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Opposition Leader speaks at centenary celebrations for election of first Labor prime minister.

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Wednesday 28 April 2004

Opposition Leader speaks at centenary celebrations for election of first Labor prime minister


TONY EASTLEY: The Opposition leader, Mark Latham is b ack on the road this morning, in Victoria, selling his message after an evening of Labor Party backslapping. Last night he joined Labor's most famous sons to celebrate the centenary of the first national Labor Government in Australia. 


While Mark Latham used the event to showcase Labor and to present himself as an alternative Prime Minister, he accused John Howard of fostering a narrow, exclusive vision that stifles public debate. 


Rachel Carbonell reports. 


RACHEL CARBONELL: The centenary dinner was all about celebrating the Chris Watson Labor government of 1904. But for all the nostalgia, those who attended were clearly very focussed on 2004. 


Labor Leader, Mark Latham, was flanked by his mentor, former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. 


And while Mr Whitlam didn't speak publicly, Bob Hawke was full of praise. 


BOB HAWKE: He's lifted the spirits of the party, he's got Howard rattled, which is good and I hope he'll continue to do it right up to the day of the election. 


RACHEL CARBONELL: Mark Latham used his speech to target the Prime Minister, accusing him of stifling dissent. 


MARK LATHAM: We saw it in the Mick Keelty affair - the attempt to smear and pressure Australia's top law enforcement officer into toeing the Liberal Party line. We've seen it in the Lance Collins affair - the mistreatment of someone who wants nothing more than decent intelligence services and security for the Australian people. 


We've seen it in the relentless manipulation of the Australian public service, where good people and good officers are scared to speak the truth, scared to speak their mind in the Australian national interest. 


RACHEL CARBONELL: Mark Latham pointed out that even some of the Liberal Party's own past leaders have fallen foul of the Prime Minister. 


MARK LATHAM: So Malcolm Fraser, John Hewson, John Valder, Ian McPhee and those of their ilk, shouldn't feel alone. Not only has dissent been stifled within the Liberal Party, it's been stifled across the Australian public sector. 


Gough Whitlam said recently, largely because of the Howard propaganda machine, Malcolm Fraser has now supplanted him as public enemy number one in the demonology of the Australian right wing. 




RACHEL CARBONELL: Mark Latham went on to say John Howard had fallen victim to his own propaganda and myth making. 


MARK LATHAM: Now, some might call Mr Howard's attitude sheer arrogance. I call it plain ignorance: ignorance about the true basis of Australia's security and standing in our region and the world. Ignorance about the real opportunities and obligations which flow from our partnerships with other countries. Ignorance about the great facts of our history. 


And most of all, most of all, ignorance about the nature and high purposes of our democracy - actually fostering debate, actually respecting dissent and the diversity of opinion in our nation. 


And also his ignorance about the real needs and problems and hopes of the Australian people themselves. 


And whether all these failings come from the Howard Government's arrogance or its ignorance, I am absolutely convinced that they present us as a Labor Party with a magnificent, indeed an historic opportunity at the coming elections. 


TONY EASTLEY: Opposition leader Mark Latham.