mungo, latham, and the press gallery

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    Mungo, Latham, and the press gallery up close and personal
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    Commentary by Margo Kingston
    December 11, 2004 04:44 PM

    I witnessed yet another astonishing Mark Latham press conference this week, this one under the guise of launching Mungo MacCallum's new book. (The last one I saw was the one where he broke down over rumours about his personal life and the harrassment of his family and revealed more allegations, which he denied.)

    This one took the form of Mark launching Mungo's book on the 2004 election. The wisdom of launching a book which describes Howard as 'a turd' when some colleagues think you're still in denial is one thing. Naming and damning the journos you think run Howard's line is quite another!

    You need more enemies Mark? (Neither of the journalists named attended the function.)

    (PS, Dec 12: And check out his full-on stouch with Oz journo Christine Jackman and partner of the Oz's editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell at Christine Jackman vs Iron Mark. In my view, if Jackman did what The Daily Telegraph's columnist David Pemberthy says she did - threaten Labor that she would publish bad things about Mark Latham if Labor did not back off her - she has committed the gravest breach of ethics - to use your position as a journalist for private benefit. Let alone seeking to blackmail an MP! This sort of thing happened many years ago at the SMH, when a cadet told his friend's landlord that he would publish a story in the SMH about her if she went ahead with an eviction notice. The landlord rang editor-in-chief, J.A., then in his his pre-pre-Packer days, and the cadet was sacked immediately. The lad wrote pages of heartfelt pleas to colleagues to forgive him his sins and back his reinstatement, but most journalists agreed with the decision. You don't give someone who plays the game that way a second chance. As far as I know Jackman refuses to comment. What??? And I don't think the OZ has corrected the error in Jackman's piece about Latham either. Who's playing pollie here, eh?)

    Publisher Duffy and Snellgrove was represented by Michael Duffy, who is also a conservative columnist, a ABC Radio National presenter and author of Latham and Abbott. He opened proceedings with the annoucement that Mungo's would be the last book he published. Demand for serious books had gone down 40% since the GST, he said. End of story. End of at least one of his dreams.

    After Latham had a very big go at the media, Mungo spoke on the standards of political journalism today and Michael invited questions.

    A short, rather uncomfortable silence ensued. No-one had expected a question time, just a book signing and a chat over coffee. Then again, some may have expected Latham's speech to contain a bit of the standard, 'oh well, we all tried our best, glad to work with you all' rubbish. Latham had already done a morning doorstop answering political questions. He'd had to do so after his refusal to be interviewed by Meet the Press on the Sunday had seen him replaced with the political interview of the week, Bob McMullan.

    Latham's people say they had no idea a press conference was on the cards, and hurried back to the office to transcribe Mark's off-the-cuff speech. No written record! Thankfully, through a gallery friend I found David Butt of ironyparty.org, who has transcribed the transcript from a scratchy print reporter's tape. I sat up the back, and didn't see who asked most of the questions. I'll do a check next week and add their names as I confirm them.

    It was a weird pressser - the players ended up conversing in public and face-to-face on the covert interaction of media and politics and the role of the journalist.

    He's a very refreshing politian in many ways, Mark Latham. Who else wears their heart on their sleeve and is crazy brave enough to say what he bloody-well thinks ocassionally, regardless.

    Thank you, David. Enjoy!

    *

    Tuesday, December 7

    FEDERAL LABOR LEADER MARK LATHAM

    Official launch of Mungo MacCallum’s book Run, Johnny, Run: the Story of the 2004 Election.

    Thanks very much Michael Duffy. To Mungo, Parliamentary colleagues, especially the local member, Justine Elliott, in the seat of Richmond, ladies and gentlemen of the Press Gallery, especially those mentioned in the book, and you’ll find plenty of that as you go through the pages.

    I’m glad we got in just in time for the last of these book launches and the truth is, in this building, we don’t have that many books written or launched on the Senate side. So, we’ve done well to get in before the devastating impact of the GST.

    Recently a party elder said to me that the history of the 2004 election would be written in books rather than in newspaper articles. He said the history wouldn’t be written in newspapers articles, it would be written by authors and recorded in a great number of books.

    Well, thank goodness for that. You can imagine my relief to learn that future historians and political science students will be able to study something more substantial than a long series of anonymous quotes. Thank goodness for Mungo McCallum and Run, Johnny, Run: the story of the 2004 Election, a story with more than just my name in it. As Michael mentioned, it’s very good to see other names mentioned in the account of the election campaign.

    And that’s why I’m here today. Unlike Job, I want to see more authors and more books and fewer newspaper columns. Mungo himself makes a similar point at pages 34 and 268 of Run, Johnny, Run, and I quote:

    "While the majority of journalists in and out of the gallery bang their heads against the iron curtain surrounding Howard’s press office, those considered friendly were offered “scoops’ which they invariably handled in a manner favourable to the Government. And Dennis Shanahan and Glenn Milne in The Australian were clearly on the insiders list. Piers Ackerman and The Daily Telegraph was on something close to a drip-feed. As far as I knew, no one else was writing a book though, certainly none of the many Howard boosters in the media. But then they never did. They just recycled Howard’s press releases."

    Well, ladies and gentleman, Mungo has done a great service to the Federal Parliamentary press gallery. For years people have been trying to fit up the gallery as a beehive of left-leaning, unpatriotic, radical do-gooder, commie-loving propaganda. Well, Mungo has nailed the lie. He’s exposed this inaccuracy. Run, Johnny, Run covers the work of journalists and how they reported the politics of 2004 as much as it covers the work of the politicians.

    So, my time here in the Parliament, the eleven years, we’ve never quite had a book like it. It’s part media commentary on politics but also part political commentary on the media itself.

    But, unfortunately, the book has no index. The book has no index but I can assure you if it did, Shanners would receive 21 entries, many more than the average Minister or Shadow Minister covered and prominent in the recent election campaign. And each entry on Dennis would demonstrate comprehensively that he’s not part of any left-leaning, unpatriotic, radical do-gooder, commie-loving beehive here in the Federal Parliament House.

    And Glenn Milne, in fact, is dealt with in similar terms. When I saw the Sunday Telegraph’s banner headline on the last Sunday of the election campaign entitled 'Latham’s Tax Dodge'. I thought, the gig is up, the gig up, Latham’s tax dodge. That just like the bucks night video, my tax records had found their way into the public domain and I was a goner.

    Well thankfully Mungo has now set the record straight and I quote directly from page 273:

    "Glenn Milne in the find tradition of idiot journalist demanding idiot promises, had asked Mark Latham for a guarantee that if he became Prime Minister, there would be no new taxes or charges during his term of office. Howard already made the promise in spite, or perhaps because of the fact that he introduced or increased some 130 imposts of various kinds during the previous three years. Latham on the other hand was more scrupulous. He pointed Milne at his policy commitments, which did indeed involve provisions for new levies, while reducing the total tax break. These were all on the record and he had no plans for any others. This was not good enough for Milne, who demanded that the direct lie, the direct lie that he had received from Howard. When Latham declined to play his game Milne wrote an hysterical story entitled ‘Latham’s Tax Dodge’."

    Well as they say, the rest of course is history.

    Mungo over the years has been a magnificent servant of the Canberra Press Gallery and this book is no different. It is a highly readable, amusing and rollicking account of election year 2004. Because it has no index, journalists and politicians alike will need to read every page to read the whole book, to assess their place in history.

    That is the task everyone has ahead of them to assess Mungo’s place in history, and to prepare for this launch I went to the definitive Mungo authority, Gough Whitlam. I consulted Gough, but no hug was involved, it was over the telephone.

    A conversation on the phone and after it Gough immediately faxed to my office page 1969 of the Australian Encyclopaedia 6th Edition 1996. And I found out in fact that Mungo McCallum is in fact Mungo McCallum the fourth. Mungo William McCallum, born in 1854 was a distinguished Professor of Modern Literature, Vice Chancellor and Chancellor of the University of Sydney. Mungo Lorenz MacCallum, born in 1884, lectured in Roman Law at the University of Sydney and then became a leading writer and book reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald, as you do, having lectured in Roman Law.

    Mungo Ballardie MacCallum, born in 1913 was a journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald and also the ABC. Producing its opening night of television in 1956. Today’s author Mungo Wentworth MacCallum, born in 1941 was a graduate of the University of Sydney - where else? Was a political commentator for the Fairfax press and is the author of numerous books including Mungo on the Zoo Plain, 1979.

    As Gough points out every MacCallum is Mungo. Mungo MacCallum the third and the fourth take as their middle name their mother’s maiden name. So Mungo here is not only a MacCallum but also a Wentworth. So this makes him in my assessment, and I am sure those of the assembled audience an absolutely Australian original.

    Irreverence is in his blood, always rattling the cage, always challenging the status quo. Always out there with one more barb for the ruling class. And as readers will find in this book, always with a great sense of humour, page after page, story after story. Mungo MacCallum is a very, very funny man, and this book has a good humour and good satire on just about every single page.

    So, at last from my perspective we have somebody that breaks the gloom and doom for the Labor Party. And it is so entertaining I have immediately placed it on the Christmas list for the Caucus members, for the coming festive season.

    Now I could recall and regale each of these funny stories, but having promised no more crudity I really can’t repeat the best of Mungo’s lines. I highly recommend to you his rhyming ditties on Arthur Sinodinis, and I notice that rhyming slang is back in fashion. So there is one ‘Sinodinis’ his commentary from the front bar of the Billinudgel Pub, somewhere on the North Coast. His many character references in chapter ten. His treatment of George Fishman, the now legendary letter writer from Wentworth, the eponymous electorate. And of course his description of the Casino-Murwillumbah rail-line closure in Justine’s electorate of Richmond.

    So in fact in my assessment, Mungo has poured more into one book, more entertainment and a greater sense of fun than you would find these days in the entire Parliament and the entire press gallery.

    Readers will lament as I did - where have all the Mungo’s gone with satire and humour of this outstanding quality? Where are the comic geniuses of the next generation? Yes sure there is the odd Secco column and the raw untapped potential of Jason Frankel and the bollards. A few Michael Harvey impersonations on a good night. That is just about it these days.

    Mungo, it will kill you to know that the great gallery tradition of levity and satire is fading fast. It has been left to your contemporaries, the old war horses to carry your legacy forward.

    The sparkling repartee of the great man Alan Ramsay, the stand up comedy of the great funster, Michelle Grattan that is all that is left from the golden era. And for that reason alone Mungo, that reason alone, but for many more as well, it is great to have you back in Parliament House for the launch of this new book. A fine service to the Australian people. Run, Johnny Run The story of the 2004 Election.

    Congratulations Mungo, well done indeed.

    *


    Michael Duffy: If any of you would like to ask any questions to Mungo about anything or Mark Latham about the book, please feel free now.

    Journo: Mungo, where did you get - on page 92 you have a funny tale about ... you said a staff member used to wash Tony Abbott's jock-strap every evening. I just wondered how do you know that. I'm not disputing it. I just wanted - it's a bizarre fact.

    MUNGO: It was certainly a story that I was told, let's put it that way, and it was too good to leave out.

    (laughter)

    I mean, you might - sitting not all that far from me is a man - or standing, at this stage, not all that far from me - is a man who's something of an expert on Tony Abbott. Michael, of course, wrote the Latham-Abbott book. But it was a - it was a story widely retailed at the time. I cannot reveal my sources.

    (laughter...)

    Journo: Mark, what do you think of Mungo's comments that you need to be a bit more spontaneous? Have you been spontaneous enough, and...

    LATHAM: I often find I'm more spontaneous than people who write so-called witty nitty columns in the newspapers, of course. But it's one of those situations where you can't win. Middle of the year I'm in the control of the minders and not being myself. End of the year and anonymous quotes by the score saying that we couldn't control this bloke, he wouldn't follow advice. He wouldn't do this, that, or the other thing.

    I think you'll find in a working political office the situation is always complex. It's never black and white. There's always an array of advice and people wanting to help, their motivations being good. And you weigh all that up in a complex political organisation where you've got staff, you've got Members of Parliament, front-benchers in a campaign, the party organisation providing advice. Of course there's other research that's conducted.

    But at the end of the day where there's no clear consensus, the role of the Leader is to make a decision, and to articulate that as best you can. So it's shades of grey. But I'm convinced and happy that through the course of this year I've been true to myself, my beliefs, who I am, what I do, and the way I try to communicate in public life.

    I don't feel that at any stage the white or the black has been accurate, and obviously you know by the end of the year one of them must be tragically wrong.

    Journo: Does that mean, Mr Latham, that you're happy with the way the campaign went? You don't think you were too managed? You were allowed to show your strengths?

    LATHAM: Well, I'm not - I'm not saying that. But I've answered the question as best I can. The campaign matters are dealt with in the book there - three or four chapters - and I'd be pretty well close to Mungo's assessment as he writes up the material chapter by chapter.

    Journo:: Mr Latham, what do you think overall our - you've mentioned a couple of the media headlines that you were obviously particularly concerned about during the election. What do you think overall of the media treatment from the gallery and beyond through the campaign of your campaign, and do you agree with Mungo that the biggest Howard boosters during the campaign are now your most savage critics? Do you agree with that?

    LATHAM: Ah, well I agree with Mungo's account in the book. That's why I read out two of the telling quotes, but there are many many more. There'd be - you know, it's an unusual but very useful book, in that it provides an account of the politics of the campaign, but also the media coverage. And I - going through it, I found very, very little with which to disagree.

    Journo:: Do you think that - as I said before, do you think overall you got a fair go from the media during the campaign?

    LATHAM: Well, I've given you my answer, and you need to read the book. And see if you agree with my assessment. So I can't do any more than read the book, launch it, and agree with it.

    Journo: Question to Mungo. Do you think it's - I'm interested in your theory that you said Parliament House - the new Parliament House was an unfriendly and devastating place for workers and journalists. And you opted out. And yet you were very critical of this generation's press gallery. Isn't that a bit unfair?

    MUNGO: Well, to be fair to me, I think I'm sympathetic to this generation's press gallery in a lot of ways because they have to work in this bloody building. And it is geographically very, very difficult. Particularly for people who knew the old building. The old building was sort of built like the inside of a politician's brain. It was all corridors that led nowhere, and rooms that were locked, and cellars that you couldn't get into and so on.

    But it meant that everybody was packed into battery chook type conditions. Politicians, journalists, ministers, back-benchers, the lot. And you did get this kind of access - this kind of spontaneous access. And people socialised together. The non-members' bar was a clearing-house for information from politicians, staffers, journalists, everybody went down there.

    And you just don't get that kind of thing in the new building. Walking through the corridors of this building, even when Parliament's sitting, you'll get the feeling you're in a structure that's been hit by a neutron bomb. You know, there's no visible sign of human life.

    People don't come out of their offices. They communicate by telex. You know, by fax. There's - people have their own bars in their own offices. The non-members' bar closes for lack of patronage. I mean, you've got - this is a terrible business.

    And I think that's got a lot to do with it. But I think also that a - the politicians have got much better at news management. I mean, Howard's control freak stuff about the way he treats the media has been very effective.

    But also I don't think it's been challenged enough by this generation of journalists. I think that Howard's got away with too much in terms of declaring things matters of security, or declaring them off-limits - or 'commercial in confidence' is a lovely weasel word - to cover up.

    I would like to think that my generation of journalists would not have accepted, for instance, a ban on visiting Nauru, and the refugee camps there, in the same way as this generation apparently has. And that a lot of similar things have been allowed to go through to the keeper without sufficient challenge.

    And that's my main criticism of journalists these days. But I accept they work under conditions which are much, much more difficult than those under which I worked at the old parliament house.

    Journo: Mungo, are the journalists to blame or is the public to blame, or is it a combination of both?

    MUNGO: Oh, journalists are the people who should be representing the public. I don't think the journalists necessarily are sufficiently these days. I mean, as I say - well, to my mind a journalist's main job is to challenge the barriers put in his way. Always. Without exception.

    That if you hear from a politican that something is off - off-limits to you - you immediately say well I'm going to try and make it on-limits. I'm going to challenge that. I'm going to refuse to except the usually spurious reasons which were given for putting it off-limits.

    But if you get used to Government by press release, by pic-fac, by photo-op, you know, whatever, then I think - well, everybody suffers. I mean, journalism suffers and the public suffers. And the quality of Government suffers.

    I mean, I would like - there are times, I think, when the public is obviously lulled into a false sense of security about what's going on. That they feel everything in the garden's lovely because a lot of things that aren't lovely are insufficently reported, as much as anything else.

    I mean, my - my feeling is, as I say, whenever a politician tells you anything, a. it's probably untrue, b. whether it's untrue or not it needs to be challenged - the reasons for him telling you this, the basis on which it's told. And if a politician says you can't go there, then you say well I'm bloody well going to try, and I'm going to make sure the public knows I'm trying.

    Margo: When I'm in my late teens I always bought The National Times, even in Queensland. The National Times and Nation Review. And I just wondered why you think that journalism's gone? Because it's like the young journalists today, they haven't really got stuff that they can say - aspire to. As particularly my generation aspired to -

    MUNGO: Yeah. Well - definitely the Times - I mean, the quick reason why that sort of journalism's gone is that it was always run at a loss. I mean The National Times and Nation Review both were always on the red side of the balance sheet, with very, very few exceptions.

    And these days, when newspapers and the media are run much more by accountants than by journalists, that kind of opportunity is no longer going to be available.

    And also, there is a thing about times and places. I mean, as I said at the beginning, I think when you're going through fairly miserable times, as in cultural terms I think we are at the moment, when we're introverted and selfish and frightened and greedy, then there's not much of a place for that kind of a journalism.

    I mean, you see the hard - the sort of bludgeoning type satire of people like The Chaser, some of which I think's very good. And there are some other publications around that do it too. And there's some of it on the net. But it was never a commercial proposition in print terms. And I think in these troubled times it'd be even less of a commercial proposition than it was then.

    Journo: Mungo, can I ask you a question about the Prime Minister...You have found the quote for me and pitch it in the book... There's a theory that Howard's success is based on the pain he suffered through his defeats in the eighties. But on your take Howard has always been like that in the sense that he's always been... a stonefish. Could you recall a little bit about why even in the seventies ... he was -

    MUNGO: Well, I think the point about Howard is that he's a monomaniac. That he is only interested in politics. I mean, he pretends to be a bit interested in cricket. But that's about his only other - the only other side to him.

    I mean, politics is what he's always been involved in, and it's the only thing he knows. And interestingly I think Howard's the only Prime Minister since probably Chifley of whom it can honestly be said that he would not have made more money outside Parliament than inside it.

    His talents are strictly limited to politics, and that's why he persevered. I mean, you think about it. When you go - you come into Parliament in 1974. You have a bit of a dream run first up because you're in the Ministry under Malcolm, then Phil Lynch screws up as treasurer so you're - suddenly you're treasurer.

    And then suddenly it all goes pear-shaped. I mean, Fraser resigns, the Peacock-Howard years start, where they play musical chairs with the leadership for a considerable time, to the great detriment of the party.

    Howard finally sees off Peacock. They don't go for Howard, they go for Hewson. Hewson f...s up. Righto. Then Howard's still there, and they go for Alexander Downer. Now, I mean, any normal human being, at this stage being passed over - after thirty years in the Parliament - to be passed over for Alexander Downer...

    (laughter)

    I mean, you'd shoot yourself. You'd go out and become a beachcomber. You'd do anything. But not Howard. Because politics is all he knows. It's all he's ever wanted to know. It's all he cares about.

    So Howard perseveres and perseveres and perseveres, and eventually, of course, he's last man standing. But - and then, of course, once he gets into power, for all sorts of reasons, like the ruthlessness with which he attacks the normal conventions and institutions of the public service, the judiciary, even the military, and his control freak stuff with a - a more than usually acquiescent media - he gets away with it.

    But the key to Howard is nothing more than this. I mean, it is he is a megalomaniac. He's ruthlessly ambitious about politics. Always has been, always will be. It's the only thing he knows. I mean, for Howard not to be involved in a political struggle would - he would see it as, you know, something like the repeal of the law of gravity.

    You know, it just wouldn't be natural. It couldn't happen.

    (laughter)

    Margo: Mark, can I ask how you're handling - I mean, in a psychological sense? Like, are you in therapy, or -

    (laughter)

    Are you on valium, or - what, you're just - your family's around you, and the community? It's such - it's such an enormous...

    LATHAM: Well, I've been practising my twitch.

    (laughter)

    MUNGO: Gough used to grind his teeth.

    LATHAM: I'm sleeping well, and always enjoy time with family. I think I saw in the campaign more of Geof Parry than I did of my children, so post the campaign it's been a good chance to catch up, and we've had some birthdays recently, and that's been a great joy.

    But you know, I - I don't put myself in the category in which Mungo described Mr Howard. You've got to have other interests, and balances in life.

    Obviously, after the election defeat I didn't think the period up to Christmas would be a rose garden. And obviously it hasn't. But politics in large part is about advocacy and consistency, and persistency. And I think they're all very important virtues that hopefully I've demonstrated in other parts of my life, and hopefully will continue to demonstrate in public life.

    Mischa Schubert, The Age: What sort of personal toll does it take to go through a defeat and this kind of experience that you've had in the last two months?

    MARK: Oh, well, we're - you know, we're passing through, aren't we, in terms of the broad sweep of political history and service. But you do things for the right reason, and the toll, obviously, on the Labor Party is the frustration that the hopes we had in key areas of social justice and the fairness of our country won't be fulfilled over the next three years.

    And as I said on the doors this morning, I feel particularly sad and sorry for our supporters. The true believers who got out there and worked hard for us. The people who voted for us. There were some. There were millions who voted for us.

    And the party's performance since the election has obviously disappointed them. They would have expected much better of us, even in Opposition. So if you do it for them, your feelings have got to be about them during these troubled times.

    Mischa: You spoke about other people then. What's the tension been personally like?

    MARK: Well, I've answered this before, in terms of personal disappointment. I think about nine days after the election Tony Jones asked me about the defeat, and I said that the perspective came from visiting the Bali memorial at Coogee on the Tuesday after the election and understanding that while we'd lost an election, I was mixing with parents who'd lost their children. You know, no parent should have to bury their child.

    And that certainly put it in the proper perspective as to, you know, in terms of my ego, status, self-esteem or whatever. In terms of what I feel about myself. When you mix with people who share that level of loss it does put it in perspective, and I've mentioned the importance of my own family, which I think people appreciate, so all of those things help to put it in perspective as well.

    But you carry on. And we've had a policy review, and good principles that we believe in are clear. We can advocate those in the new year. And continue the important cause of Labor and the struggle for a federal Labor government, so all of those things put it in the right perspective, and if you dwell too much on things that might be personally disappointing you'll never go forward. You'll never go forward.

    So hopefully I'm not that sort of person, and don't feel that I've been that way in recent times.

    Journo: Mr Latham...

    LATHAM: Notwithstanding the twitch.

    Geoff Parish (Seven Network): I don't know whether you were asked this this morning. If you were, I apologise. But the criticism yesterday - in yesterday's news cycle of Bob McMullan seemed to be more about him speaking up than what he's actually said. Do you expect ...

    LATHAM: Well, I did cover that on the door also Geoff. Check the tape, as they say.

    Tony Wright, The Bulletin: Mr Latham, you're one of the few authors among politicians of the present crop.

    LATHAM: And I think on the Senate side - I was thinking of it earlier in the day - perhaps just John Faulkner.. who's edited very fine books. Are there other Senators who've written books? I couldn't think of any. Nick Bolkus? Richo? Oh, Richo. Well, I think he left here to write a book.

    Tony: Yes. He had to leave here (inaudible).

    LATHAM: (laughs) Senators have got many more secrets, I think, than people in the Reps. So...

    Tony: Have you attempted to put pen to paper yourself, or at least take running notes for a book on this period of politics at all?

    LATHAM: No, no. I - I haven't. I've got too much helpful commentary, and chronicles being written - by people like yourself, Tony - to think that I've got to try and match any of that. No, I spend much too much time reading things about myself than writing them.

    Journo: According to Mungo we shouldn't really believe anything you say anyway, but...

    (laughter)

    LATHAM: Well, read the book.

    Michael Brissenden, ABC 7.30 Report: Yeah. Are you surprised that - or do you find it somewhat ironic that you as Labor Leader are now mouthing the same sort of phrases that we've heard from many leaders that are apparently on the decline, and may not be. But this disunity is death sort of idea that you know, is often sort of spouted at times like this - I mean...

    LATHAM: Well, it does tend to be true. Doesn't it? It does tend to be true.

    Michael: But it does tend to be sort of...

    LATHAM: Unless you've got a different angle on it, that you need to share.

    Michael: But is there some sort of, I mean...

    LATHAM: Unity is death?

    Michael: Twelve months ago...

    LATHAM: Disunity is life.

    (laughter)

    LATHAM: (laughs) What are we dealing with here?

    Michael: Twelve months ago we were saying - Simon Crean was saying much the same thing...

    LATHAM: What's the - what's the question that...

    Michael: No, I'm just wondering if you have a reflection on it. I mean, we're talking...

    LATHAM: No, I - I like to say the things that I believe are true. And I like to say them as in a simple a form as I can. A direct communicator. And I think disunity is death, just three words that neatly summarise a political party's situation when it starts fighting itself instead of talking about the things that are relevant to the Australian people.

    Laurie Oakes, Nine Network: Mark, given - given what youve been going through, and your recent discovery of disunity is death, do you regret what you did to Kim Beazley after ninety-eight?

    LATHAM: I don't regret going to the back bench. But in the circumstances I could have handled it better. I think that's true. Absolutely. And there are things that I said that I'd regret now. But the decision itself, I think, was fundamentally sound. But there were things and ways that I communicated that weren't in the Party's best interests, and I regret that very much.

    Margo: Mark, is Labor - if it gets back into Government, would you abolish the GST on books?

    LATHAM: Oh, we're not making financial commitments at this part of the election cycle. But it would be nice. I - it would be nice to have more books come out of Michael's publishing house, and more books published by Mungo McCallum. Especially if they had an index. I think it's the GST that killed the index.

    Matt Price, The Australian: Mungo, Laurie and Michelle and all those who are actually part of the gallery still - do you include them in your general criticism, or are they kind of icons or dinosaurs beyond...

    MUNGO: No, Matt. I do include them in the general criticism in the sense that I think they have been here for a very long time, and they've done a lot of very good things in the past. I would have like to have seen them both give more leadership in challenging the Government this time around.

    I think one of the big problems of the election campaign, particularly, which I've mentioned to both of them myself, is that the - there's become a tradition now where the heavyweights in the gallery tend to stay in Canberra for most of the campaign, and leave it to the more junior members to do the travelling and the day-to-day reporting.

    Annd what this means is that when the leaders actually deign to hold a press conference, which doesn't happen all that often, but when they do they often get away which much more than they should've. They get away with more than the gallery heavyweights might have let them.

    Now, I know there are logistic reasons for doing this, but I think it's a - I think it's a great pity that you don't get - and Laurie likes to say he's got to stay around because somebody's got to stay around who knows the history of the place.

    That's fine, and I agree, but I would also like to see that history put to a slightly more vigorous use in that, for instance, when you get John Howard screaming about Mark Latham not putting his economic policies out within 35 days of an election, nobody seemed to say take John Howard front on at a press conference and say well, in 1996 you never put yours out until 21 days. Twelve days. Whatever it was.

    So I think there's - the older hands could play a stronger role. And because they have the knowledge, and the status among politicians - I mean, Laurie and Michelle have been here a lot longer than most of the politicians now around - I think that they could play it much tougher than perhaps they have been.

    That they could produce more fire in the belly. And they could do what I've been talking about in terms of challenging the barriers that the politicians put in front of them rather more vigorously.

    So the answer to your question's yes. I do include them in the criticism. But I would qualify it by saying, as I did before, that the circumstances today are much, much more difficult than they were in my time.

    And also that Laurie and Michelle have nothing to apologise for in their record. I mean, they've both been in the past very stalwart servants of the craft and of the public.


 
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