of. We're going to go back to, what, Shorten: union, union, union. Or Albanese: warlord, warlord, warlord.

I mean, if they don't change themselves now, in the dark night of defeat, you'd have to think, well, what hope is there for the future. It's so frustrating. The know-how exists for how to reform the Labor Party. The lasting legacy of the Rudd return should be to embrace his call for comprehensive party reform.

ELEANOR HALL: And you don't think that Bill Shorten or Anthony Albanese could deliver that reform? Sometimes it's people who were part of the system that can actually change it?

MARK LATHAM: Well, are they Richard Nixon going to China? I don't think so. I think you need to understand that there's a cancer inside the Labor Party that's about structure and culture. And if you just go to the people who've been beneficiaries of that, then you're not really presenting something new to the Australian people or the hope for party reform and doing something good for the true believers.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, Kevin Rudd has given party members more of a say in electing the leader. Is there a possibility that we could actually see a contest?

MARK LATHAM: Well I hope so. It would be healthy for the Labor Party. But not a contest where it's based on backstabbing and heavying people. A contest where people put their hand up for the right reason - they want to serve the party and they're judged on their merits.

So the party membership has a say - that would be refreshing. I mean, it'd be a great thing for democracy in the Labor Party that all the branch members would have a vote. That would be a refreshing process.

And through that, the main thing would be for these candidates to campaign on their credentials and ideas for changing Labor's broken structure and culture, for putting up organisational reform. Instead of a bunch of union secretaries and a couple of warlords sitting around a Chinese restaurant in Sussex Street tonight and trying to plot out the party's future for the next ten years.

That's the broken, failed Labor way. That's what the election result's saying. It's broken, it's failed, it's produced your Obeids and McDonalds in the past. You got to open up the party, democratise the old beast, give people a say.

ELEANOR HALL: You sound like you don't think that's what's going to happen - but why wouldn't it, given we have already had this reform in terms of how to elect the leader?

MARK LATHAM: Well there are so many malignant influences around. You know, Eleanor, I come out of this system knowing how it works. I know the sort of telephone calls that are being made right now, all around the country, as these subfactional warlords try and do for the next three years effectively what they've done for the last three years: continue to wreck the modern Labor Party. I know these people, I know what they do, I know how they handle political life.

And all the signals are not good. Rudd embraced the reform. I fear that there'll just be a normal stitch up behind the scenes to bypass the new balloting democratic arrangement and intimidate out of any ballot anyone else who wants to run. And the party members will never get a way.

I would have thought two days after an election defeat you'd have a number of candidates nominating. But they're all keeping their cards close to their chest. They'll all be wheeling and dealing behind the scenes and it's a very bad sign at this stage. I hope I'm wrong.

I'm not a religious person but I pray I'm wrong. But old habits die hard and you just can't be optimistic at this time.

ELEANOR HALL: Mark Latham, thanks very much for joining us.

MARK LATHAM: Yes, pleasure, thanks Eleanor.

ELEANOR HALL: That's former Labor Party leader, Mark Latham, speaking to me in Sydney this morning.