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ALP Members discuss extracts from 'The Latham diaries'

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Friday, 16 September 2005



TONY EASTLEY:  In more revelations about his troubled time as leader of the Labor Party, Mark Latham has described an organisation riven with suspicion, hatred and disloyalty. In another television interview, yet to be aired, he details his problems with the powerbrokers within the ALP and he blames the political culture for the suicide of one of his friends.


It’s a measure of how explosive Mark Latham’s views are that two major media organisations were in court late last night fighting over the exclusive rights to his story. Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, which has a deal with Mr Latham’s publishers, attempted to prevent ABC Television from screening two interviews with the former Labor leader. News Limited ultimately failed but did manage to delay the broadcast of Enough Rope ’s interview by two hours. A Lateline interview is expected to go to air tonight.


Joining me now is our chief political correspondent, Catherine McGrath. So Catherine, it was a pretty messy day for the ALP yesterday and more pain for Labor today?


CATHERINE McGRATH: That’s right, Tony, especially with more interviews coming forward. Now, as you said, the Enough Rope interview went to air quite late last night and we’ll expect to see the Lateline interview tonight.


Now, in that Andrew Denton interview Mark Latham revealed a number of things that hadn’t been public until now. He said that he actually decided to quit on 1 January this year and he said that’s why he didn’t come out and comment on the tsunami as he was being asked to by his colleagues because he’d already decided to leave politics. Now the party was in uproar at that time about his lack of contribution, and when he was questioned about this by Andrew Denton he seemed not to be at all interested in the party’s reaction to that.


He was asked about his personal views during the run-up to the election campaign because in his diaries he’s written about his personal disconnection with his colleagues, with his ability to achieve what he wanted to achieve yet at the same time, in public speeches, he was talking about his vision for Australia. And he was asked, well, how could he have that disconnection between what he was telling people publicly and what he believed within himself.


But it’s really the damaging allegations he’s made against the Labor Party, talking about it as a party riven by deep destructive tendencies. Now, we’ve got access, Tony, to that Lateline interview. In the interview yesterday, last night with Enough Rope , he blamed Stephen Conroy for much of the negative culture within Labor, and in that Lateline interview that we have access to, he blames Kim Beazley as well and says that there’s a dirt file against him that Kim Beazley has been involved in. Here’s part of that Lateline interview—


TONY JONES: The other serious allegation you raise about Kim Beazley is propriety, is his behaviour as leader during the Greg Wilton affair.  In the period leading up to Wilton’s suicide, what exactly do you believe Kim Beazley did wrong during that period?


MARK LATHAM: Well Greg was in terrible shape and if we’d learnt anything from the Sherry experience it should have been to grab hold of one of our own and give him every possible support to keep him alive. And Kim’s attitude was: it was my job to go keep him in the parliament; Kim didn’t talk to Greg, ring him, offer him support in any shape or form. I just find that unbelievable. I was parliamentary leader; from time to time we have sick colleagues—they mightn’t have been my best mates but you had to ring them and give them a bit of support and offer them encouragement, and we were thinking about them. I just find it unbelievable that in Greg’s circumstances he never helped him out and actually said to me that: you know, we’ve got to keep him in the parliament. If there is a by-election in Isaacs we could lose it on the character question, the incident that Greg had had with his children. So it was a pretty cold-hearted political attitude that he took and ultimately we lost the human life of a colleague, and in my case a mate.


TONY JONES: It’s an allegation of neglect then in the sense that he, as party leader, didn’t do enough at the time of Greg Wilton’s greatest need. Is that what you are saying?


MARK LATHAM: Well, I wish he had. I think it was wrong not to call Greg, not to give him support.


TONY JONES: The two people you blame most are Stephen Conroy and Kim Beazley within the party context.


MARK LATHAM: The diaries speak for themselves. It’s definitely true to say that Conroy cops the blame inside the party. Beazley is not blamed in a direct sense but, you know, his sin was one of more of omission or neglect.


TONY JONES: We have been talking now a fair bit about Kim Beazley. We’ve talked about the file, the dirt file you believe he held or was held on his behalf. We talked about this other incident. Do you believe, as a result of this, that he is unfit to hold high office?


MARK LATHAM: I think Julia Gillard should be the leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party. My views about Beazley’s politics are well known. The diaries set out my views about him as a man, as a human being, as an Australian male—and I don’t think very well of him in that regard.


TONY JONES: Are you arguing that it makes him unfit to hold high office?


MARK LATHAM: Yes, I believe that, of course. I wouldn’t make him a toilet cleaner in Parliament House let alone leader of the opposition. Who would? Who would after this? The sort of guy involved in smears of sexual harassment against a colleague or what I know to be the case in the Wilton matter. Who would have any regard for such an individual? And how he’s got away, over the years, with this image, this façade that he’s Mr Decency? I mean, what we do know, everyone knows for a fact, is that he is surrounded by the worst elements of machine politics in the Labor Party—your Leo McLeays, your Robert Rays, the worst of the machine men in the party are all around him, his very inner circle, your Swans and the like. I mean, the worst elements of the party. So you know that about his method of operation, you don’t need to be Einstein to work out that he gets into this stuff like a rat up a drainpipe.


TONY EASTLEY:  Former Labor leader Mark Latham—all guns blazing on a yet to be aired Lateline interview there with Tony Jones.


Senator Stephen Conroy says Mr Latham’s claims are completely untrue and that his diaries belong in the fiction section of the bookstore.


On the line from Canberra is our chief political correspondent, Catherine McGrath. Catherine, very few Labor people were prepared to pu t their heads up yesterday and reply to Mr Latham’s claims. But you’ve spoken to a couple who are prepared to go on the record?


CATHERINE McGRATH: Yes, that’s right, Tony. I mean we heard the comments there from Mark Latham that will cause a lot of damage today—the way he describes Kim Beazley in that interview with Tony Jones: the façade of Mr Decency won’t wash; he’s surrounded by the worst of machine men. These are the sorts of things that are really going to damage the Labor Party and damage Kim Beazley as he tries to weather this storm. But look, the Labor Party is trying to put its best foot forward. I mean, that’s all it can do really—try and minimise the impact, try to play down Mark Latham’s influence.


Two people are going on the record with me this morning. Former frontbencher Craig Emerson says that he thinks that these comments actually in last night’s interview will unite the caucus. And Alan Griffin, who is Labor’s Veterans’ Affairs spokesman and Special Minister of State, says that the performance last night on Enough Rope was like fiction—and we will hear from them now, starting with Labor frontbencher Alan Griffin.


ALAN GRIFFIN: Mark’s behaved unfairly to people right through the time he’s been in parliament. He’s thrown a lot of rubbish and crap at a whole range of people, both inside the party and out. I guess it’s a continuation of earlier behaviour. We shouldn’t be surprised.


CATHERINE McGRATH: But the party put its faith in Mark Latham.


ALAN GRIFFIN: Well, political parties must make choices and sometimes those choices turn out to be wrong. I mean, the Liberal Party backed John Hewson—although I don’t think John Hewson is the same as Mark Latham. The fact of the matter is it was the wrong choice.


CATHERINE McGRATH: Craig Emerson, you saw the interview last night on Enough Rope . What do you think it said about the Labor Party today?


CRAIG EMERSON: I think the impact of the interview and book in fact will be to bring the caucus more closely together. I know that’s a slightly unusual thing to say but it seems virtually no-one has been spared criticism by Mark and….


CATHERINE McGRATH: What do you feel about the fact that there has been damage done to the party. He’s the former leader that the party put faith in, a lot of people voted for.


CRAIG EMERSON: I doubt that there’s any damage done to the party in the electorate. The electorate would be amused and bemused by this whole performance.


TONY EASTLEY: Labor backbencher Craig Emerson there, and earlier on we heard from Alan Griffin.


Our chief political correspondent Catherine McGrath rejoins us. Catherine, where does Labor go from here then?


CATHERINE McGRATH: Well, Tony they’ll just try and weather the storm, won’t they. As interviews keep coming there will be more criticism for them to handle. Kim Beazley is in Canberra this morning. His office is saying that he really has nothing more to say after yesterday’s press conference. The government made a lot of mileage out of it yesterday in question time, led by Treasurer Costello and Tony Abbott; the Prime Minister is overseas. But he’s given a huge amount of ammunition to government and the government is going to use that at every opportunity.


TONY EASTLEY: Catherine McGrath, thank you.