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Labor backbencher says comments by Mark Latham which suggest Kim Beazley is intellectually and politically bankrupt represent Thatcherism with a human face.

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PETER CAVE: Just when you’d expect politics to be winding down for Kim Beazley after a hard year of bringing Labor back from the wilderness, party maverick, Mark Latham has dropped a bombshell in his Christmas stocking.  In an article he wrote for the Australian Economic Review Mr Latham has again attacked Labor’s national vision, accusing Mr Beazley of being intellectually and politically bankrupt and citing New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, as the worst of what Labor has to offer.  He writes that Federal Labor needs to avoid repeating the mistakes of Bob Carr in New South Wales - opportunistic in Opposition, followed by broken promises and pedestrian policies in government.


But according to a brother Labor backbencher, all Mr Latham represents is Thatcherism with a human face.  Senior Left figure, Anthony Albanese, spoke to Stephen McDonell about what he thinks of Mr Latham’s third way.


ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it’s about time people had a serious, intellectual look at what Mark is saying.  What Mark is saying essentially is that if you don’t agree with me then there’s something wrong with you.  And I think that not only should people be looking at Mark but he should be having a close look at himself, what his motivation is behind all this, because this is simply a destructive path upon which he seems set to pursue.


STEPHEN McDONELL: So you’re saying it’s not all that intellectual after all?


ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it just seems to me that there’s nothing terribly intellectual about pursuing a so-called third way, borrowed from overseas, which has its emphasis on economic rationalism.


STEPHEN McDONELL: What do you think of his comment that there may be great unity in the Labor Party at the moment, but it is being achieved at the expense of developing a solid economic policy?


ANTHONY ALBANESE: I just don’t think that’s right.  I think that with Labor’s economic program which we put forward at the last election, Mark’s main problem with it is that it’s too interventionist for his liking.  That happens to be something which is also popular in terms of people’s reaction to the sort of economic rationalist road that the world went down in the 1980s.


STEPHEN McDONELL: But is it sensible?


ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is sensible because what people are saying and what the Labor Party is saying is that government has a role, that it is simply not the case that government should get out of the way and let the free market have its reign.  We also aren’t going down the road of removing the social safety net which some of Mark’s comments seem to suggest that is what he would like to see.  I mean, this is a sort of Thatcherism with a human face which Mark would like to see Labor evolve into, and that’s something that I think there’s nothing terribly intellectual about it.


STEPHEN McDONELL: Has there been a debate, though, inside the Labor Party about economic policy?  Isn’t this his point, that … well, he writes that the inner circle of the Shadow Ministry now equates economic efficiency with electoral death, that there can’t be a sensible debate about these things?


ANTHONY ALBANESE: I sat on the National Policy Committee in the lead-up to the last National Conference.  Not only did we have a number of substantive meetings and debates about specific issues, but we also went out there and met with rank and file party members, we met with the community to make sure they get their input.  We undertook the most substantive re-writing of Labor’s platform that’s been undertaken in 100 years.  Now, Mark made very little contribution to that, it’s got to be said, which is one of the reasons why I think some people take his comments now with a grain of salt.  I mean, we’ve had that process and Mark, I think I recall at National Conference in Hobart, I don’t recall him standing up and making any real substantive contribution to policy debate.


STEPHEN McDONELL: Now, in this article he’s written he singles out the Labor Government in New South Wales for criticism.  He says that the Federal Labor Party needs to avoid repeating the mistakes of Bob Carr in New South Wales:  opportunistic in Opposition followed by broken promises and pedestrian policies in government.  Do you think he has a point here?


ANTHONY ALBANESE: They’ve reduced the conservatives to the desperate act of putting Kerry Chikarovski in as leader.  Now, when you have a Labor government which is seeing Opposition leaders toppled in coups, then it’s a Labor government which is doing a pretty good job.


PETER CAVE: Anthony Albanese from Labor’s Left.