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Latham Interview With Denton Airs After Court Challenge

The first television interview with Mark Latham since he resigned as ALP leader in January has been broadcast on the ABC.

Mark Latham, ALP PariahThe interview on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope program was scheduled for telecast next Monday but was brought forward to 8.30pm tonight following publication of leaks from Latham’s book, The Latham Diaries, in News Limited newspapers. The Lateline program also announced that it was intending to broadcast a separate interview with Latham on tonight’s program.

As political officianados sat down to watch the Denton interview they were greeted with this announcement that legal action had prevented the telecast. No details were given.

  • Listen to the announcement.

At 9pm ABC radio reported that an injunction had been taken out in the NSW Supreme Court by News Limited preventing the screening of Enough Rope.

  • Listen to the ABC 9pm News.

News Limited has the serialisation rights to Latham’s book and has claimed breach of contract and breach of confidentiality.

At approximately 10.15pm, the original injunction was dissolved. Lateline did not air and the Denton interview was broadcast at 10.25pm.

  • Listen to the Denton-Latham interview.

This is the transcript of Mark Latham’s interview with Andrew Denton on Enough Rope, as published on the ABC’s website.

DENTON:

Please welcome Mark Latham.

(applause)

DENTON:

Mark, welcome. First question – how’s your health?

LATHAM:

Ah it’s not too bad. Yeah when I first had the pancreatitis attack eh the doctors explained that this was an area of medical science where they weren’t any more progressed or knowledgeable than they were 30 years ago, so there’s sort of always uncertainty about this as to what happens in the future, but you know touch wood it’s ah it’s been OK in recent times.

DENTON:

Is it to do with – ah there have been various rumours that it’s to do with alcohol, that it’s to do with the treatment you had for your testicular cancer? Do you know actually what’s caused it?

LATHAM:

Well, the doctors ruled out alcohol. I hadn’t been drinking enough. Eh maybe I should have drunk more in politics. You know so but ah they said the most likely explanation is that when I had the radiotherapy for the testicular cancer in ’94, there would have been some collateral damage in this case to the pancreas. I remember they said – this is just before the federal election – they said well look, you know if you were Freddy Smith from down the street working in a stressful job, we’d tell you to get a different job, but that obviously doesn’t work for you. You’re the leader of the Opposition. You’re going to run to try and become the Prime Minister in a short while.

LATHAM:

You’re stuck in politics. And you know I thought well how stuck are you? There comes a time where you’ve got to try and put your health and family considerations ahead of other things and when push came to shove, that’s what I did.

DENTON:

What are you doing with your days now? How do you pass the time?

LATHAM:

Well, I’m happily a has-been in terms of politics, but also happily a home dad. I look after my uh little boys and my wife’s working in the law which she was studying for. It’s been her ambition and you know for me being a dad has been a tremendous experience, the best thing that’s happened to me emotionally and in terms of happiness and to spend time with my little fellas has just been magnificent, although it’s…

DENTON:

So that’s basically what your day is – looking after Oliver and Isaac?

LATHAM:

Ah yeah, yeah. And they’re pretty active boys so they keep me nice and busy, everything from steam trains to football matches and ah getting them to and from pre-school and you know just caring for them as best they can, and ah all of that keeps you pretty busy. And I think it’s a…it’s something that’s working for me and hopefully other men in that sort of position won’t think it’s sissy or silly or strange to say you’re going to put career behind you and your wife will work and you’ll look after the kids. I think that’s a positive thing that in their circumstances, if it’s a choice they want to make, we should encourage.

DENTON:

Sadly not every man has a parliamentary pension, but …

(laughter)

LATHAM:

No, that’s true. That’s true, yeah. Sadly not every man’s on good salaries in the media, so ah …

(laughter)

DENTON:

Sadly, not every man’s retired.

LATHAM:

You know, but people have got to make their own…

(laughter)

LATHAM:

Oh so sadly not every man makes that choice, Andrew. You know, you could ah …

DENTON:

There’s so much sadness already in this interview and we just started.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

And we haven’t even got on to the Labor party, so …

DENTON:

No, we haven’t, and that’s the really sad stuff.

(laughter)

DENTON:

In your diaries, ah which you call ‘Politics in the Raw’, you actually bring back a lost Australian tradition I think, which is nicknames. Now to help some people through this interview, I’d just like to clear up some of the nicknames that are there. ‘Comb-over’ – who’s ‘Comb-over’?

LATHAM:

Ah that’s Bob McMullan, whose got this sort of habit of thinking that if you comb a couple of strands of hair over the top of your bald head, nobody will notice. And that you know they’ll think that you’ve got a full head of hair, and ‘Comb-over’s’ a nickname that normally applies to someone who’s got that sort of flip over hairstyle.

DENTON:

Yeah. Ah ‘Junket Guts’?

LATHAM:

Oh well, that could apply to many people. I think that’s Amanda Vanstone in the book isn’t it?

DENTON:

‘Sergeant Schultz’?

LATHAM:

Ah Sergeant Schultz. There’s a lot of nicknames in that book. Is that one for Kim Beazley I think. He knows nothing.

DENTON:

Your [not transcribable]

(laughter)

LATHAM:

I think it was. Well, that happened in ’98 wasn’t it? I think he told me something that I subsequently found out he did know about so it was a bit of a Sergeant Schultz.

DENTON:

‘Jabba the Hutt’?

LATHAM:

Ah well that’s Laurie Oakes. I think a lot of people call him that because he bears a striking resemblance to that lovely character in the Star Wars movies.

DENTON:

All right in that spirit of openness and honesty, let’s take you back to December 2nd, 2003. Here’s a bit of footage of a day you’ll definitely remember – when you became leader of the federal ALP.

(footage plays)

DENTON:

A hell of a day. Did you feel nervous, excited at the

LATHAM:

Yeah, a combination of emotions. It’s a…day where a lot of things happened and ah yeah you feel excited, emotional, relieved, surprised all those things tend to blend in and that that was December 2003, and probably for a couple of weeks you, you know all those things are still tossing around in your mind, in your system. And it wasn’t until you know later that year on Christmas holidays that it all sinks in and you start to focus on the job ahead.

DENTON:

Because the first few months were very good for you. You had an approval rating of 66 per cent at one point, higher than anyone since Bob Hawke. And in the diaries you talk about talking to Laurie Brereton and him saying this is a part of a four year program to make you Prime Minister and you replied, “Oh bullshit, I can beat Howard in one”. Did you get a little over-confident?

LATHAM:

No, I wouldn’t say over-confident. I mean you concede that it’ll take four years. You’re saying well I’m going to spend the next 12 months losing the next election. By definition, you’re saying you’re going to lose. It like, I suppose, it’s like a football team, you know your beloved Rabbits playing the Parramatta Eels or something. They’d be up against it but the coach and everyone’s mentality would be we can beat them this year; we don’t have to wait ’til next.

DENTON:

Even though things were going well for you politically in those first few months, personally that wasn’t the case and I’m going to quote a couple of times from the book here. This was about the National Press Club address that you gave in February and you finished the speech talking about the importance of fatherhood. You write in your diary, “As I delivered those words I wanted to yell out, yes folks, we need to honour the home dads, and I’m getting out of here right now to become one. Good-bye and good riddance. This was three months, less than three months into your leadership. What was what was tearing at you there? What was that conflict?

LATHAM:

Well, it’s the balance between work and family commitments that you get into that sort of job, you’re going to spend a lot of time away from home… Not enough time to see my sons, my wife… I could feel at that early stage that things were getting ah imbalanced, that you know in hindsight, I could say well you know it was a mistake to seek the leadership of the Labor party when I had ah a young family. But what does that mean for the future? That people have got to be sort of as old as Methuselah to take on the job or they’ve got to be sort of the kids have got to move out of home. Maybe people will read this book and think they’ve got to cut a bit more slack for people who’ve got young families and particularly the media intrusion. I mean we had an episode at the end of last year ah on the beach at Fremantle where a guy with a reporter’s notepad and a guy with a camera came marching along the beach to take pictures of us. Ah and when you’ve got boys that are four and two it’s sort of like a violation of the Australian birthright, bit of time at the beach. That seemed to be a terrible intrusion and one quite frankly from which we never recovered.

DENTON:

So all through your leadership there was this strong note of I should be at home. I want to be at home.

LATHAM:

Yeah, early in the diaries, I quote that even before I was, I think it’s around the time I became a dad, Warwick Smith the former Howard government minister who lost his seat ah I think at the ’98 election and he’s moved on to work for Macquarie Bank and talking to him about how he’d made the adjustment out of politics. And he said well you know for family reasons, it’s just blissful and he wasn’t missing much of his time in politics. And he said something I wrote down, and I’ve always remembered and thought seriously about it, and that is everyday you spend away from your children is a day you never get back.

DENTON:

There was a very public display of how much the grind of politics was impacting on you personally. The press conference you held in July to rebut a whole lot of allegations floating about that you had sexually harassed a woman, about your first marriage break up, about a buck’s night video, which nobody ultimately produced. Here’s a bit of that footage.

(footage plays)

DENTON:

Did anybody in your office try to talk you out of that press conference?

LATHAM:

No, no, but it was an environment where I gave the media a chance to put up or shut up. I mean when they’ve, in three or four instances, reported that there’s this salacious buck’s night video that I knew didn’t exist… But basically the journalists at the Sydney Morning Herald are thinking that to do a profile on me, they’d write up my sexual history. I don’t know why that was so interesting, and it turned out it wasn’t.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

But you know that that is quite intrusive, and I think in that that we’re going more and more down the American path where everything that’s public is open for scrutiny and everything’s that private is regarded as public, you know. It’s not just me and people can read the diaries and look at my circumstances and some of the nonsense that was put around. But you can look at the circumstances with John Brogden, you know quite tragic circumstances in NSW recently, where the same mixture of voyeuristic journalistics, and they’ve got to know everything about your life, right from your speeches through to, you know, your first girlfriend, and everything.

DENTON:

In holding that press conference, you broke one of the cardinal rules for a politician. You showed personal weakness. Bob Carr wrote about it in his diaries. There was an awful press conference and that you were crying crocodile tears.

LATHAM:

Well, Bob Carr’s diary entry was an invention. He wrote that someone was trying to talk me out of doing that press conference on the Saturday. The truth is that I thought about the coverage in the media through the Thursday, Friday and then the weekend and only on the Monday morning did I make a decision well look this is just sort of cascading into a really uncomfortable position. They’ve got all these rumours and slurs they want to put around about me. I’ll face them down in the press conference room and any questions they want to ask and they asked lots of questions about fidelity and sexual harassment and this, that and the other thing and videos, and we’ll just have it all out.

DENTON:

Let’s talk about the Labor party. You said it was… because in the press conference you talked about how the government stirred you, but in your diaries, it’s actually the Labor party that you finger for a lot of this. This is quote, “My mood: complete and utter despair. I expect shit from the Tories and their dancing bears and the media, but why does the worst stuff, the bits that maim always come from our side? I talk about the cause of Labor but quite frankly the culture of caucus is killing me.”

What is that culture?

LATHAM:

Ah well, my first marriage broke up in 1997 and early ’98 these rumours started to circulate that I’d been involved in some sexual harassment incident and they came out of Kim Beazley’s office. Beazley knew about them. One of his associates, Robert Ray, was involved in spreading them around, and it was one of the reasons, probably the primary reason, I got off the front bench in 1998. I couldn’t work with Beazley given the way he’d been involved in this slur on me. This incident never happened, it was total absolute rubbish.

DENTON:

You say it’s a culture of caucus though.

LATHAM:

Well, I mean for in my circumstances it didn’t stop there. Right through the next six years, you get different snippets of people still raising this slur. It’s sort of attacking something that wasn’t about politics. It was a thing that they invented to try and hurt my reputation and that is part of the culture. The politics of personal destruction that if we can’t sort of argue against this guy and what he’s saying in a political sense, let’s go the personal. And I’ve had a quite an experienced journalist email me since then pointing out that she heard this slur consistently through her time in Canberra but only ever from the Labor side. I think worst of all it was raised in that leadership ballot ah running up to December 2003, where Beazley’s campaign manager, Robert Ray, tried to heavy or uh convince one of the Christian caucus members that Beazley had this dirt file on me. I’d been involved in this terrible incident. He couldn’t possibly vote for me in the caucus ballot, it’d all come out. I mean…you know this is the so-called party of compassion.

DENTON:

You talk about the ruthlessness of how the machine works and this is probably never better displayed than in a story of your good friend, Greg Wilton, the former Labor representative for Isaacs, who suicided back in 2000. What happened with Greg?

LATHAM:

Well, Greg had a marriage break up and some troubles. An incident that was made public and was in a very distressed state, was suffering depression and he needed people to support him and help him. And ah far from supporting him, some of his, I suppose they became enemies inside the party put around in the media that he was going to lose his pre-selection. He would be outed from his seat. He lost his marriage, he’d lost access to his children, his future was uncertain. The one thing he had left was his spot in parliament and that triggered his suicide. It was a tragedy that instead of Labor people supporting him from the top down, the culture was that he was a political number rather than a human life and you know worst thing that happened in my time in parliament, he took his own life. One of the culprits in the episode, failing to support Greg, Stephen Conroy after the next election, he got promoted to be the deputy leader in the Senate for the Labor party, so for his sins he got promoted and you know that that indicates these are not just one off incidents. There’s something fundamentally sick in the culture nothing changes. People can kill themselves and nothing changes in the politics of personal destruction in Australian politics and I think that’s a fundamental worry. You know the culture is so bad that in many cases, I think in Labor party’s case, it’s beyond repair.

DENTON:

Let’s talk about the media, of whom you are very critical in this book. How many of the media are or would like to be players as opposed to just commentators?

LATHAM:

Oh a significant number, you know. There’s no doubt someone like Glenn Milne sees himself as a mover and shaker and not just a writer of stories. He actually sees himself as a participant.

DENTON:

In what way?

LATHAM:

Well, he once said to me that he played a role in helping Keating defeat Hawke, and he’s determined to help Costello defeat Howard for the Liberal leadership. So he hasn’t done too well on that front. That’s a long running project for him [not transcribable] He’s been working at it for 10 years, but he’s a participant more than an observer of the system. They’ve really got a culture of know-alls, that people sit in the press gallery, they see all this stuff, they get on the grog at night with the odd politician. They swan around Canberra. They get into the idea the culture the state of mind that they know everything that’s going on. Nothing could be happening that they don’t see. Well, you know I think they see the tip of iceberg basically. What’s under the waterline is hidden from the media and these diaries are one example of how there’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that where the media just wouldn’t know diddly squat.

DENTON:

But it’s a mutual pact isn’t it? Ah you talk in the diaries about actually having documents handed to you by a journalist from Helen Coonan’s garbage bin, sitting with them in parliament. It’s a mutual society of subterfuge and deals isn’t it?

LATHAM:

Yeah, and it springs beyond the work. I mean Canberra’s a pretty isolated place. What do you do down there on a Wednesday night…?

(laughter)

LATHAM:

People go out and have a meal, often with journ…politicians with journalists have a few beers, blah-blah-blah. So it becomes a social thing and the lines there are not very clear as to what’s public and what’s private and there’s a lot of blending of that… Yeah, it’s its own little culture, its own little spaceship, you know… And a lot of those things are very mutual.

DENTON:

Let’s take you back to another big day – the federal conference, the ALP federal conference in January last year. Here you are the new boy, walking on to the strains of ‘New Sensation’.

(footage plays)

DENTON:

Happy memories. There you are shaking hands with Bob Carr, one of “the A grade arseholes”.

LATHAM:

Yeah, well Bob subsequently decided to dance on my sick bed in January so you know I found it hard to say he’s a jolly good chap and he should have done more of that.

DENTON:

You find it hard to say that about the Labor party in general. By far the most strident and detailed criticism is of the Labor party and how it operates and if I may just read you this quote here: “As an institution the ALP is insoluble, a museum relic from a time when trade unions mattered and people cared about community politics. That time has passed and so too has the relevance of the shit can I sit on as Labor leader.”

Why is the Labor party stuffed?

LATHAM:

I think there’s probably two fundamental reasons. One is that eh part power inside the party has moved away from the grassroots and it’s concentrated in the hands of machine men, factional organisers, union secretaries, half a dozen of them can sit down in Victoria for instance and plan out whose going to get all the pre-selection for the next 20 years. Graham Richardson coined it as whatever it takes. Well that whatever it takes culture is very true and very real. Ah the second reason I think is that you know Labor’s not there just to try and win elections. The whole idea is to produce social fairness, social justice in this country and there are some things government can’t achieve.

I reached the conclusion that a lot of our problems are not so much material, they’re not economic. Australia’s a very prosperous nation. A lot of the problems are in the relations between people, the community and family breakdown, the isolation, loneliness, child sexual abuse, mental illnesses. A lot of these are social problems, where it’s not so much what government can do for the people, it’s what the community and what society needs to do for itself.

DENTON:

You paint a picture of the …

LATHAM:

So you know there’s limits there to what I think a modern social democratic party can achieve.

DENTON:

Dating back over the 11 years of your diary though, you paint a picture of a party that is morally and ethically and intellectually bankrupt. Can you explain to us, give us an example of how that bankruptcy works, how it plays itself out?

LATHAM:

Well, the whatever it takes culture does take on a life of its own where the people who’ve got the factional chiefs who’ve got the power exercise it in a way that sometime it’s oblivious to human life… And other times it’s just exercising the power for the sake of it.

DENTON:

The person in the book that comes under the most criticism, the
most sustained criticism is Kim Beazley, who you describe as “publicly avuncular, but privately a dirty dog”. What is it about the man that you can’t stomach?

LATHAM:

Well, he tried to fit me up with sexual harassment slur for six years.

DENTON:

He did?

LATHAM:

Yeah, he did, yeah, yeah.

DENTON:

How do you know it was him?

LATHAM:

Well, I mean in the epilogue of the book talking to people just before the last federal election about this private matter. He knows something about me if he told my biographers, it’d destroy my career. The fact that his campaign manager for the Labor leadership in December 2003, Robert Ray, is pushing this notion that Beazley’s got a dirt file, of course Beazley knows about that. I’ve got other notes, records there from people who work from him for him which talk about his knowledge and role… I’ve got absolutely no doubt that he’s involved in this. The old Sergeant Schultz thing about he knew nothing about it doesn’t wash with me. He was right into it.

DENTON:

It’s more than that though, isn’t it? You say that he’s the leader the Labor party deserves. You actually detest what he stands for politically don’t you?

LATHAM:

Well, you know I make those commentaries, and back in ’98 eh I said I didn’t think he stood for all that much but you know I’m happy to leave politics behind. I suppose my grievance with him is more a personal one, that man-to-man, Australian male to Australian male. If you’ve got this sort of thing you’re trying to put on another bloke, about a sexual harassment slur, at least be honest about it; at least talk to him face to face instead of having blokes like Robert Ray pushing around this notion of dirt file, you know, probably having a few drinks at dinner and putting the slur out again, even days before the federal election starts. I mean I just find that, you know, there is a place for frankness, I think, among Australian men, Australian citizens.

DENTON:

Let’s be frank, Mark. You said ‘I am happy to leave politics behind’, but you can’t. You’ve just left a whole bunch of hand grenades in this book, most of them marked Kim Beazley, in which you’ve said very clearly politically this is a man that stands for nothing and does nothing.

LATHAM:

Yeah, well that’s what the book says, Andrew, so…it’s good that you’ve read it.

DENTON:

Why aren’t you saying it now? Why are you saying “I’m happy to leave politics behind” …

LATHAM:

Yeah, well I’ve agreed with what’s there and people can…

DENTON:

So you believe that Kim Beazley is a waste of space as a political leader?

LATHAM:

Well, talk to most people; that’s what they say isn’t it? I’m not the only one saying it.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

I mean you’ve got a whole generation of Labor activists who’ve said this about him… You look at polling and focus groups that the party does, I mean what do you think he stands for?

(laughter)

DENTON:

I’m with the ABC. I don’t have an opinion.

LATHAM:

No, that’s a very convenient answer.

DENTON:

It’s also the truth.

(laughter)

DENTON:

I do have one but not for you right now.

LATHAM:

Yeah, but look anyway look the… this book is being published for the very sound reason that every man and his dog inside the Labor party had their say after the last election about me, about why we lost, blah-blah-blah. Invariably they did it off the record background quotes for journalists filling up thousands of words in articles. None of them had the courage to say well look you know this is my opinion. I’m putting my name to it – the novel approach that you might put your name to what you’ve got to say. Ah well, I’m having my say and I’m proud to put my name to it.

DENTON:

You have exposed ruthlessly over many years, the inner workings of a party which whatever its faults, help pay your way through uni, gave you a career, gave you a shot at being PM. Why aren’t you…what you’re being called – a Labor rat, a traitor?

LATHAM:

Well, I still belong to the Labor party and wouldn’t ever join any other organisation. All these other characters have had their say why have I got to be the odd man out?

DENTON:

You’ve left ammunition here though for years to come, for your opponents. You can you know what Peter Costello and Tony Abbott not to mention your friends in the media are going to do with this material for years, about Conroy, about Rudd, about Beazley – you name it, it’s all in there. Why have you done that?

LATHAM:

Well, it’s a frank account of what happened. I don’t want my children growing up thinking that all this other rubbish that’s being put around is the orthodoxy, is the truth. Why shouldn’t they…and other Australians know my perspective, given the fact that all these other characters have had their say? And I’ve never been into the business that Stephen Conroy was in, in the last campaign, when Stephen Smith a senior colleague came to help my campaign Conroy, as deputy leader in the Senate, rang him up and abused him. Abused him.

DENTON:

You’ve never abused him?

LATHAM:

I’ve never abused anyone for helping the Labor leader in the middle of a federal election campaign, no. And I never will. But there’s a guy, you want to talk about who’s a Labor rat and whose got something to answer for, he’s the deputy leader of the Labor party in the Senate today, and there he is abusing a senior colleague in the middle of the last federal election campaign that that colleague shouldn’t help the leader…

DENTON:

I think a lot of people when they read this book are going to find it hard to vote Labor again based on the way you gut the party. Is that what you wanted?

LATHAM:

No, not at all. I don’t think they should vote Coalition.

(laughter)

DENTON:

Should they vote Labor? You’re talking about a party that is dysfunctional beyond repair. With a leader who stands for nothing.

LATHAM:

Well, you know I think Labor would have a good chance at the next election if they had Julia Gillard as the Labor leader.

DENTON:

That’s not the question.

LATHAM:

I’m not well Andrew, I’m not look… I’m happily a home dad. I retired from politics in January.

DENTON:

You can’t say this, Mark. You just dropped a dirty bomb on the Labor party. You can’t say: “I didn’t do nothing”.

LATHAM:

I’m not here, I’m not here handing out how to votes some polling booth on ENOUGH ROPE.

DENTON:

You have absolutely disembowelled the Labor party in this book.

LATHAM:

Well, I’ve put down a frank record of how I saw things and I don’t think there’s a problem with that.

DENTON:

I’m curious too that in the book there are moments which aren’t strictly to do with the Labor party. For instance, you talk about Paul Kelly, the News Ltd journalist saying to you about his employers Lachlan Murdoch and John Hartigan, that they’re lacklustre and over-rated and then you write after that, does he tell everyone this stuff? Surely if they knew, he’d lose his job. What are the ethics of reprinting something like this that in this diary?

LATHAM:

well what are the ethics of Kelly reporting things that would have been said in similar circumstances? I mean you talk spoke earlier on about the mutual relationship between politicians and journalists sharing information. Well, you know, and for people who keep diaries, and attend to facts, then the sharing cuts both ways.

DENTON:

I’m talking about your ethics though. You’ve compromised him in printing that. What are your ethics in printing that?

LATHAM:

Ah well other people can judge that. But I don’t owe him anything do I?

DENTON:

Clearly.

LATHAM:

You know you’ve got thousands of journalists running around the country saying, we’ll publish because the public have got the right to know. A lot of cases they publish fiction, sexual fantasy, all sorts of rubbish goes in there. Well why hasn’t the public got the right to know a bit about them?

DENTON:

Also some…

LATHAM:

This unrepresented power that they’ve got why shouldn’t there be a bit of commentary about them…

(applause)

DENTON:

Also in the diaries there’s some very personal stories, for instance Kevin Rudd lobbying to be shadow treasurer even as he’s weeping over the death of his mother, or Kim Beazley saying to you before the election “Don’t worry if you lose, at least you get to go home with Janine, John Howard has to go home with Janette”.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

It was good advice. It was a good way to rationalise the defeat, absolutely.

DENTON:

Can you say hand on heart that printing some of this wasn’t payback?

LATHAM:

These are diary entries that ah are legitimate and I think it’s an interesting thing about Beazley is probably the way he dealt with his own two election defeats at Howard’s hands. I think it makes the point, it’s not a, it’s not a sort of savage blow to him. It makes the point that there is a world beyond politics and if you had a choice between being Prime Minister or going home with Janine or Janette well I’m happy to go home with Janine.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

And they’re important considerations because politicians are not just sort of cardboard cut-outs, or robots walking around, they’re real live human beings, they’ve got wives, they’ve got loves, they’ve got passions, they’ve got emotions, they’ve got a home life. Um – and what was the other matter you raised?

DENTON:

The one about Kevin Rudd crying…

LATHAM:

Well that’s…

DENTON:

At his mum’s death …

LATHAM:

…Yeah…

DENTON:

…While lobbying for shadow treasurer.

LATHAM:

Yeah, well that’s in the context of him pledging on his mother’s grave, this wonderful loyalty to me when other caucus members are telling me that he’s putting the spear in. Andrew, the difference is I put my name to these things. You know as well as I do, all these characters who run around who ring journalists up say this, this, this about Latham, this, this, this, oh but it-it’s off the record, you print all those things about him but I don’t want to be associated with it publicly. They all do it. Now if my scene is I’m putting my name to it I just think that’s in the ball park of frankness and directness with people, rather than the sort of snaking around where you’ve got all these things to say, putting the spear into people, but you haven’t got the guts or the courage to, well I think sort of the Australian cultural way of just being upfront with people and put your own bloody name to it.

DENTON:

You make your attitude to the leadership clear in the diaries. At one point you describe being leader as ‘miserable agony’. You talk about having to attend 39 business functions in seven months and you say, you know, how would anyone be interested in that? Why was it so painful?

LATHAM:

Well, not all parts of politics are enjoyable. I mean Bob Carr at these business functions used to come up to me and say ah, Christ not another one of these bloody things, we’ve got to go through another one of these dinners with the same mob, paying their money, the same stuff that we go through every time. It just becomes monotonous, and I think inside the Labor Party all the, and the Liberals must have the same thing. You go to the same function, the same reasons, the same people, the same agenda. They always used to ask me, when’s the election date? I felt like saying, how would I bloody know, you know, go ask Howard. But you sort of say oh well Mr Howard doesn’t tell me his secrets and try and make a joke of it blah blah, blah. So you go through the whole routine, it’s ground hog day.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

And you know there’s only so many times you can be Bill Murray

(laughter)

LATHAM:

And for Bob Carr he has his limits, he ultimately got out of politics. I’m sure that was part of his consideration, he couldn’t do one more function. Well everyone’s got a limit and I suppose mine was a bit more restrained than this, a bit more restricted than his.

DENTON:

The character issue about you came together all in one moment, the day before the election. The Liberal Party campaign director, Brian Loughnane said that they had more feedback to this than anything else in the election and that it seemed to crystallize people’s fears and hesitations about you and to this moment.

(footage plays)

DENTON:

People, women in particular saw a bully.

LATHAM:

Well I always greet my mates with a good hearty handshake, you know, what’s wrong with that?

(laughter)

DENTON:

What happened with that handshake?

LATHAM:

Well I, I, look I think that was a bit a gee-up in terms of the, the Liberal guy saying that, he would say that of course, wouldn’t he, and our polling showed that on the last night of the campaign if people looked at that my numbers went up actually rather than going down.

DENTON:

Your own campaign …

LATHAM:

But but, but only after the election. It’s part of the mythology where the winners get to write the history of what they think happened and they were spinning that out there that this was some terrible slur on my character. I suppose I was in a situation where there’d been a bit of background about these handshakes right through the election campaign.

DENTON:

Explain the background.

LATHAM:

Well the background was that at the start of the campaign Howard would come up and do this flappy handshake and I think it’s, I don’t want to mean any offence here but I think it was a little man’s thing where …

(laughter)

LATHAM:

… They sort of try and, the little guy’s putting the squeeze on to show that he can match it with the bigger guy in a physical sense. So you know, and at the start I thought it was quite amusing that this little man’s going like this and trying to break my hand and squeeze as tight as he could, it was quite funny. It was funny up to the point where the Sunday before the election out at the St George Rugby League grand final lunch he did the same thing to my wife, and she turned to me and said, that that guy there just tried to break my hand, it really, really hurt…

(laughter)

LATHAM:

…And she’s like this after one of these flappy Howard handshakes with too much force. Well I thought well you know we’re not going to have any more of that.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

If he wants to, wants to have a test of physical strength the next time I see him he might work it out that he shouldn’t do that my wife.

DENTON:

Let’s talk about Janine. At one point in the diary, it’s an intriguing moment, you say she’s been the strong one domestically and politically. In what way was she the strong one for you?

LATHAM:

Well you know, I was always lamenting the fact I wasn’t seeing enough of the boys and she always used to say, you’ve worked hard here, you’re fighting for a cause that you really believe in, an important cause, you’ve just got to make that sacrifice, keep your head down, stop complaining about it. So I think she was sort of, the strong one in terms of the work and family tensions. But then I suppose that changed for her with the buck’s night video and some of the things that were put around in the media. It was very hard for her. I mean we had that galoot Steve Price on the morning show on Channel 7, reaching behind the chair making out he had a copy of the buck’s night video and a suggestion that I’ve done these terrible things with a stripper. Well there’s the mother of my children, the children around her feet at 7.30 in the morning thinking well he’s doing a job but does it have to involve this?

DENTON:

Janine had an expression, ‘Freddy Funk’, what’s ‘Freddy Funk’?

LATHAM:

Well I didn’t want to go to work. I’d rather hang out with her and the boys.

(laughter)

DENTON:

There’s more than funk though, there some of …

LATHAM:

DENTON:

…The descriptions you used of yourself in the book – ‘the melancholies’, ‘gloomsville’. There’s one occasion where you were so unhappy at a caucus decision you wouldn’t face the media, you sent ‘Comb-over’, Bob McMullan out to do it …

LATHAM:

That’s right.

(laughter)

DENTON:

It seems to me that on reading the diary, your own account of yourself, that you really struggled with your moods.

LATHAM:

No no, I had what I think is a normal reaction by a father of young children that you’re worried about them in those circumstances. These are things that happened after the buck’s night video, the Steve Price …

DENTON:

But these weren’t, these weren’t just to do with your family. These were political moments…

LATHAM:

Oh…

DENTON:

This thread right throughout the book, and in fact there’s one occasion within 10 days of that moment where you wouldn’t even face the media because you were so ‘down in the dumps’ about a caucus review, where two weeks later you were saying in parliament “I’ve never felt more alive, I’ve got electricity running through my veins”. It seemed to me reading it that you really did have a lot of mood swings.

LATHAM:

Well I think you just react to a fast changing political environment. I mean maybe there’s some jobs where it’s pretty consistent, but politics is a roller coaster ride, up and down, up and down the whole time and inevitably you react to that and these diaries are a frank set of reactions.

DENTON:

You are being very frank and very open about the human condition. Did you have to deal with depression?

LATHAM:

No. No, I’ve been open and frank about medical issues. Testicular cancer wasn’t always the easiest thing to talk about as a big boofy bloke. Pancreatitis, I’ve spoken about. But not for a day in my life have I ever suffered from depression and, Jeff Kennett was kind enough to me, having met me once in my life to put this out in the media, he’s totally wrong and totally inappropriate to think he’s some guru on mental illness and depression. I’ve never had that that sort of problem and quite the opposite, you know, my wife and friends will say generally I’m an upbeat person, optimistic and trying to get on with my life, and do things in a positive way, and that’s, you know… Tickets off myself, one of the things they like, so you know I think the opposite is true.

DENTON:

Let’s talk about what happened in January this year when there was all that fracas about your resignation and the tsunami. What’s the sequence of events? When did you realise that you were going to quit?

LATHAM:

Well I had a pancreatitis attack in late December and all the other things that had been happening, and this health issue. I had to make a choice between family, health and work and I chose the family and health option of getting out of politics and becoming a home dad. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me back into the political arena for some façade. It would’ve been totally artificial for me to get out there, speak on behalf of the Labor Party about the tsunami when I’d made a decision to go, and clearly wasn’t going to be coming back as the Labor leader. And in any case I mean we had acting party leaders, a deputy leader who speaks for the party and it was their job to do just that.

DENTON:

According to your diaries you’d made the decision to quit by the first of January, short-shortly after the second attack. You didn’t actually quit until the eighteenth. Why hang around, why leave everyone hanging on?

LATHAM:

Well, New Year’s Day is not normally a day where everyone’s at their desk working away and the Labor Party is organized in Canberra, the nation was on holidays.

DENTON:

Sure but it’s 18 days, we’re talking about.

LATHAM:

Well, we’re talking about 18 days but I don’t think New Year’s Day is the best day to announce your…

DENTON:

Yeah, what about the other 17…

LATHAM:

… resignation because there’s people who’ve gone on holidays with their family overseas. And there was also a political consideration that that my supporters or allies in the party, maybe they need some time to get their numbers together and we could do it later in the month. So, you know I didn’t find any great urgency to pull the pin on New Year’s Day. Normally the country is asleep …

DENTON:

Sure.

LATHAM:

…In January and ah I had planned to do it towards the end of the month.

DENTON:

The country wasn’t asleep though, the country was very much awake and exercised by what had happened. The tsunami was front of mind for everyone. You took over two weeks to issue any kind of a statement. You only had to issue two lines. Even if you’d decided to quit why didn’t you do the right thing, the human thing to issue some sort of note of sympathy?

LATHAM:

Well I thought that those who were acting as leaders of the Labor Party had spoken for the party and expressed all our concern, but as the Australian opposition what were we going to do, turn back the waves, organise the relief effort. I mean these are just words.

DENTON:

I guess it gets back to what’s in your heart in that if everybody had the same attitude as you just expressed, what can I do, I can do nothing, Australians by the hundreds of thousands donated, did what they could. You didn’t.

LATHAM:

Ah well I think I was in pretty unique circumstances where I was leaving that job and other people were acting as Labor party leaders and they issued the statement that you’re talking about, okay? They issued it on my behalf, on behalf of all Labor Party people that were sympathetic. We wanted the government to do as much as it could. Jenny Macklin was talking about things that were above and beyond what the government ultimately did to try and help in the situation. So, she was speaking on my behalf and all Labor Party members and that’s why we have an acting leader of the Labor Party in circumstances where the leader of the day is ill, and is taking what he thought would be a good break with his family.

DENTON:

You weren’t that ill though, were you, you had had the attack but you were on holiday with the family ah down at Bega and at Terrigal, weren’t you? So it wasn’t …

LATHAM:

Bermagui and…

DENTON:

Bermagui. So you weren’t incapable, you certainly weren’t as sick as you’d been in August.

LATHAM:

No, no I wasn’t but I wasn’t coming back to work …

DENTON:

Mm.

LATHAM:

…Because you can be guaranteed that issuing a statement, ah they’d want TV footage, you’d have to have a press conference, you’d have to stay at work, and I just thought, you know, you’re getting into the ludicrous here. Where having made a decision that I was going to pull the pin, to come back to work and put up the façade, basically lying to the Australian people that I’m here as the Labor leader, and we’re going to do this and this, and then say, what do you think should happen two months from now? And say we’ll be fighting in the parliament for these things to happen. All that would’ve just been a total lie.

DENTON:

Let’s look at the last time we saw you in public before tonight which was your resignation – eighteenth of January.

(footage plays)

DENTON:

What were your feelings that day?

LATHAM:

Well let’s just get this statement out of the way and go home.

DENTON:

This is the bit I don’t get about you Mark – you loathe most of the people in your Party, you thought the Party was hopeless and dysfunctional, you found going to business events tedious, you’re disillusioned with the electorate and the country, you had made enemies of most of the people in the media, you were clearly in anguish at the amount of time you were separated from your family – whatever made you think that you could make a go of it as Prime Minister?

LATHAM:

Well the party elected me to do the job and…

DENTON:

But why did you think you could do it?

LATHAM:

Well for the reasons I would have articulated in the election campaign, but if you think for a moment that John Howard’s in love with all the people inside his political party…

(laughter)

(one person)

LATHAM:

That he’s bozo, buddy pals with Peter Costello and they sit around patting each other on the back all day. I mean this is the state of ah disbelief that the media’s got into. I mean you’ve got to understand what really goes on behind the scenes in politics and often the people really at your throat are on your own side of the political fence so this is the reality of modern politics…

DENTON:

I think that’s…

LATHAM:

…But I think out of all of what you’ve just said that you know all those things got me to the logical rational conclusion, I didn’t want to be part of this system anymore so I did what I said on that day and went off to lead a normal life with my family.

DENTON:

Throughout the diaries there’s so much pain manifest in what you’re doing, in what you’re doing to yourself, in what you’re doing to other people and what other people are doing to you. Why did you put yourself through it, why did you put all of us through it?

LATHAM:

Well I don’t know how much I put you through, you’re just

(laughter)

LATHAM:

You’re just sitting here…

DENTON:

You put…

LATHAM:

…Asking questions, you know you sort of…

DENTON:

No, no, no you put yourself forward as alternative Prime Minister, there were six or seven million people in this country that thought you know you could lead this country yet you felt the way you did. Why did you put everyone through it?

LATHAM:

Well I believed in the policies and values I articulated about social fairness and opportunity and I think those things are important for the country. But if you think you’re sort of going to get a cross between Jesus Christ and a robot running for any political party to be Prime Minister you’re sadly mistaken and I think the basic reality is that politics behind the scenes is a lot more complex, and sometimes a lot more painful, than the media ever let on. I mean the easy job for the media is just to portray people in one dimension. That here’s Freddy Smith, he’s a maverick or he’s something else, he’s a maddy or he’s team player, he’s a Costello supporter, he’s a Howard supporter…oh everyone just gets a label placed on them and that’s the easy way for the media to discharge their job.

DENTON:

Let’s talk about two people that gave you a lot of advice during your leadership, not always sought. First of all Paul Keating, who you say in the book is obsessed with finding a Labor leader that can defeat John Howard. Looking back do you think he used you?

LATHAM:

Oh no I think that’s just his ah his great burning interest but….

DENTON:

Interest?

(laughter)

LATHAM:

In life, yeah I think he wants someone who can sort of undo the things he must feel about the ’96 election defeat. But that’s you know that’s one way of handling your time out of parliament. But for me it became sort of an anti-model. That’s the day you walk out of the political system, you’ve really got to walk. You’re either a parliamentarian active in the system or you’re a has-been and you need to get on with the rest of your life.

DENTON:

The other person of course is Gough, your mentor, the man that stood in your father’s stead at your wedding who you said in the postscript to the book provided you with the cruellest cut of all – what was that?

LATHAM:

Well I found out after I’d resigned from the Parliament that he rang a mate of mine in advance of that to say I should get out. So instead of supporting me in the circumstance, he didn’t know much about my circumstances, in fact he didn’t know anything. His attitude was that I should get out of Werriwa, get out of politics altogether and hand over to Steven Chaytor who had worked for him. So I don’t know why he made that decision. From my perspective we’d obviously had a close political relationship and a personal one.

LATHAM:

Well personal in as much as politics. Yes I think one thing about politics and probably one thing people find in this diary is that politics is full of what tend to be shallow relationships. I mean you have your closest personal relationships with your partner, your children, your immediate family. Politics is a lot of people coming in and out of your life, you see every couple of months, it’s not as deep, you know, sort of, you know, Gough’s been described to me as a father figure and all that, nothing could ever be as deep as your own father.

DENTON:

No.

LATHAM:

But we had a political relationship and…

DENTON:

It was more than that though…

LATHAM:

And personal support, personal support for each other up to that point. Why he wasn’t supporting me at that point, well you’d have to go and ask him. I hugged him at our election launch because I thought it was the right thing to do and it might have been the last launch that he ever saw. So I thought that was the right thing to do, a-a-an emotion of mine but in the end he must have reached a different conclusion.

DENTON:

Clearly you haven’t spoken to him since you found this out?

LATHAM:

That’s right.

DENTON:

Will you speak to him again?

LATHAM:

Well I’m not planning to, no.

DENTON:

That’s sad, I think that’s sad. Your son carries his name as a second name, Isaac Gough, you say that it was a close political relationship but when you came on this show two years ago, you talked about how much Gough meant to you.

LATHAM:

Well he did mean things to me but I mean as far as I’m concerned he ended that relationship at that point. So he’s made that decision, what was I supposed to do, pretend it didn’t happen?

DENTON:

When you were on the show two years ago, this is what you said in response to the question what have you learnt from Gough Whitlam.

(footage plays)

DENTON:

Looking back, how do you think your leadership will be remembered?

LATHAM:

Well that’s for others to judge but in terms of keeping the faith, whatever people are going to say about these diaries, whatever they say about me, the faith I’ve kept is to my family and I had to make a judgement what’s more important, the political faith or the personal faith, well I went I went for my sons.

DENTON:

You’ve named everyone, you’ve dropped everyone in it from the Labor Party, the one person, as far as I can see, in the entire diaries you don’t name is a senior Liberal Party figure who sent you a letter wishing you well after you’d retired and congratulating you on some of your achievements in public life – the one person you didn’t name from the other side – why?

LATHAM:

Ah well I made a judgment that it doesn’t really matter who that person is as an individual, that the fact that a senior Howard Minister wrote that letter is significant and…

DENTON:

Would Tony Abbott have been that upset?

LATHAM:

Ah, ha ha well, yeah that’s bad assumption but…

(laughter)

LATHAM:

Um.

DENTON:

Why protect someone from the Liberal Party though when…

LATHAM:

Well I don’t, I don’t find it . . .

DENTON:

You’re dropping…

LATHAM:

…I don’t find it as a form of protection, I don’t find it as a form of protection anymore than I find that the ABC identity, not you, but the ABC presenter who drove me up the main street of Canberra on the wrong side of the road pissed as a parrot one night is not identified in the book, so…

DENTON:

Kerry denied it by the way.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

Well that’s a different kind of assumption.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

So you know there’s different ways of handling these things and you’ve got to make judgments. I mean there must be 500 judgments in that book as to you know who’s identified and who’s not…

DENTON:

You’ve given people a lot of reason to feel cynical. You haven’t offered any way forward?

LATHAM:

No well I couldn’t find any, that’s why I got out you see.

DENTON:

That’s a…

LATHAM:

If I had a way forward I would be here now talking about a book what some eight or nine months after I got out of politics.

DENTON:

What happened to you Mark?

LATHAM:

Well if you want a…

DENTON:

What happened to you?

LATHAM:

Glossy, ha, a fairy tale ending…

DENTON:

…No, no, no…

LATHAM:

…Well you know that wouldn’t be…

DENTON:

I find this profoundly sad putting aside any political view whatsoever, profoundly sad that somebody of your intellect and your capacity who spent so much time and energy and invested so much of your heart into attempting to correct society’s ills. And now, you know if people wanted to put it in a tabloid way, spitting the dummy or whatever, just going no too hard, can do nothing, I find that profoundly sad. What happened?

LATHAM:

Well you shouldn’t be sad. I mean this is the story of social reform through the ages. You’ve got a whole litany of social movements and people interested in a fairer society who didn’t achieve their goals, I mean it’s…

DENTON:

…But do they just…

LATHAM:

…A perpetual struggle…

DENTON:

…Did they just stop like you have and say can’t be done?

LATHAM:

They?

DENTON:

People finish …

LATHAM:

They either retire at 65 or they die or…

DENTON:

You’re 44.

LATHAM:

Yeah well I found other things that I’m more committed to and… You shouldn’t be sad Andrew, you shouldn’t be sad, you know I think you’re, I think you’re over-reacting here for a bit of dramatic effect on your show.

(laughter)

DENTON:

No.

LATHAM:

We’re just talking about one political career and the whole sea of Australian democracy over a 100 years or more and…

LATHAM:

You know this has happened to a lot of social movements and political parties through the ages in this country and others so take the broader view, old son, that’s my advice, take the broader view.

(laughter)

DENTON:

See I’m telling the truth. Are you?

LATHAM:

Yeah I am, yeah.

DENTON:

You’re 44, I think you’ve pretty much made yourself unemployable

(laughter)

DENTON:

…In most parts of this country with this book.

LATHAM:

Well why you got me on this shown then if I’m unem..

(laughter)

LATHAM:

You know sort of…

DENTON:

Well we’re not employing you.

LATHAM:

…Commentary on ENOUGH ROPE, you must have run out of guests or something or…

(laughter)

LATHAM:

…Interesting people to brought a, br-bring in so you brought in sort of the unemployable, the Paxton family.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

Ray Martin style.

DENTON:

What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

LATHAM:

Well I’m very happy being a home dad and the arrangements we’ve got at home are fantastic so why change a winning formula?

DENTON:

When the boys are 16, 17, 18, when they’re getting out of the house, what are you going to do?

LATHAM:

I’ll be carrying their cricket bags…

(laughter)

LATHAM:

…As they play for Australia and try and reclaim the Ashes.

(laughter)

LATHAM:

It may, it might take that long before we get them back you know so…

DENTON:

And when they’re…

LATHAM:

I’m investing heavily in their cricket skills.

DENTON:

And when they’re 22 and tell you to please bugger off dad, I want my own life, what are you going to do then?

LATHAM:

I’ll watch them on tele…

(laughter)

DENTON:

You’re going to live your entire life vicariously through Oliver and Isaac?

LATHAM:

No, no don’t be silly, I’m not, ah you know, th-they’re obviously very young and need a lot of support and encouragement. But inevitably they’ll lead their own life down the track and of course that’s the way it is and you know I might find other interests and pursuits. But there’s a lot to be said for the virtues of leisure and not having to work.

DENTON:

You’ve climbed the ladder of opportunity, buggered off into the attic haven’t you?

(laughter)

LATHAM:

I’ve buggered off onto your program, that’s…

(laughter)

LATHAM:

…That’s where I am so there you go.

DENTON:

When you look at John Howard who’s given almost all his life to public service, again if you can put aside the your hatred of the Tories, do you respect that?

LATHAM:

Well I think people who serve the public according to their own values and as the best they can, yeah that’s to be admired in our society but you know just not politicians, I mean some of the most valuable community servers are the people holding the lollypop stick at the school crossing, saving young lives, helping out in the tuckshop, helping out sporting teams to give young people a bit of purpose and direction in their life instead of leaving them on the street. So you know people who are community-minded, that’s to be admired. But one of the worrying trends is that we go further and further down the American path of materialism and individualism. That’s probably one of my biggest worries about the country’s future, the rise of the cult of the individual in Australia is so contrary to how we used to do things in this country and I’ve just seen the deterioration in that unique Australian culture in my lifetime that I find it, I find that sad, I find that sad and distressing.

DENTON:

Out of curiosity did you donate to the tsunami relief?

LATHAM:

Ah look you know financial arrangements in my family, it’s our business.

DENTON:

Okay. I want to finish off with a quote because I’m sure you can guess the sort of comments you’re going to get from these diaries. People are going to brand you as everything from a narcissist or whatever. But I suspect the only two opinions that really are going to matter to you in the end are those of your sons. “A son must always know his father and never be left wondering. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I keep chugging away with this diary so the boys can read it one day.” Who will they see do you think?

LATHAM:

Well I think they’ll hopefully get an understanding of what their dad was doing in that early part of their life when for a while he was sort of a semi-stranger on TV and they used to yell out to their mum that “There’s dad, he’s on the TV screen”. And some residual memory perhaps of those crazy days, they’ll, get an understanding of how I saw it as opposed to the stuff that other people have put around.

DENTON:

Mark I can only wish you and your family health and happiness. Thank you.

LATHAM:

Oh thanks Andrew.

(applause)

DENTON:

That is all from ENOUGH ROPE, not just for tonight but for this series. Thank you for watching this year. Thank you for your participation on our website. A lot of very fruitful debate throughout the year on all our guests. If you want to go to it now and talk about this interview, talk amongst yourselves, we’d love to read it.

As I said this is the last show in this series. We will be back for one special one in November and after that we’ll see you again next year on Your ABC. Until then, goodnight.

(applause)

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