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Opposition Leader discusses election result and ALP policies.



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER MARK LATHAM

INTERVIEW WITH DERRYN HINCH 3AW

SYDNEY

22ND NOVEMBER 2004

HINCH: I am here with the Opposition Leader, Mr Latham good afternoon.

LATHAM: Good afternoon Derryn, how you going?

JOURNALIST: I am going well; I saw a quote from you after the election that you went to bed the night before the election knowing you weren’t going to win. When did you know? When did you know in your own heart you weren’t going to win?

LATHAM: Pretty well the night before. We campaigned hard for the six weeks of the campaign but the day before, the night before you get an assessment from the party officials, the campaign officials about how it looks and that is when you start to get an expectation about what is likely to happen on polling night.

JOURNALIST: I saw you a the National Press Club a couple of days earlier and to my mind, and I said on air,' He looked like a man who thought he had lost’

LATHAM: Oh no, I don’t feel that was the case three days out from polling day. Not at all . As I say you campaign hard and you don’t think too much about the outcome, you are trying to influence the outcome at that stage. But inevitably the night before the election, the day of the election you are thinking about the result because it is all out of your hands. It is in the hands of the Australian people and you start to get a realisation, expectations about what is likely to happen as they count the votes.

JOURNALIST: OK how do you get off the canvas? In the cartoons there is a picture of you as a train wreck, you have got a loser Senate come July. How do you get it all back on track?

LATHAM: Well you have got to listen closely to the judgement of the Australian people. They sent us a message about the economy. Now in the history of Australia, when the economy has been growing it is very hard to change the Federal Government but we have got to try and get our message across more effectively about economic responsibility. Let people know time after time we won’t run deficit budgets. We won’t have a long list of spending commitments we can’t honour. We won’t be putting pressure on interest rates. And we have also got to come up with policies. That people want to continue the economic growth and we have got to do those things and take seriously the message we received on Election Day.

JOURNALIST: Now they back footed you on Election Day. Whether it is true or not they back footed you.

LATHAM: Oh, whether it is true or not, that scare campaign, all that negative TV advertising, had an impact. There is no doubt about that. Some people vote for positive agenda some people vote out of fear and uncertainty and those ads certainly generated a degree of fear and uncertainty in the electorate’s mind. And people these days with the level of household debt at a record level, people have never had mortgages so high and any adjustment in the interest rates people worry about it. And of course we found out last week, the Governor of Reserve Bank has got an expectation that interest rates will go up some time in the next twelve to eighteen months. So we will hold the Government to account for that. I think they left people with a promise that no- one would be hurt in the future by interest rate rises.

JOURNALIST: Now I said day one of the campaign that Hinch’s hunch was that Howard would be re elected because they go for the devil they knew rather than the devil they don’t know yet. How do you convince the electorate that you are a trustworthy and worthy inhabitant of the Lodge?

LATHAM: Well I have been in the job for less than twelve months. We have got another 3 years in opposition to keep on explaining to the Australian people our agenda for health and education. Areas where we have put out a lot

of good policy and I think the public were enthusiastic about that. But on the economic side we have to let people know about the things we won’t do. We won’t be putting pressure on interest rates. We won’t be running deficit budgets. And talking about policies that help to grow the economy and let people know that Labor is very, very sound on economic management.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel at all - I won’t say you’re a dead man walking, but you feel at all that you’ve got 12 months if you don’t pick up by then, they’ll do to you what they did to Simon Crean?

LATHAM: Well in politics disunity is death and I don’t believe the Labor party is going to do what it did last Parliamentary term because if you destabilise and talk about yourself and have internal divisions for two or three years, the electorate won’t take you seriously. Whether it’s me or Bobby Jones leading the Labor Party it wouldn’t make much difference if the party is not united and doesn’t give the Australian people a sense of purpose and stability then we’d have very little chance at the next election. So, I don’t think the Labor Party is about to commit suicide. We’ve learned the lesson from the last Parliamentary term that destabilisation and uncertainty about the Labor Party is not going to help on any front.

JOURNALIST: Have you learnt the lesson that maybe some of your campaign decisions were unilateral and were wrong and you didn’t take enough advice from people?

LATHAM: I’m always taking advice from people you get plenty of it in politics. Sometimes though, the role of Leader is to make a decision. Look at the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, there were differences in the Labor Party, Left and Right, people saying yes and no about that. So, I had to make a decision that turned out ok from our point of view. Other times there are different points of view, a lack of information and the Leader has to make a decision. That was the case on Tasmanian forests, the timing of it could have been better positioned in the election campaign and the way we explained our economic program. The job security aspect of it could have been more effective as well. So, sure, errors were made. If I’d run the perfect campaign and have the perfect 12 months as Labor Leader…

JOURNALIST: You’d be Prime Minister now. Now the unfair dismissal laws, that’s going to come up again, because once the Coalition has control of the Senate, it’s been knocked back more than 40 times from memory, will you oppose it again?

LATHAM: Well the Coalition gets control of the Senate it will go through at that stage. Before then we made an election promise, we don’t support the total deregulation of the labour market and when it comes to the unfair dismissal laws I think we’ve got to have some guidelines. The Government is wanting to

get rid of all the guidelines so anyone who brings on staff, you’ve got to take some responsibility for that. If it doesn’t work out, try and give them some counselling and assistance and if that doesn’t work, then you course you should

have the right to dismiss the person. But I think it’s getting the balance right, the responsibility of the employer, that if it doesn’t work out and the employee, is totally the wrong person and obvious problems in the workplace then of course they’ve got to be moved on. I think it’s a question of balance rather than total deregulation.

JOURNALIST: Medicare Gold sounded like a pretty good idea. Why didn’t the people embrace it?

LATHAM: I don’t think people were voting against us because of Medicare Gold. It was the interest rates scare campaign and economic management that was the decisive fact. I haven’t spoken to a Labor candidate who says that Medicare Gold was the subject of a lot of complaints, feedback. In fact, I talked to Steve Georganas, who won the seat of Hindmarsh, I think it’s the oldest electorate in the country and the greatest number of senior citizens, and he said the feedback was tremendous. He won by 100 votes and he openly says if it wasn’t for Medicare Gold he wouldn’t be in the House of Representatives today.

JOURNALIST: Now obviously from the comments made in the last 24 hours I suspect you aren’t expecting to be campaigning against Peter Costello anytime soon because John Howard is going nowhere.

LATHAM: Well he says that time after time. We had speculation in the last Parliamentary term Mr Howard said he might have given it away I think on his 64th birthday. It’s not too clear what he plans to do at any one time and he seems to give the Australian people the impression it’s a year to year proposition and we’ll just have to see what happens. Certainly if he thought he was going to run three years he would have said that before the election to clear up that uncertainty.

JOURNALIST: But he hadn’t been elected then, I mean he said, the quote I saw from the weekend he said “I’ve just been re-elected, I’m looking forward to serving the Australian people for quite some time.”

LATHAM: Well, we’re about three years from the full Parliamentary term, we’ll have to find out. But if you believed that before the election he should sort of set it straight rather than the uncertainty of whether they’d end up with Peter Costello in 2007 or John Howard.

JOURNALIST: The polls seemed to show the bogey man you put up being Peter Costello wasn’t regarded as a bogey man by a lot of voters

LATHAM: I think that depends if you ask the voters. If you ask them about economic management they obviously said the Government deserved to be re-elected. If you ask them about smugness and the smirk and all those other Peter Costello characteristics, I think people do have negativity there. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to say, it’s not so much about personalities, it is about policy substance. That’s what the Labor Party has got to get right in the future and I think we would be better off concentrating on the policy issues rather than the personality question - Howard, Costello and the like - that will be our focus for the future.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, thank you for your time and I’m sure we’ll talk again.

LATHAM: Ok. Thanks Derryn, it’s been a pleasure.

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