Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Former Opposition Leader discusses his life and career [Mark Latham]

Download WordDownload Word



This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.


It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.



Enough Rope


Thursday 15 September 2005

Former Opposition Leader discusses his life and career


Andrew Denton: Will you please welcome the Shadow Treasurer, Mr Mark Latham. Hello, Mark. Good CV. Warm welcome.

Mark Latham: Very nice, very nice. They're all worried that I'm ticking.

Andrew Denton: We'll find out if you'll go off as the interview goes on. Now, tell me, Mark, what is it that Australians hate about politicians?

Mark Latham: Well, I think the public's got a sense that it's a bit artificial. I think in modern politics we've got too much reliance on polling, spin doctors, professionals telling people what to say, and not enough straight talking and straight shooting.

Andrew Denton: You say that you're hopeless at spin, that you can't spin, is that right?

Mark Latham: My opposite number, Peter Costello, the other day said that in politics you shouldn't reflect too much because you might say what you think. But from my point of view, I think it's part of the problem. From my point of view, why be in politics, why spend all that time — and a lot of it away from family — unless you're going to say what you think?

Andrew Denton: I want to put that to the test tonight. I want to put your non-spinning ability to test…to the test. We've got a special audience panel here tonight — six members of our audience who have special cards. Could you hold them up for us, please?  



Andrew Denton: These are ducking and weaving cards, Mark. Now, these people have been instructed if at any time in tonight's interview they feel you are ducking or weaving with your answer…

Mark Latham: This is what Paul Keating said about 'Balmain basket weavers' — we've got, er…

Andrew Denton: You can put the cards down for now, unless you thought that was a duck and a weave.  



Andrew Denton: So… One person did. So, you're on notice tonight, Mark.

Mark Latham: OK. Righto.

Andrew Denton: If you duck the issue, they're going to let you know.

Mark Latham: OK.

Andrew Denton: It's the people's vote. Let's get started with where you grew up, which was in Sydney's west in, er…in public housing. What was life like then?

Mark Latham: Oh, well, I grew up in Green Valley, which was on the outskirts of…of Liverpool. It was sort of the new frontier, that my family had moved there because it had the sewer. We could have gone up to Seven Hills, which was unsewered, but my mum thought it'd be good to avoid the outhouse. And, well, like anyone growing up in a place, it's the only place you know. But it was pretty rough. One of the metropolitan newspapers labelled Green Valley 'Dodge City'.

Andrew Denton: What did your mum and dad do?

Mark Latham: My mum was a school cleaner and my dad worked at the Redfern Mail Exchange. I don't exactly know what he did there, because…

Andrew Denton: The mail never bloody got through, I can tell you.

Mark Latham: I don't think many people knew what was happening in the Redfern Mail Exchange, but I think he had the description as a 'technician', which would have meant that if the letters got clogged up, he might have fixed them up.

Andrew Denton: Now, you were dux at your school, but you also ran a two-up school — is that right?

Mark Latham: (Laughs) Well, you've done a fair bit of research there. Er…

Andrew Denton: Well, the police rang me up and volunteered it.

Mark Latham: (Laughs) Did they? Well, it wasn't exactly two-up, but I remember in Year 10 we had a bit of a competition to throw 20 cents closest to the wall, and if you got closest, you picked up the kitty. And when the teachers found out, they weren't too happy, and I think we copped four strokes of the cane at that point, and that was the end of my gambling career until I got out of school.

Andrew Denton: Were you a hard man, Mark? Did you take the cane?

Mark Latham: I did.

Andrew Denton: Yeah?

Mark Latham: I took it as best I could.

Andrew Denton: You smiled?

Mark Latham: Oh, no, I don't think so.  



Andrew Denton: You played rugby for Liverpool Rugby Club — were you a hard man on the field?

Mark Latham: Well, it was more a social club. We were pretty hopeless on the field, actually, but we were known around Sydney rugby circles as having the best song and the best drinking.

Andrew Denton: Do you remember the song?

Mark Latham: The song was very risque, and, er…

Andrew Denton: Yeah? Give us a burst.

Mark Latham: Er… (Laughs) We are the Liverpool boys, who've had a…

Andrew Denton: Oh, no, that's not singing, that's reciting. Come on.

Mark Latham: Well, it gets pretty rude, and I…

Andrew Denton: No, that's alright…

Mark Latham: The matrons at Mosman, on the North Shore of Sydney, I think they used…

Andrew Denton: A family show. Come on.

Mark Latham: No, no. I, er…

Andrew Denton: I've got the words here. Come on.

Mark Latham: Have you?  





Mark Latham: Well, you've left out the dirtiest parts, I see, so… (Sings) # The Liverpool boys are coming; Oh, the Liverpool boys are here… # 



Mark Latham: # With reinforced French letters and a schooner of good beer… #

Andrew Denton: Yeah!

Mark Latham: # We are the perverts of our nation; Bigger…you'll never see; We are a pack of deadset bastards; We are the Liverpool RFC! #  



Andrew Denton: (Takes paper back) Always come prepared.

Mark Latham: And then it went…and then it went… (Shouts) Will we win? We'll shit it in!

Andrew Denton: (Laughs) Do you sing that in the Caucus, the Labor Party Caucus, as well?

Mark Latham: I sang that for Simon Crean against Kim Beazley, and it got him across the line.

Andrew Denton: Yeah, a memorable victory.

Mark Latham: One of our best.

Andrew Denton: You mentioned the Mosman matrons before. You had a bit of a chip on your shoulder growing up. You said, "I always viewed the people from the …or the North Shore as the enemy." What was "the enemy" about them?

Mark Latham: Well, when I was growing up in Green Valley — and I suppose that's how I got interested in politics — about age 14 or 15, I sort of got this sense of urban injustice, that our suburb didn't have much by way of services and opportunities and sort of flash material goods, and, um, other parts of Sydney — I suppose the North Shore — would have taken a lot of those things for granted. So, I just sort of had this feeling that society was a bit imbalanced. We were going without. You want to do something about that, you'd better get involved in this thing called 'politics'.

Andrew Denton: How did you get that sense, though?

Mark Latham: Well…

Andrew Denton: Did you go to the North Shore? Did you stand there and admire the bus shelters?

Mark Latham: (Laughs) Well, I just think you get a sense, growing up in Sydney, of how Sydney works. There are wealthy areas and areas that get described as 'Dodge City' and go without.

Andrew Denton: Alright, let's talk about Tony Abbott. He's your direct opposite, or was your direct opposite for a long time in Parliament — still is, in terms of managing government and opposition business. His… You and he have gone head-to-head personally. He's referred to your testicular cancer, you referred to the fact that he abandoned a child when he was a young father. How do you feel about that man, personally — as a man from the North Shore that represents what you resented?

Mark Latham: Well, it's true. He's had a privileged background. But the thing that irked me was that he spent a lot of time in Parliament talking about Labor families, picking on Simon Crean because his dad was an MP, picking on Kim Beazley because his dad was an MP. Well, I think people who serve the country and, um…you know, their sons follow them into the same job, that's hardly unusual. And I just took exception to the fact that here was someone who in his own arrangements hadn't done much to care for his own son, was picking on people like Kim Beazley Sr and Simon Crean's dad, who'd been very, very proud of their sons and what they were achieving in Parliament, so…

Andrew Denton: But how do you feel about him personally?

Mark Latham: If he wants to personalise it and talk about Labor families, well, on a few occasions we might talk about his. And that's how it came up. I was really trying to say to him, "Fair's fair. Don't go talking about Labor families unless you're some sort of cleanskin."

Andrew Denton: But how do you feel about him personally?

Mark Latham: Well, I really don't know Tony Abbott all that well, um… You know, he says he's a good Christian and, er…  



Andrew Denton: (Examines audience panel) We've got one duck…two ducks, two weaves up.

Mark Latham: He fights hard for the things that he believes in on his side of politics. But it's not as if I share a beer with him or any sort of time where I could get to know him at a personal level, so I can only talk about him as a politician really.

Andrew Denton: Would you like to box him one time?

Mark Latham: Well, he, er…he fought a fellow at Oxford, er…and someone said to me that the fellow who Abbott beat in the boxing match at Oxford went on to head up the Royal Ballet in London. Um, so, yeah, well, Tony might have had an easy bout then, but maybe when we were both playing rugby, if we'd come head-to-head, it would have been a tougher bout for him.

Andrew Denton: Because you don't mind a scrap. You broke a taxi driver's arm once. What happened there?  



Mark Latham: Well, um… as often happens… (Chuckles)

Andrew Denton: (Addresses audience panel) Hang on. Give him a chance!

Mark Latham: I found it hard to get a cab out of Sydney on a Friday night.

Andrew Denton: Yep.

Mark Latham: I'd had a few drinks and, er… Not so many that I didn't know what I was doing, but enough to need a cab. And…but it worked out that instead of turning left onto King Georges Road to get on the M5 to get me home quickly, he decided to take me through the backstreets of Bankstown. I think the first rule of driving a cab is you should go the way the customer wants. And, um…I objected to the fact that we were going through the backstreets of Bankstown. He told me to get out of the cab, which I was happy to do. But I had a mobile phone and started to ring another cab. And at that point he started to panic — "I've told this bloke to get out of the cab. He's got a mobile phone. I mightn't get a fare." So he started to remonstrate and say, "Where's the fare? Where's the fare?" I said, "You told me to get out of the cab. You've taken me the wrong way, you won't go where I want, we're here in the backstreets of Bankstown, you've told me to get out of the cab — you buzz off and I'll make my own way home."

Andrew Denton: I'm sure you used the word 'buzz' too, yeah.  



Andrew Denton: Yes. And?

Mark Latham: And then… And then he decided to steal my bag.

Andrew Denton: Right.

Mark Latham: And then I assume was going to run back to his cab and hold my bag hostage until I fixed him up for the fare. And at this point, two surprising things happened. Er, one, I chased him and caught him. And two, I brought him down in a copybook rugby league tackle that Johnny Raper would have been proud of. Beautiful. I never tackled that well for the Liverpool Rugby Club. And brought him down and he was lying on the ground. I got my bag and then took refuge in a block of flats because I thought this mad taxi driver who's, you know, trying to steal my bag…

Andrew Denton: What do you think HE was thinking?!

Mark Latham: Well, I don't know what he was thinking. But I thought, "What's his next step? He's knocked off my property. What's the next step? He's got a knife in the cab or something." So I just got out of there as quickly as I could. And only months later did I find out that in my copybook rugby league tackle I hurt his arm.

Andrew Denton: Broke. Broke.

Mark Latham: Broke his arm?

Andrew Denton: Yeah, yeah.

Mark Latham: It's tough on the streets of Bankstown, you know!

Andrew Denton: Clearly it is. Mad pollies, mad cabbies everywhere. You also…

Mark Latham: Well, you know, these things happen. And it's interesting, because every interview I do, it comes up. And it's probably the one real-life experience that a politician's had that they're willing to talk about, so there's a novelty value in it.

Andrew Denton: Well, it's not the only time.

Mark Latham: 'MP Crash-Tackles Cabbie', and there you go.

Andrew Denton: Because a couple of years ago you intersected with an ABC performer, Craig Reucassel, from The Election Chaser , and some memorable television.

Mark Latham: Oh, this was nominated for the Logies.  



Craig Reucassel in footage: (HOLDING FOAM CLUB AND INDICATING ASYLUM SEEKER) Come through like this. Good leverage. You give it a hard enough shot, we reckon you can get him to Nauru.

Mark Latham in footage : Alright.

Craig Reucassel : Come on!

Mark Latham: OK.

Craig Reucassel: A bit of work from the backbench.  



Craig Reucassel: Ugh! Come on, man! I'm an Australian citizen!

Mark Latham: Fucking idiot.  





Andrew Denton: Now…have you had any anger management counselling?

Mark Latham: Well, that was a comedy skit and I rather suspect that's what they wanted me to do. The whole idea was you were supposed to hit the asylum seeker with the bat. And it certainly put a smile on the asylum seeker's…

Andrew Denton: To raise your primary vote.

Mark Latham: Well, it put a smile on the asylum seeker's face when I hit the interviewer. And my greatest moment in TV — I don't know if you were the compere this night — but that was replayed at the Logies when 'The Chaser' was nominated for a Logie. And that was the best…the funniest thing they had in the whole damn show.

Andrew Denton: You also called Craig a fucking idiot as you walked off.

Mark Latham: Is that true?

Andrew Denton: It speaks a bit of temper there, Mark.

Mark Latham: No, it was in good jest.

Andrew Denton: It was an ironic 'fucking idiot'.

Mark Latham: Ah! I mean, I… There was a…

Andrew Denton: (Examines audience panel) Four ducks, one weave.

Mark Latham: I had a smile on my face.

Andrew Denton: We'll replay that.

Mark Latham: It was in jest.

Andrew Denton: Is that right?

Mark Latham: Let's go to the action replay.

Mark Latham: It was in jest.

Andrew Denton: We'll go to the action replay.

Mark Latham: I think they enjoyed it, although there was a journal… Some people in the media get so prissy. There was a journalist who said this was a cowardly, barbaric attack. It was with a Nerf club. It was with a foam club. You know, you couldn't knock your grandmother over with it. You know, let's be serious about it. So…

Andrew Denton: I'm scared you might have tried, mate. What makes you go all soft and runny inside, Mark Latham? What's your soft point?

Mark Latham: I think my two children, um, would sort of make me as soft as I could ever be, and, you know, the emotion… I've got a boy that's two and a half and a second son that's seven months. And becoming a parent and feeling all that emotion and joy, and the feeling that you're passing something on — part of yourself is being passed on to someone else — is pretty special.

Andrew Denton: Talking about your boys, you've said that you hope they grow up to hate a prime minister who's sold out the nation. Is that right?

Mark Latham: Uh, well, it was in the context of — would I want my son to feel the way I do about John Howard? And I suppose, like any father, you want your son to grow up a bit like you. I certainly wouldn't want him to grow up to be a Liberal Party MP or something like that, so…

Andrew Denton: Last week, Malcolm Fraser — this is in relation to you referring to the Prime Minister being an arse-licker over in America — last week, Malcolm Fraser said that Australia is in danger of becoming completely subservient as an ally to America. Do you agree with that?

Mark Latham: Well, that's a more polished description of what I'd said 12 months earlier. Yeah, you know, John Howard — someone was saying he's got a new nickname, 'Bonsai', 'cause he's a little Bush.  



Mark Latham: And there aren't too many times when he disagrees with the United States and stands up and says, "You're wrong. And here's a distinctly Australian interest, and we're going to be an independent country and back our own interests." So, you know, I'm first and foremost an Australian patriot. I think we should be an independent country, and make up our own mind about the big issues without feeling the compulsion to follow another nation — in this case, a great and powerful nation like the United States, but nonetheless a different country to us, with different values and priorities — and we should stand up and do our own thing as Australians, you know? We've been in this sort of international debate for 30 years now, and I think we've got the maturity as a country to step forward and be much more independent and strong about it, proud of our own decisions, instead of thinking that our foreign policy has got to be made out of Washington.

Andrew Denton: Mr Fraser also said…  



Andrew Denton: Mr Fraser also said — and this is perhaps more worrying — he said he doesn't believe that the US will necessarily use its power to protect us. Do you think that's true?

Mark Latham: We are one of several allies of the United States in this region, and — God forbid — if there was a conflict, there's no guarantee that they'd automatically be on our side. But, I mean, I'm an Opposition frontbencher. Take the word of Malcolm Fraser, who's been prime minister, had discussions with American presidents, seen all the intelligence data, got assessments from our foreign affairs department about these issues. The fact that a senior Liberal, seven years prime minister, has said this, I think is a pretty good indication that we can take his word.

Andrew Denton: I can see you're an emotional man. I want to play you something now that is going to stir your emotions. It may be, in fact, a little strong for you. But here it is.

Simon Crean, opposition leader, in footage: I know that with the support of my colleagues, the commitment that's come from this conference, we can go on and win the next election.  



Mark Latham: Hear, hear.

Andrew Denton: It's powerful stuff, isn't it? Simon in full flight. It must make you just want to stand up and march to the barricades. Does it stir you like that in the party room? It's…

Mark Latham: I thought he was spot-on. I thought, you know…

Andrew Denton: Yeah.

Mark Latham: ..we're going to win the next election, and he…

Andrew Denton: It's the raw passion of the man that really…

Mark Latham: Well, he didn't beat around the bush. I think he got straight to the point, and said it well.

Andrew Denton: Yes. Just everyone nodded off after the second word.  



Andrew Denton: Tell the truth — do you ever, when Simon's out doing a press conference, duck into his office and try out the chair?

Mark Latham: No, no. Never do that.

Andrew Denton: Never?

Mark Latham: No.

Andrew Denton: 'Cause he's Dead Man Walking, really, isn't he?  



Mark Latham: Well, it's this thing in politics about persistence. The same things were said about John Howard, Bob Carr, Mike Rann. You know, you've never been an Opposition leader unless you've got people writing you off. And those who come through are tough and determined. And whatever is said about Simon Crean, I can tell you he's a tough and determined fellow, and you've seen that in the recent leadership challenge. He didn't buckle for a moment, and, in fact, I think he's, you know, enhanced by that. So he's a pretty tough guy.

Andrew Denton: Yeah. You'll miss him.

Mark Latham: (Laughs)  



Andrew Denton: You proudly say that you're a maddy.

Mark Latham: (Laughs) Uh, yeah, well, that's a description that, um…sort of comes out of some of the Paul Keating views of politics. And I think Tony Benn, the socialist Labour MP in Britain, had categories for politicians. There were fixers, there were sort of numbers men, and then there were maddies. And the maddies are the people who believe in something, desperately try to get it done and sort of have a go, often against the odds. So better to be a maddy than a fixer or a bit of a nonentity in politics. I think you're better off getting stuck in and doing things, even if, for some of your critics, it looks a bit mad some of the time.

Andrew Denton: Mark Latham, thanks for sharing some of your madness with us tonight. I appreciate it.

Mark Latham: OK. A pleasure. Thank you.

Andrew Denton: Thank you. It was very good. Thank you.