I’ve been scratching my head trying to find a good reason for voters to give Mark Latham another chance in parliament. I can’t find one. Not one.
For the past 14 years (since he resigned as Labor Leader after losing the 2004 Federal Election) Latham has spent his time randomly and crazily sniping from the sidelines. Now, he thinks he sees a chance to become a powerbroker in the NSW Upper House … this time as a far-right politician!
In one of the most bizarre political transformations in living memory, this avowed ‘hater’ of conservatives has jettisoned a lifetime’s political beliefs to throw his lot in, first with David Leyonhjelm’s Liberal Democrats and, when rebuffed by them, with arch-conservative Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
Current Labor Leader, Bill Shorten, said Latham “showed all the attributes of a dog, except loyalty”. That’s a libel on dogs. Latham shows all the attributes of a reptile. He was an early adopter and a leading exponent of reptilian politics here, driven by his ‘hate’ of anyone – friend or foe – who disagreed with him.
He continued this approach after he left politics - joining what Christopher Pyne today called “the shouty press” as a commentator - and leaving behind a long list of failed or abandoned media programs, columns and positions. In 2002 he summed up his approach: “I'm a hater. Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity. And the more I see of them the more I hate them.”
Latham expects us to judge him on what he claims he now believes and what he claims he will now do instead of on his previous form. Of course, everyone is entitled to reassess their beliefs but we’re equally entitled to question their motivation and their commitment, especially when they unleash an about-turn as dramatic as Mark Latham’s.
Latham’s early political career followed the path of the classic apparatchik: while completing his uni degree he served as an ‘adviser’ to Labor politician John Kerin (1980-82), former Labor PM Gough Whitlam (1982-87) and then NSW Opposition Leader Bob Carr (1988-91). In 1987 he was elected a Labor member of Liverpool City Council and was Mayor from 1991-94.
Latham enjoyed a rails run as a young politician, ushered into the party’s revered seat of Werriwa, famously held for 26 years by Gough Whitlam, in 1994, aged just 33. Nine years later, in December 2003, with no ministerial experience, he was elected Labor’s Federal Leader and Leader of the Opposition.
To win the leadership, Latham had to sublimate his instincts as a wide-thinking, open-minded political strategist and adopt the Labor canon of the day, a structure he described as “statism, unionism and class”. Locked into that mindset, Latham was a disaster as leader, lasting a little over a year in the position.
In typical Latham style, after he lost power he lashed out at his former colleagues, fuelled by a seemingly endless supply of bitterness. He called Bob Carr, Peter Beattie and Geoff Gallop “arseholes” and said of his successor as leader, Kim Beasley: “Labor got the leader it truly deserves – it is well suited to a conservative and stand-for-nothing type of leader”.
So now, even though Latham was still a member of Leyonhjelm’s Liberal Democrats as late as last November, he claims to be “the driving force” of One Nation’s NSW Election platform. “They are my policies. I’m the State Leader,” he told the SMH last month.
One Nation says it wants to “put common sense back into NSW Government”. Among the platitudes and generalities in its policies are: “Getting our schools back to basics, studying the 3Rs instead of political fads” and “Ending the PC madness and the discrimination against men and boys”.
It also proclaims: “We are the only political party to question climate science.” And it says “… there is a growing concern about the evidence on which the claims of man-made global warming rests.” In addition, it wants Australia to withdraw from the UN’s Refugee Convention “because it is no longer in Australia’s interests”.
As weird as this latest political manifestation of Mark Latham seems, pollsters and even his opponents, give him a very good chance of winning a NSW Upper House seat - that’s a term of eight years - a paid platform for this human loose cannon to spew his mean-spirited, myopic rantings under parliamentary privilege, untrammelled by traditional party strictures.
The reptile is back at the gate.