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Prime Minister and Treasurer reject claims they are investigating Mark Latham's personal life, but admit that his public life is being scrutinised.

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Tuesday 6 July 2004

Prime Minister and Treasurer reject claims they are investigating Mark Latham's personal life, but admit that his public life is being scrutinised


DAVI D HARDAKER: All's fair in love and war, but not, it seems in politics and today Mark Latham gave more detail on where he believes the line has been crossed. 


Yesterday, you'll recall, the Opposition Leader came close to tears when he pleaded for his family to be left out of any attack on him.  


Few people had any idea what he was talking about, today he spelt it out. 


Mark Latham said journalists have asked questions about both his younger sister and his current wife - and that those questions went back to when they were children. 


Meanwhile the Government continues to maintain it doesn't have what Mark Latham calls a "dirt unit". 


And today senior ministers have outlined what they consider to be fair game.  


Louise Yaxley reports 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mark Latham revealed plenty yesterday - but today there was more. 


MARK LATHAM: I mean, last week I had a journalist from The Sydney Morning Herald , Deborah Snow, who's supposedly doing one of these profile pieces, put to me a question along the lines of - your first wife has said these things about your little sister when she was 13 years of age, how do you respond? Well, I respond with disgust, because my first wife didn't know my little sister when she was 13 years of age, and what my little sister at 13 years of age has got to do with my public life, I really don't know. And it makes me feel sick to think that it's got to that level of smear, where people are making allegations against someone who's got no involvement in public life, my little sister, and expecting me to make a response. The matter wasn't true, the question wasn't true, and I've pointed that out to the journalist, but what's this got to do with Australian politics and scrutiny of me?  


So, too, a journalist from The Sydney Morning Herald , Damien Murphy, the week before last rang the dancing teacher of my wife, when my wife was 15 years of age, saying he was investigating something fishy, at a Perth dancing school when she was 15. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The editor of The Sydney Morning Herald has told the ABC the paper's reporters did ask about Mr Latham's wife, but the paper's mystified about the Labor leader's reference to his sister. And the editor said the question about the wife was general in nature, not about any specific incident in her past. 


The Government says there's no dirt unit digging this up. 


And the Treasurer, Peter Costello, says it's the Labor leader himself now putting things on the public record. 


PETER COSTELLO: Well I'll make this point. The response has put this all over the front pages of every newspaper in Australia. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer insist it's fair game to delve into how effective Mr Latham was as Liverpool mayor. 


And the Prime Minister suggests Mark Latham might be using this issue of rumours to muddy the waters ... 


JOHN HOWARD: ... because that goes to his credibility. If he can't manage the Liverpool council, how can he manage Australia? That is an entirely legitimate thing, and I suspect what Mr Latham has partly tried to do is to wrap all of these things in together, and say look, all of this comes into the personal domain, it's off limits, therefore you can't talk about it including the Liverpool council. Well, we're not going to talk about his private life, we haven't talked about his private life, and I'm against talking about that, but I'm not against raising questions regarding the Liverpool council. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: They freely admit the Government is monitoring what the Labor party is up to. 


JOHN HOWARD: Sure. We have people pointing out inconsistencies in Mr Latham's policy positions, that's our job. They do that to me all the time, and I'm accountable. If I say something on your program, and three months later I say something on another program which is the exact opposite, the Labor Party's got a perfect right to go to the gallery and say - look at the difference between what Howard said on Miller and Davie on such and such a date, and what he's now saying. There's nothing wrong with that. That's not personal, that's not a personal attack. That is just doing your job. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Costello says press secretaries are involved in checking up on the opposition.  


PETER COSTELLO: We have people, and I'm one of them myself, that read the newspapers every day to see what the Labor Party is saying and when you have the opportunity, listen to the radio airwaves, because that's where they're announcing policies, and that's how you've got to engage in the policy debate. Of course we have people who do that. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Latham points the finger specifically at Peter Reith's former press secretary, Ian Hanke, who now works for another minister, Kevin Andrews.  


MARK LATHAM: If you want proof of it, ask Mr Hanke himself, because just last weekend, this is what was reported in The Financial Review - a journal of record - Coalition staff member, Ian Hanke, will cheerily tell anyone that he's been occupied digging dirt on Latham's history, particularly in Liverpool where he was mayor. So Mr Hanke has been open in saying that he's a dirt digger. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Hanke has issued a statement denying it and Mr Costello had this response this morning to John Laws. 


PETER COSTELLO: Mr Latham, who mentioned Ian Hanke is running some unit. Ian Hanke works for Kevin Andrews, the Minister for Industrial Relations, he's a press secretary. That's it.  


DAVID HARDAKER: Treasurer Peter Costello, ending Louise Yaxley's report.