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Opposition Leader discusses his profile on the 'Sunday' program.

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Subjects: Sunday Program

LAWS: It appears to be that some people are far more interested in Mark Latham’s past than they are in their own future. All sorts of stories about his past are doing the rounds ahead of what is called a major profile of the

Sunday this weekend. Mark Latham is in the studio. Good morning. Don’t hit me!

LATHAM: How are you going, John.

LAWS: I’m all right. What have you done in the past that is apparently - according to these people - so hideous?

LATHAM: The funny thing about all of this is that it’s billed as investigative journalism but it is actually ancient history - the Sunday program talking breathlessly about an incident 15 years ago that was reported in the Melbourne Age newspaper on 13 March. This is something that has been reported before; it happened 15 years ago. From my point of view it is pretty straightforward; we were in our campaign rooms at the end of the Liverpool by-election voting day so it would have been a Saturday night in the main street of Liverpool. We were closing and a fellow called Don Nelson wandered in - he came across from the RSL, which had closed on the other side of the road - and he was mates with a bloke who was in the campaign room, Peter Fraser. Peter offered him a beer and was sitting having a chat and Don Nelson spied me as one of the local Liverpool councillors and started to complain that the other day he had backed his car into one of the big pot plants in the main street and wanted to make a big complaint to me as a councillor. Well, at 11 o’clock on a Saturday night, we’d had a long day with all the voting and the by-election activities, and I said, ‘Look, you know, that’s a bit of a worry; how about we talk about it Monday.’ But he wanted to go on and on about it and I thought I would put a bit of humour in and said, ‘Don, listen, I’m a man of direct action, I believe

in getting results done for the people of Liverpool. How about we go out on the street now and we’ll move the pot plant so you can’t smash you car into them again in the future.’ And, at this point - and he had had a good night - he got a bit stroppy and sort of took half a swing at me. We grabbed him and got him out of the campaign rooms.

LAWS: Did you biff him?

LATHAM: No, no, I grabbed hold of him. He was - I mean, not in any state to do anyone real harm but we just got hold of him and got him out of the campaign rooms, a bit of crowd control and that was the end of that. But his mate, Peter Fraser - he’s been bagging me for 20 years out in Liverpool - I think, has tried to generate a bit of mischief. Peter put these claims down in the Age newspaper in March. I responded to them. You know this is an insignificant piece of trivia because I was a Liverpool councillor at the time. I was an elected representative. It never featured in the Liverpool papers. When I ran for Mayor in 1991; no coverage about it. I ran for the national Parliament at a by-election in 1994, no-one said boo about it. The fellow never made any complaints. Fifteen years later the only thing that has happened is I’m running for Prime Minister so this sort of trivia gets dragged out and apparently this is the big news the Sunday program has got - it was reported, what, four months ago with the Melbourne Age newspaper. It happened 15 years ago and it’s been either a big yawn or a big laugh ever since.

LAWS: Is there anything else that you think they might drop on you in the Sunday program?

LATHAM: Well, I saw this morning on the Today program that this fellow Frank Heyhoe who’s one of their, again, investigative journalism products. Frank gave what was billed as an exclusive interview with the Sun Herald [sic Sunday Herald Sun] newspaper on 8 February. So, again, all of these things have been aired. People have had a grievance about me - I mean, I was involved in local politics and ballots and disputes and arguments, that’s the nature of local democracy. They had their lash when I became Leader of the Party seven months ago - or, in these two instances, in an article on the 8th February and then one on the 13th of March - so it is ancient history that is being recycled under the banner of investigative journalism. When I look back and think about it - something that couldn’t even get in the local Liverpool newspapers 15 years ago is spoken of in this way it’s so bizarre, it’s amusing.

LAWS: Are you a bit of a biffer?


LAWS: Come on!

LATHAM: I’ve grown up in the western suburbs - every now and then you’ve got to hold your hands up to defend yourself. I’ve played footy. I wasn’t living in a convent out there. There is the odd occasion on the footy field or

elsewhere you have had to defend yourself and that’s just been part of life. But I don’t go around biffing people, certainly not.

LAWS: It’s part of life in that kind of environment, with all respect to the western suburbs. In fact, it is kind of part of the charm of the western suburbs that it is fundamentally pretty tough living and you’ve got to learn to be a survivor and there are many different ways to be a survivor. Sometimes you’ve got to protect yourself. But have you ever aggressively taken up a fight to somebody else?

LATHAM: No, only to what you would call self-defence on the footy field or in this particular instance with this fellow in the campaign rooms. There was the instance with the taxi driver. I recovered my stolen property which I was entitled to do. But the other thing is people would report these things to the authorities and, with the thing they are talking about 15 years ago in the campaign rooms, nothing was ever reported to the authorities or in the newspapers and that just proves the insignificance of it.

LAWS: Okay. The terrible night with the cab driver; were you drunk?

LATHAM: I wouldn’t have thought I was drunk. I had had a few drinks. I was in cab; I was over the limit in terms of driving home but I wouldn’t have regarded myself as drunk. I had my wits about me to know that my property had been stolen and I needed to track him down and get it back, which I did.

LAWS: Have you anything to hide from people? Because the suggestion of this is that you have, because you wouldn’t cooperate with the program or something. But do you believe that you’ve got anything - I have! Is there anybody who hasn’t got something they would prefer not to be aired?

LATHAM: I’m not claiming to be 100 per cent perfect and that I’ve been a little angel all my life. I’m just claiming to have been a regular person who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, wanted to serve the people of my district, which I did in local government and now in federal politics, and wanting to do good things for the country. I’ve really got no secrets and when I got this job seven months ago there was a lot of scrutiny. A lot of people came out and said a lot of things about me and I handled that at the time so I don’t really feel there are any secrets. There is just now an attempt to recycle material that's already been published and try and get some prominence for this program on

Sunday. There is also an attempt by the Liberal Party to stir these things up. The Australian newspaper on its website reports ‘One Government minister told the Australian the Liberal Party has been pursuing allegations that Mr Latham was involved in an incident during an earlier election that led to un unknown person breaking a collarbone.’ The unknown person is unknown to me, as is the incident. People who want to spread rumours and create this sort of mischief; I don’t think they do the system any service. I know one thing for sure: I know the Australian people are much more interested in where the education and health systems are going to be 20 months from now than what happened 20 years ago on the back streets of Liverpool. I mean, you can talk about the past until you are blue in the face but I try to focus on the future and being positive and I’m sure that's where the Australian people want our public debate to go.

LAWS: That’s what I said at the beginning of the interview; it seems that a lot of people are far more interested in your past than they are in their own future because you are an integral part of their future, whether you win or lose the election at this time is totally immaterial, you are going to be Opposition Leader, you are around, you are a major figure in politics and they should be aware that you are, like it or dislike, going to be part of their future one way or another. But can you believe that there are suggestions - now, I found this quite extraordinary, that you had an active love life between marriages! Who wouldn’t?

LATHAM: Can I just give you the breaking news: I had an active love life before marriage! Now, imagine what the Liberal Party will do with that! I can hardly wait for Tony Abbott’s diatribe in the Australian Parliament - ooh, what a person!

LAWS: There you go.

LATHAM: I think the big news is if you didn’t - that would be the big news, wouldn’t it, as far as I’m concerned.

LAWS: Yes, if you didn’t. One of the brightest blokes in politics that I ever encountered, and you too I would imagine, and a larrikin of the first order in Bob Hawke. I still see Bob and I like him very much; I didn’t like a lot of his

political ideas but I like him as a bloke very much. Now, he was smart; he got the biography out before and any time anybody - and that's why I think it is very important now that you and I are talking you get it all out so that you can continue to say as Bob said, ‘Well, hang on, sure, I did. What, yes, I did that it’s in the book. Haven’t you read the book? It’s in the book.’ and would simply

dismiss all of this rubbish from the past.

LATHAM: I dismiss it but, in terms of it being out, it was out when I got this job in December and then follow up newspaper articles and profiles in February and March so I can honestly say I’ve got no secrets. I mean, I feel like I have been examined and the Liberal Party inventing things, as we read in the papers today, and they have had their go in Parliament and the like, but my focus remains on the future and being positive and talking about the things that actually matter to the Australian people. We don’t want to go down the American path with talk about the private - it’s the public things that actually matter to the Australian people.

LAWS: Okay. Let me say this to you: the reason I wanted to talk to you is because I have been down the road that you are now going down. There was a story recently where somebody wanted to say I didn’t give any money to the fire brigade, because I was flying their flag I should have given money to them. I gave them a fire engine and they write these ridiculous stories. I find it offensive. Whether you become Prime Minister or not, at this stage of my life, is totally immaterial to me. I happen to like you like I like John Howard. But I do

subscribe to the theory of fairness. Why have they taken three months to dish the dirt on you? And that’s what they are saying; it’s taken three months investigating for the Sunday program to do what they are going to on Sunday.

LATHAM: They can run their own race at the Sunday program but they have taken three months to find a story that was reported in a major Melbourne newspaper four months ago. I think if they’re investigative journalists they should hand their badge and their cheque over to the people who wrote the article four months ago - Gay Alcorn, Malcolm Schmidt and Liz Minchin. It’s been reported; that's the thing that makes me laugh about it. It’s just bizarre but the good thing about it is the Australian people are actually focused on the future. The election is going to be determined on who’s got the best policies for the country rather than some nonsense that runs around the media and the backrooms of the Liberal Party.

LAWS: Are you over-confident?

LATHAM: No, not at all. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m ready for the election when the Prime Minister calls it. Looking forward to the campaign which is again a chance to get out and be positive and tell more about our plans to the Australian people.

LAWS: Where is Simon Crean?

LATHAM: He is in Phillip Street today at one of our meetings, as we’re finalising our policies and getting ready.

LAWS: He has kind of vanished publicly; we don’t hear much about him.

LATHAM: Oh, no. He did our response to the budget and he’s out there arguing the case on his responsibilities for the Australian economy.

LAWS: Are you expecting John Howard to make a visit to the Governor-General, not his chosen Governor-General, but the Governor-General?

LATHAM: That’s up to the Prime Minister. He’s a tough campaigner. He doesn’t give me any clues or hints so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens there but we are going to have an election in this part of the year, the

second half of the year, and I think that is something I am looking forward to very much so whenever the Prime Minister calls it. Let’s hope we have a positive campaign and both sides putting out good ideas for the future of the country.

LAWS: Thank you very much for coming in at such late notice.

LATHAM: A pleasure, John. Any other rumours you want to raise?

LAWS: Let me again say this has got nothing to do with politics; it’s only got to do with fairness and if John Howard were in the same situation I would like to have him in the studio to talk about it too. And you do understand that?

LATHAM: Yes, and I appreciate it.

LAWS: I just think fair is fair and sometimes they can go a little bit too far. John Lyons a mate of mine, and a very good journalist, maybe you would like to ring me and tell what’s in that program that I don’t know about and it will be interesting to see. But after all this I imagine for the first time in a long time the Sunday program will actually have a rating!

LATHAM: Maybe that’s what it’s all about. You live and learn.