Mark Latham

Former Labor leader Mark Latham must be pleased. His diaries are released today – through my publisher, Melbourne University Publishing – and the mainstream media has talked about little else since last week. Outrage, indignation and ingratitude seem to be the common political and media sentiment. The last week, however, has revealed the inherent weakness of our media establishment.

I never supported Latham nor voted for him. I found many of his policies too far removed from my social justice perspective and besides, the ALP has been a dysfunctional organisation for years. Having said all that, I now greatly admire many of the comments in his diaries. Getting past the slurs against virtually every Labor figure of note, much of Latham’s message deserves a fair hearing. Perhaps he has bitten the hand that fed him and clearly he could be accused of hypocrisy for not speaking his “truth” during his time as leader, but this shouldn’t diminish his overall message: the political and media system is terribly sick in Australia.

First, the media. He takes a swipe at the so-called leading journalists in the country. He cares little for their agenda, challenges their belief in creating stories and dares to prick the Murdoch worldview. Brave stuff, indeed. And yet, how could we expect such views to receive a fair hearing when the vast majority of Australian print media is owned by Murdoch?

Here’s Latham on Paul Kelly, the alleged doyen of Australian journalism:

“…in Kelly’s instance, telling me that it was a good move to get the troops out of Iraq, put the pressure on Howard, and shortly thereafter – a company man, he’s very much a Murdoch company man, he’s towing the company line, the Murdoch-American stance – to be bagging me for that policy position that in his private moments he supported.

“Paul Kelly sits in his mansion at Hunters Hill not having to deal with these things [sexual harassment allegations], not having to talk about his wife and think about his children in this context. It’s easy to do that – write your article and go home to your mansion in Hunters Hill and not have to deal with it and personally in a family context. Well, I’m telling you this, Tony, when you have to deal with it, when it happens to you, it’s a different kettle of fish.”

The Fairfax and Murdoch press have rounded on Latham and condemned his approach. There is no doubt that his tactics are bold, aggressive and downright punchy. But so what? He has nothing to lose. He can now freely speak his mind. It seems as if the political and media elite are incensed that he would dare criticise the system that raised and supported him.

His Enough Rope interview provides great insight into the contemporary political system. Perhaps Latham is ungrateful and maybe he could have written with less fortitude, but then, would the people have listened? I found his Enough Rope interview very sympathetic. Here was a man unafraid to say that the price to lead a political party was simply too high and perhaps we should take a good look at that system.

Now, the US alliance. “The diaries are frightening on the US alliance”, writes Paul Kelly. What else would he say? He’s a Murdoch man and therefore knows his place. Why can’t Australia have a robust and mature discussion about the US alliance? Why can’t we seriously analyse our relationship with America and the Bush administration? Are we so parochial and insecure that an approach like New Zealand is simply dismissed as irrational?

Kelly continues: “[Latham] actually believes that Australia cannot be an independent nation and have an alliance with the US.” Australia in 2005 is not a truly independent nation. Our unhealthy obsession with American government opinion leaves us in the position of fighting illegal and/or immoral wars – Vietnam, Iraq and arguably, Afghanistan – and contributing to an environment where terrorists are given the greatest gift imaginable.

Perhaps Tim Dunlop is correct and the media’s obsession with Latham is misplaced. He argues that if the same kind of investigation were given to Howard – our Prime Minister after all – our democracy would be in much better shape. But then, Latham’s diaries provide a rare insight into Australia’s faltering political and media elites and warrant a look.

Latham leaves us with a few key questions:

– If the ALP wins government again, what exactly would it stand for?

– Is the US alliance of questionable value?

– Should journalists have to be more transparent in their allegiances?

– What is the state of Australia’s democracy in 2005?

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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