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    The I's have it if you see what he sees


    WHO does Mark Latham think he's kidding?

    Ten minutes into his launch address, the Labor leader repeated the now familiar mantra about the election being a referendum on the future of Medicare. Yet everything about yesterday's unarguably impressive event - the buzz, the tone, the warm-up acts, the video, the speech - revealed this to be so much bunkum.

    October 9 is a referendum on Mark Latham. Latham knows it, embraces it and on stage at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music yesterday was patently wallowing in all the attention. Remove the perpendicular pronoun from Latham's impeccably delivered 41-minute speech and it might have finished under half an hour. The centrepiece announcements targeting older voters were couched as Latham paying his personal debt to the aged. "I'm part of the lucky generation," he exhorted. Running the economy and maintaining low interest rates? "It's a personal commitment. Janine and I have a great big mortgage."

    I say. I will. I want. My life. My home. In Latham's view, Labor's campaign is the extension of his life story where he, Janine and the boys live happily ever after at The Lodge.

    At one point Latham appeared to choke up as he reflected on his emergence from a humble housing estate. "And now, in my life and in my home, Janine and the boys have taught me the power of caring, of our love and time together," he explained. "They have made me a better man. A man strong enough to know he can lead this nation well."

    Janine Lacy had already added a dose of US-style razzamatazz, Mark's guardian angel in a blindingly white suit beseeching Australians to trust her husband with the Big Job. "What you see is what you get," she assured the crowd.

    Despite the $3 billion sop to older Australians, the Labor launch was replete with subtle and overt digs at John Howard's antiquity. Gough Whitlam was a crowd favourite, but unlike previous elections there was no attempt to play up the ALP's rich history.

    Under Latham, the past is another country where travel warnings are posted to discourage visitors.

    Introducing the star turn, both ALP president Carmen Lawrence and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie dismissed Howard as old, tired and past it.

    Latham entered to the Hunters and Collectors song Do You See What I See?, hugged his mum, kissed his wife then jogged up the steps to the lectern. Within minutes he was ridiculing Howard's refusal to commit to a full three-year term. "I'm ready to lead, he's ready to leave," raised the first chuckle of the afternoon.

    Latham went on to enthusiastically flaunt the 22-year age gap. "At 43 years, in the prime of my life, I have something to offer our country," he boasted. The stand-out policy announcement - free and instant hospital treatment for all over-75s - was easily comprehensible (especially compared with non-existent $600 cheques), if a little difficult to believe. Should he become PM, "We will ensure they can access a hospital bed straight away, no more delays", may well emerge as Latham's equivalent to Bob Hawke's "no child will live in poverty". Latham's most impertinent boast came during a brief pitch on national security. Having set up a comparison with Labor icon John Curtin, Latham vowed to "help the United States develop its true role" in the world.

    If he's still around you can bet President Bush - aka flaky, dangerous and incompetent - will be all ears.

    The invocation, repeated six times, for Australians to urgently "Change Now" betrayed Labor's fear of falling short.

    If Australians are beginning to tire of Howard, there's also a sentiment that Latham is underdone and might benefit from a longer apprenticeship in Opposition. Labor and Latham will spend the next nine days talking up the urgency for change.

    After just one "ridgy-didge" and a single mention of the "ladder of opportunity", mother Lorraine and Janine clambered on stage and Latham soaked up the adulation. Most in the crowd are now daring to dream and the leader's supremely confident performance can't have damaged chances of victory.

    Do You See What I See? Always an interesting question regarding Latham.

    If the majority of Australians come around to Mark and Janine's rainbow vision of the hard-working, get-stuck-in better man from Green Valley, Latham's deftly constructed fairytale will prove Howard's worst nightmare.

    © The Australian
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