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Transcript of interview: Latham home, Campbelltown, NSW: 30 November 2003: \nLeadership.



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Transcript

MARK LATHAM MP SHADOW TREASURER MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS MEMBER FOR WERRIWA

TRANSCRIPT - LATHAM HOME, CAMPBELLTOWN 12:00NOON

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Leadership.

LATHAM: Well, I want to welcome you to Campbelltown and welcome you to my backyard. I have gathered you here to announce that I will be nominating in the ballot next Tuesday, the Caucus ballot on Tuesday 2 December, to determine the next Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

I am nominating because I believe the Party should go forward, not backwards. I’m nominating because I believe we are a party of reform and progress, a party that’s always got to look to the future to do good progressive things for the Australian people, move our agenda forward, energise our supporters and always go in a forward direction.

I want to make it plain at the outset that I am in this ballot win it. I am not running to come second. I am in it to win it and then to defeat the Howard government when an election is called sometime next year.

I also want to say that I pay great tribute to Simon Crean, he’s a good man, he was a good Labor leader and he’s done a lot for the modern Labor Party: the modernisation of our policy and our rules to modernise our approach in so many respects, to democratise the Labor Party.

But most importantly for the future of this country, he has started a mighty crusade to save bulk-billing, to save Medicare, to make the education system more affordable, to save our grand old river system, the Murray Darling. To do so many good things across the public policy spectrum.

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So I want to build on his legacy. I’ve got my own agenda, my own approach, my own ideas and priorities. But most of all I want to build on his agenda and carry the Party forward in due course.

I think it is very, very important to recognise what Simon said yesterday. This is a ballot, not just about Labor leadership, but about Labor standards. And we have had a rocky time: too much destabilisation, too much disloyalty in the last couple of years.

I proudly have committed myself in the past to loyalty to Simon Crean. It’s a funny thing in public life, if its loyalty to our family, loyalty to our footy team, loyalty to our mates, loyalty to our nation - everyone says that’s a virtue. Well some people unhappily in politics say that disloyalty is a virtue. I don’t think that. I think it’s a vice. I think being loyal and sticking by the person who’s in is important and that’s what I tried to do with Simon Crean and that’s the standard that we’ve got to carry forward to the future. We shouldn’t be rewarding disloyalty in the modern Labor Party.

So I pay those tributes to Simon, also to his wife Carole, the Crean family who have given so much to the Labor movement over so many years. I want to build on his legacy, particularly his inclusive approach in the Party and I also want to set my own policy agenda, working with colleagues, working in a consultative way in the movement.

My priorities start with eliminating poverty. I can take you to suburbs just up the road from here, public housing estates, where people have got 40 percent unemployment rates, 80 percent welfare dependency rates, where we’ve got second and third generation long-term unemployment. We can’t tolerate that. We need a fairer society. I believe we need internationally to win the war against terror, but domestically we’ve got to win the war against poverty. We’ve got to make this not only a safer and more secure country, but a fairer country. So that’s a big priority. Many, many things need to be done to beat poverty in Australia and I want a Labor government to do them for the benefit of this nation.

The second agenda item I want to mention here today is about early childhood education. All my opportunities in life have come from education. Studying hard, working hard, good education and a good family - nothing ever beats it. A good government school is a mighty institution. I’ve been a beneficiary of that system. But I think the missing link in our structure of lifelong learning in Australia is about early childhood.

Because quite frankly, learning doesn’t start the first day of school, learning starts the first day of life. And we need to recognise that and do so much more. I’m struck by the international studies showing to work out where someone’s going to be as an adult - those pathways will be set at age five. We’ve got to do so much to encourage parents to read aloud to their children, we’ve got to do so much to ensure that parents value education in the home, that we’ve got qualified teachers in the childcare system, we’ve got better

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preschool access, a whole new national effort to build up early childhood learning as the foundation stone of a learning society.

The third agenda item I want to mention is about our democracy itself. When I got interested in politics and joined the Green Valley Branch of the Labor Party in 1979 on a balmy summer’s night, politics then was an honoured profession. People trusted people in public life. The broken promises of the Fraser years, the disappointment since, the duplicity of the Howard Government, people don’t trust people in public life any more. I want to open up our democracy for much more grass roots participation. We live in an information rich society, a society with decent levels of education, where basically people want to have a bigger say. I’m committed to looking at ways in which we can improve our democracy in the Labor Party. We’ve just had a trial with a direct election of the National President and that’s been good for us and we can take that lesson to the broader democracy itself.

And on agenda items, my priorities for the future. I want to mention the importance of Australian identity and Australian independence. People sometimes talk about my language. Well it’s true, I love the larrikin Australian language, I really do. I love it so much I use it. I use it in my every day life, I use it in my public life. Now I recognise in these circumstances, aspiring to lead the Labor Party - I’m not going to drop my larrikin language - but I do recognise the need for all Australians to be able to relate to me. An inclusive approach and I’ll be working hard in that regard.

But I am a proud Australian, so proud that I want to put the republic higher on the agenda. I think it’s an issue that we need to progress all the time: explaining to people why we should have constitutional independence, why the Head of State in Australia should be one of us.

The other thing I want to mention on these items and it relates to our independence is the unease I have about the way the Howard Government is proceeding and some of the information we get about their free trade agreement with the United States.

Because quite frankly, I don’t want to lose our national culture. I love Australian national culture and I don’t want to lose the industries that promote it, the information systems that build it in this country. I don’t want to lose our pharmaceutical system, I don’t want to lose our access to Asian markets, I’ve got an unease about that and my basic instinct is always to put Australia first and foremost.

If I can just say before we go to questions that I can beat John Howard. That’s my determination, that’s my instinct, that’s what I will dedicate myself to with every fibre and piece of energy in my body. John Howard, the thing that I just can’t wear is the way in which he’s tried to make himself look bigger by making the rest of the country look smaller. We should be a big country, we should be big enough to invest in the health care and education of our children, to save our natural environment, to do all the good things for an independent and proud Australian nation. We should be bigger than this

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government and I want the Australian Labor Party to prove that in the election campaign and through the course of 2004 and form a Federal Labor Government.

I state my commitment in this ballot against at least one other candidate to a clean fight. This is the last time I will be engaged in the media. I’m here to make a comprehensive statement, to answer questions - but I believe in a clean fight. The Party’s been through too much to go through a public bloodbath, I don’t want that, I’m sticking to the issues, my priorities, I’m canvassing my colleagues accordingly.

I want to thank my supporters, people who’ve encouraged me within the Caucus, our 92 Caucus members. For all our challenges, we’re a special group. A special group with some very special people there who’ve encouraged me and pledged their support for which I am very grateful and I’ll be trying to build that support into a majority come Tuesday 2 December.

And finally I thank my family without whom I couldn’t be here today without their support, their encouragement, their love, their endorsement, I just wouldn’t be able to do it. I thank my wife Janine, our two little boys, Oliver and Isaac - the little fella’s skadooped somewhere as he does - and my mother, my sisters, their families. We’re a close knit family, we love a challenge, we love a fight. The Lathams never back down from a fight and I’m not doing it now.

JOURNALIST: The man you’re up against is Kim Beazley. Has he been disloyal? That seems to be what you’re suggesting.

LATHAM: I’m not going into personalities and commentary about Mr Beazley. I’ve made my statement and the matter rests there.

JOURNALIST: What have you got to offer more than him?

LATHAM: Well I think I can take us forward. I think the Labor Party has always got to go forward, we’ve got to look to the future, we’ve got to build agendas, we’ve got to energise our movement, we’ve always got to be progressing. I’ve made commentary about the small target strategy in the past, never a fan, would never do it myself and I’ve got a different approach. I believe the Caucus deserves a choice in that regard, a different policy approach, a different approach to Labor standards and loyalty, a different approach about how we would progress as an Australian Labor Party. The choice is there for the Caucus, I think that choice in a democratic organisation is important. I am running to win and I hope I can achieve that on Tuesday.

JOURNALIST: Kim Beazley said if he wins there will be no retribution against Latham supporters. Will you give that same commitment? Will there be no retribution against Beazley supporters if you win?

LATHAM: No there won’t be, there won’t be retribution, because our Party’s been through too much. Andrew, we can’t afford to suffer more.

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JOURNALIST: But will every frontbencher stay in their current position or will you reshuffle?

LATHAM: Well, there’ll obviously have to be a reshuffle, we’ll need a new Shadow Treasurer for one because I’d become the Leader and there’d be some adjustments. So I can’t rule out those sort of changes, but in answering your question, no retribution, I believe in an inclusive approach. One of the lessons I’ve learnt in my time is that Simon Crean gave me a second chance on the front bench two years ago, a second chance in public life. I responded to that with loyalty and the purpose that I’ve displayed working with him - something I’m very proud of. Some people said ‘oh, Latham, he won’t be a team player’. Well, I’ve stuck. I’ve stuck and shown my capacity in that role over the past two years and if you give people a go, they can respond. I’ve learnt that from Simon Crean and I’ll carry that forward in the future.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Beazley supporters will be loyal to you though? There’s 40 of them. Won’t this just create more division?

LATHAM: Well, I’m asking for their vote. I’m asking for their vote, whether they’ve been identified with Kim Beazley or anyone else in the past. I’m asking for their vote and the majority of the support of the Caucus on Tuesday. That’s the thing that matters to me. I’m in this to win it. I’m not there to run second. I’m there to win it and then beat John Howard.

JOURNALIST: Did you stick with Simon Crean for too long though? He’s put you in a very unenviable position with the polls?

LATHAM: Well I don’t know about the polls. But one good thing about Simon, we haven’t had a poll-driven approach. We don’t wake up every second Tuesday and determine our life via polls. We’ve been standing up and doing things according to Labor belief and conviction. We haven’t been driven by media commentary and polls. We’ve been rolling out policies to save bulk-billing, to make higher education and TAFE more affordable for working Australians, to give young people a better start in life, to do good things, to build a savings culture in Australia, these are all…

JOURNALIST: Did you stick with Simon for too long?

LATHAM: Well I stuck with Simon right through and it wasn’t my choice in the end, but the reality is here. I’m running to build on his legacy, the fact that he abandoned the small target strategy, he’s been advocating policy, I’ll be out there selling those policies, the ones that Simon has announced with colleagues so far. My own agenda, in consultation with the Party, I want people to know where I stand, I want the Caucus to have a choice. They won’t have any doubt, and the Australian people won’t ever have any doubt about where Mark Latham stands.

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JOURNALIST: Some members of the Caucus, the Caucus you say you’re asking to vote for you, call you mad and divisive. What hope have you got with an electorate if your own Party members regard you that way?

LATHAM: Well people can say these things and I once said, with a bit of prominence 14 months ago, every now and then you get some big men on the blower and cowards in the Caucus. All these comments are anonymous, people don’t actually put their names to them, but you don’t need to be Albert Einstein to work out what we are talking about here. People might say these things about me, but I’ve got to say, I’ve had fewer prouder moments in my public life than for the last two years I’ve had the purpose and the loyalty to be sticking by Simon Crean. There was nothing wild about that. That was the true Labor purpose that we’ve been working for. I meet these suggestions with action. And people can judge me by the way I’ve been a team player and a part of the Crean team over the past two years. We haven’t been perfect by any means, I think that’s evident enough, we haven’t been perfect, but we’ve done some good things, some good things that shouldn’t be forgotten in this context and things we can build on for the future.

JOURNALIST: Did you get his blessing?

LATHAM: I’m not going into discussions with colleagues in any shape or form.

JOURNALIST: Are you running on a ticket with anyone for Deputy, and if not, who would you prefer? Would it be Jenny Macklin?

LATHAM: No, the position on Tuesday is there’s one vacancy, that’s for the Leader in the Reps, that’s what I’m contesting. I’ll be looking to work with all the Leadership team and the Shadow Ministry to give the country what they so badly want, a fighting, effective Labor opposition that can go into the campaign and win government to give Australia better public administration, better social justice, better hope for the future, to be bigger than the Howard Government, bigger in so many respects, on so many important policy agendas.

JOURNALIST: One of your policy ideas that caused big problems is tax cuts for the rich. Is that something you would pursue as Labor leader?

LATHAM: Well, I’ve made statements about that last week and I stand by them. I’m now discussing that issue with colleagues in the full context of what’s been going on and I’ll save the detailed information for the dialogue that I’m having with my Caucus colleagues.

JOURNALIST: Mark, how hard was this decision?

LATHAM: Well, the hardest thing was to see what’s happened to Simon. That’s been the hardest thing. People have encouraged me and people have said we need a choice on Tuesday and I believe in the Labor Party. Since I was 14 or 15 years of age, I’ve believed in the Australian Labor

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Party, its values, its standards, its policies and to serve the Labor Party is an honour. It’s not hard, it’s an honour, it’s a privilege and to move into this ballot on Tuesday for me is something special and I’ll be giving it my best shot.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Kevin Rudd will drag votes away from you?

LATHAM: I’m not going into the details about personalities and colleagues in that sense. So thanks for being here today.

ENDS