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Rungs Of Opportunity: Latham Outlines His Labor Philosophy

The new Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham, has expressed his belief in an upwardly mobile society where people can climb the “ladder of opportunity”.

LathamAddressing the media in his first appearance since defeating Kim Beazley by 47 votes to 45, the Labor leader said he wanted the former leader, Simon Crean, to remain on the front bench. He said he wanted no resignations from the shadow ministry.

Latham returned again and again to the metaphor of the ladder during his first press conference as ALP leader. He said the trouble with Australia today was that the Howard government had “removed so many of the rungs”. He emphasised health and education as key policy areas.

Latham spoke of his working class upbringing in Sydney’s western suburbs and described walking to his first ALP branch meeting in January 1979 because there was no public or private transport. Referring to December 2, he said this was a special anniversary for the people of his electorate of Werriwa, not only because it was the 31st anniversary of the election of Gough Whitlam’s government, but because it was the first time the people of Australia voted for a system of universal health care.

Latham conceded that he needed to watch his language, saying “no more crudity”, but maintaining his preference for the Australian vernacular. He refused to retract his criticisms of President George W. Bush, but reiterated his support for the US alliance and his love of American history, American democracy and the American people.

Pointing to a picture of former Labor Prime Minister John Curtin (1941-45), Latham said Curtin was elected party leader by 11 votes to 10 in 1935. “I won by 2 votes, so I’m one up on him,” Latham joked. “I don’t claim the comparison, but I do claim the inspiration.”

The new Opposition Leader commended Simon Crean on his policy legacy in areas such as health, education and superannuation.

Asked about reaction from people such as the Sydney taxi driver with whom he had a celebrated encounter, Latham said “Sydney’s a big place” and reminded the questioner that his property had been stolen and he simply acted to retrieve it.

Latham cut short questions from reporters, reminding them that he had to do some preparation “for a thing called Question Time”. This takes place at 2pm in the House of Representatives.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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