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Latham Statement Raises More Questions; Allows Time For Planning Transition To New Leader

The statement released this afternoon by Mark Latham resolves nothing and commits the Opposition Leader to nothing more than remaining leader for another thirteen days.

Mark Latham, Leader of the OppositionThe statement [see below] offers no commitment by Latham to remaining leader. It states ominously that “the news about my health has not been good.”

Latham expresses sympathy for the tsunami and bushfire victims. Over the past fortnight he has been criticised for his silence on the tsunami disaster.

He defends his stay at a holiday resort in Terrigal, NSW, and argues that the acting leaders of the ALP have expressed the appropriate sentiments over the past three weeks.

The media release is curious for what it doesn’t say. It is doubly curious for beginning with the health statement. It will do nothing more than fuel the leadership talk that began in earnest this week.

News reports today claimed that the shadow minister for Health, Julia Gillard, was making arrangements to cut short a visit to Vietnam and return to Australia. In the event of Latham’s resignation, it could be expected that his supporters would be opposed to former leader Kim Beazley (defeated by Latham on December 2, 2004 returning to the leadership he held between 1996-2001. They would also likely oppose the elevation of Kevin Rudd or Stephen Smith and could be expected to work to muster the caucus numbers for Gillard.

In this respect, Latham’s statement, whilst couched in terms of following his doctor’s advice and urging respect for his privacy, is designed to give his supporters time to plan for his departure.

There is a growing sentiment in media commentary and anonymous ALP sources that Latham’s leadership is now in terminal decline.

Television news reports tonight speculated on whether Latham’s pancreatitis is linked to a previous incidence of testicular cancer.

  • Listen to Deputy Opposition Leader Jenny Macklin comment on Latham’s statement (1m)

This is the text of a media statement from the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Latham.

The news about my health has not been good. I have been told to rest and not to work — advice I am trying to follow.

Over the past fortnight I have tried to take a total break, do a few simple things with my family and make the best recovery possible. Notwithstanding the obvious difficulties now, on the advice of my doctors and after consultation with colleagues, I will continue with this approach. I have spent this period with my family, including some time at Terrigal, where I was mostly confined to our unit.

Like all Australians I reacted with horror to the unfolding tragedy of the Asian tsunami. I feel great sympathy and grief for the victims. And I have nothing but admiration for the way the Commonwealth Government, the State Governments and the Australian people have responded. Australia’s response to the disaster has been magnificent.

The acting Labor Leaders, Jenny Macklin and Chris Evans, have expressed these sentiments on behalf of all our members, myself included.

So too, Labor expresses its grief and sympathy for the victims of the South Australian bushfires.

But in the circumstances I have been told to stay on leave and not return to work until my leave period ends on 26 January. I ask the media to respect my privacy and that of my family during this period.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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