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Tensions in ALP over leadership.

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Wednesday 24 November 2004

Tensions in ALP over leadership


MARK COLVIN: In a replay of the leadership battles waged in the Labor party last year, Mark Latham has hit out a t his critics. There is widespread frustration and anger with Mr Latham among members of the Labor caucus. 


Mark Latham staunchly backed Simon Crean when his leadership was under attack. Now Mr Latham is using the same approach to defend himself. 


As Louise Yaxley reports, the tension in Labor ranks is now widening, with two State premiers offering Mr Latham some advice. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: There's a substantial group of Labor MPs prepared to complain anonymously about Mark Latham. They say he is not prepared to listen, he is not loyal to his supporters, and he is erratic. Some don't believe his leadership will survive. 


But that string of grievances has been listed on background. Today Mr Latham gave the same response he used when sticking up for the former leader Simon Crean - that they should put their names to it. 


MARK LATHAM: One thing you know about so-called senior people who won't put their name to these articles - they don't count for much. I once described them as big men on the blower, but cowards in the caucus, and I think that situation is still the same for anyone in public life who won't put their own name and credentials to the article. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Ultimately those words failed to save Simon Crean. 


Mr Latham knows that labelling his critics cowards won't stop the backgrounding against him - so he's left issuing calls for unity. 


MARK LATHAM: I'm concerned about the best interests of the Australian people, and the common sense proposition that a good effective opposition has got to be united. In politics disunity is death, and we know from our last parliamentary term that one of the things that went against us was the reality that we spent 18 months talking about ourselves - all these internal processes. Well, for Australians who are worried about the education of their children, the health care of their parents, the quality of our environment, they're the big issues that the Labor Party should be talking about, and for these people who are big on the blower but not so courageous in the caucus, we'd all be doing a better job if we talked about the big issues impacting on the Australian people - skill shortage, industry planning, disability support pension, integrity in funding programs, schools, hospitals, the environment - there's a thousand and one issues that the Australian people are worried about.  


LOUISE YAXLEY: As part of the process of dealing with those thousand and one issues - Mr Latham is in Adelaide today talking to people about the reasons for the loss. And he's with his Industry spokesman Stephen Smith - examining the skills shortages in South Australia. 


Mr Smith is one of those that Mr Latham was at odds with when Simon Crean was leader. Mark Latham's irritated some of his own supporters by promoting Stephen Smith to one of the senior economic jobs. 


Mark Latham says Mr Smith's approach is working well. 


MARK LATHAM: The people are very positive about Stephen's role to have a good working relationship, and also the idea that he's got a bigger set of responsibilities with industry, infrastructure, and industrial relations. 


So in all those areas we can do a lot with effective economic policy, and the business community is delighted that Stephen's got discharge of those big responsibilities. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: But 12 months since he was chosen as leader - and just a month since he was reconfirmed - Mr Latham's having to explain his own position at the same time he tries to explain his policies. 


MARK LATHAM: Well, I've got the support of the colleagues in that I was elected unopposed as the leader of the party a month ago - just a month ago. And from those who talked to me in our election review processes, we are moving forward as united force. I can't answer for anonymous comments in the press. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Latham's State colleagues have their own views on the election post mortem. 


Queensland's Peter Beattie says Labor should cut short the introspection. 


PETER BEATTIE: I've worked very closely with Mark. I'm interested in continuing that. I think at some point, though, while it's really important to review election outcomes, whether you win or lose, and learn the lessons from it, I think we're getting to the stage where the Labor Party's actually got to move on. I don't think we need to continue to gaze at our navel about what went wrong. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: And the New South Wales Premier Bob Carr agrees with him, and he says the reasons for the election loss are plain. 


BOB CARR: Everybody knows that economic management and particularly interest rates were the dominating issues in that campaign. Now, it's a fact of life, and Labor's got to win its spurs on economic management. That's the challenge for Labor as it rebuilds for the next election. Now that was a consensus in the days after the campaign, after October nine, everybody knows … everyone in the Labor Party and everyone in the community knows that it was economic management and in particular concerns about interest rates that did Labor in. 


MARK COLVIN: Bob Carr ending Louise Yaxley's report.