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Mark Latham's political gift to John Howard

James Sinnamon is a recently-returned Webdiarist. He is an environmental and political writer and IT professional. Although he considers himself left-wing, he has adopted the 'politically incorrect' view that the major threat to Australia and the rest of the world is overpopulation. He is a member of Sustainable Population Australia. James administers web sites for a variety of progressive and environmental causes, including www.citizensagainstsellingtelstra.com, www.notunnels.org and www.candobetter.org.


Mark Latham's Political Gift to John Howard

by James Sinnamon

The Latham Diaries, published in 2005, reveal how figures within the Labor Party and the trade union movement undermined the election prospects of Federal Labor Party in recent years and have prolonged the misrule of the Howard Government. State Labor Premiers, the Forestry division of the Construction Forestry and Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), in league with the woodchippers who are destroying Tasmania's old-growth forests, and even members of the Federal Labor caucus, acted as if they found the prospect of Howard ruling after 2004 elections preferable to the prospect of a Latham-led government.

Now in 2007, many who had admired and supported Latham in the past will be dismayed to have read "Latham: Beware the Polls and The Swinging Voter", the second of two articles for the Australian Financial Review published on Saturday 17 November. Just as he had shown that people within the Labor Party had acted to undermine Federal Labor when he was its leader in 2004, Latham now appears, himself, to be acting to undermine Federal Labor's chances in 2007.

Furthermore, if, as he says in his article, that the outcome of the Federal election is still undecided, then the anti-Labor views propagated in that article may yet make the necessary difference that would deliver Howard a fifth term in office.

The article contains a surprisingly one-sided blinkered pronouncements against the union movement's "Rights to Work" campaign against the Howard Government's "Work Choices" legislation, which Latham implies is the one factor which would prematurely end the rule of a Government which is capably managing the national economy. As Latham put it:

Throughout this year most commentators have been surprised by the Howard Government's poor showing in the polls. Conventional wisdom says a government presiding over a strong economy, with no reputation for corruption (my emphasis) should be safely re-elected.

I would have thought that many others would perhaps expressed even greater surprise that a government such as Howard's could enjoy even that much support, given its record.

Evidently, the rorting of the regional partnerships grant scheme against Latham's own bid to become Prime Minister in 2004, the AWB bribery scandal in which $296 million (all dollar figures given are in AU$ unless otherwise stated) was paid to the regime of Saddam Hussein and the spending of an unprecedented $1 billion on saturation-level Government self-promotional advertising since the 2004 elections, and the abuse of the Government's absolute Senate majority, do not technically amount to 'corruption' so should not concern Australian electors.

If not for the trade union movement's campaign against "Work Choices" which Latham labels a 'scare campaign', the Howard Government in which Latham finds surprisingly little fault would easily win on 24 November:

The breakthrough has been the labour movement's capacity to run a long-term scare campaign on an issue affecting the hip pocket nerve - Work Choices. This has been the most expensive and sustained television advertising campaign in Australian political history. Since 2005 the trade unions have raised large amounts of money, selling off assets and raiding their slush funds, in one last push to get rid of the coalition and return to the patronage of a Labor government, and the campaign has worked, creating fear and misunderstanding (my emphasis) in the community about the industrial relations laws and hostility to the Howard Government

It's worth noting the language Latham uses. He now apparently disputes the right of unions to organise effectively and to engage in politics for the benefit of their memberships. Union funds have become 'slush funds'. The union movement's aspiration to bring about the election of a government more sympathetic to its wellbeing than the current government is denigrated as seeking 'patronage' as if somehow the relationship between the Howard Government and the big business interests that it serves is not 'patronage'. This paragraph sadly demonstrates how the line between legitimately criticising the anti-democratic practices of some trade unions as he did in The Latham Diaries and simply being opposed to unions outright is an easy one to cross.

If it is, in fact, true that unions have been forced, by the introduction of "Work Choices" legislation for which this government had no mandate and the subsequent lavish spending of taxpayers' funds on blatantly misleading partisan political advertising, to sell off their own assets in order to be able to counter the government misinformation, then a massive injustice has been perpetrated against many unions and their memberships, and they should be entitled to seek reparations from the Liberal Party, but this obvious point appears to have been lost on Mark Latham.

Latham continues:

For two years, the union ads have stirred emotions and hip pocket nerves, with powerful images of single mothers forced to work at weekends, young people coerced into signing contracts and middle-aged couples sacked for no reason after years of loyal service.

Here, Latham seems to be implying, without actually stating it explicitly, that the claims of the "Rights at Work" campaign are either false or a beat-up. He makes no acknowledgment of the fact that the claims have been borne out by numerous independent academic studies, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as well as copious anecdotal evidence. He does not acknowledge that in "John Winston Howard: The Biography" by Wayne Errington and Peter Van Onselen it has been revealed that Howard knew perfectly well, contrary to undertakings he made and contrary to the claims of the initial saturation level $55 million "Work Choices" advertising campaign, that workers would be worse off as a result of his industrial relations legislation.

Having thus established that "Work Choices" as it now stands is of no great concern to Australian workers, Latham goes on to dismiss any suggestion that a re-elected Howard Government might take "Work Choices" further:

During the campaign, Labor's advertisement have added a new dimension of fear, that a re-elected Howard/Costello government would take Work Choices further.

Latham claims:

No-one on the Labor side honestly believes that the coalition would take Work Choices further, just as in 2004, no-one in the coalition believed that would keep interests rates down.

How Labor Party insiders can know this and how Latham can know that they know this is not explained.

The Australian public were never told by John Howard of "Work Choices" during the 2004 election campaign. Peter Costello, for his part, has said that the removal of protection against unfair dismissal should be extended to all employees and not just restricted to those working for companies employing less than 100 employees. Finance Minister Nick Minchin told a meeting to the HR Nicholls Society on 8 March 2006, "we do need to seek a mandate from the Australian people at the next election for another wave of industrial relations reform". Industrial Relations Minister Joe Hockey told ABC Radio's AM program on 18 October that the role of unions in Australian society is "essentially over"

As some employers are already loudly complaining of the complexity of the "fairness test" amendments to the "Work Choices" laws, whatever might be said before the election, we can expect that once Howard is returned to office the campaign to remove or else water down the "fairness test" will be intensified.

For Latham to expect Australian workers to trust a re-elected Howard Government not to further reduce the rights of workers, given all this and given its past record of deceit, lies, 'core' and 'non-core' promises and contrived excuses to dishonour pledges such as the "Beazley black hole", on the basis of his supposed insider information, not from the Government, but from the Labor Party is an extreme test of the credulity of the electorate.

Latham's article contain within it some pertinent observations about the health of Australian democracy. He makes a good case for making voting voluntary as far too much effort seems to be expended by both a major parties in order to win the support of apathetic people, whilst those who really care have relatively little impact. If voting were not compulsory this could change.

However, Mark Latham appears to have completely missed a far more basic question in regard to the operation of democracy.

We have in power a Government which has taken the practice of government to levels which would have previously been unimaginable. This includes, notwithstanding Latham's own attempt to belittle its impact, the introduction of the "Work Choices"legislation which had not even been put to the Australian public in the previous election, but which has changed the very fabric of our society. Had Howard been forthright about his plans in 2004, he would not be Prime Minister today. Having announced in 2005 his intention to introduce legislation, which he knew perfectly well would harm at least hundreds of thousands of ordinary Australians, Howard used taxpayers' money to indoctrinate the public into acceptance of this legislation. The initial campaign had a massive budget of $55 million and inflicted a an unprecedented degree of saturation level advertising on the public. The claims made in the campaign that various workers' entitlements were "protected by law" were later shown to have been false, when the Government subsequently, under the threat of losing office, made the "fairness test" amendments to the legislation. A further saturation-level advertising blitz, ostensibly to 'inform' Australian workers of rights supposedly safeguarded by the "fairness test" that they all had enjoyed back in October 2004 and which most had assumed were not at risk when Howard was re-elected, was then launched. Even at that the second advertising campaign still misled, because, amongst other things it neglected to point out that if a worker does not have protection against unfair dismissal, then no other right is worth anything anyway. If a worker does not agree that a proposed AWA is fair what is to stop his/her employer from sacking him/her one month down the track for any concocted reason, anyway?

The all up cost of the Work Choices propaganda stands at over $120 million of taxpayers' dollars. Total taxpayer dollars spent since Howard was re-elected in 2004 stands at $1 billion.

Whilst being prepared to spend copious amount of taxpayer dollars in order to 'inform' the public about "Work Choices", John Howard has refused to publicly debate the legislation, firstly with Beazley and then with Rudd. Only finally, during the course of the election campaign in the limited debate of 21 October did Howard openly confront Rudd and lost the debate. Had he agreed to when he first announced the laws, their harmful effects would have been far too obvious for anyone to deny and the unions would have been spared the necessity for much of the expense entailed in their rights in order to win the public.

Somehow, none of this has any bearing on the health of Australian democracy in Latham's eyes. The article concludes:

Next Saturday, people will be contemplating a change of government when what Australia when when what Australia needs is a change to its democracy

What Latham fails to point out is that if the Australian people fail on 24 November to take advantage of the opportunity before them to throw from office the worst Government by far that this country has had since federation, then a very dangerous precedent will have been set.

If the amount of time energy and money spent by opposition parties, trade unions and grass roots political movements cannot this time bring about the defeat of such a government, then when can they ever hope to succeed?

If Howard gets back in, there will be almost no limit to how much harm it will be capable of inflicting upon the public interest from now on, and their will be almost no limit as to how much an incumbent government can abuse its position of incumbency in order or cling to power.

In covering up this basic reality, Latham is, himself, undermining the very democracy he claims he wants to see rejuvenated.

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I haven't read Latham's diaries

Too much past hate to plough through but I'm sure they would be an incredible insight into Labor politicking.

What I did disagree with at the time was the widely reported and accepted belief that Latham's book would have disastrous consequences for the Labor Party. They were a four week wonder.

Latham may be even be correct but he's dumping on his former party at a time when Australia needs to cut out a serious political cancer at its heart. He should be able to see that. Howard has to go before this country can begin to heal - if it is to at any point.

And Latham is dumping from a point of high privilege. That is his crime. The least he could do before he speaks is hand back his taxpayer-funded secure sinecure after his highly hypocritical stance on MP pensions. Only then could he be taken for anything other than a bitter bastard.

"Latham Diaries" still a useful book

Thanks for all the interesting and encouraging comments.

Although Latham's conduct in the very recent past does him little credit, we should not therefore automatically disregard his past positive contributions and the fact that The Latham Diaries are an invaluable aid to understanding Australian politics. We must not forget that Australian's wealthy elites, as quite a few within the Labor Party and union movement, turned against him in 2004 as if they understood that he did pose a serious threat to their selfish vested interests.

One of Latham's most valuable legacies is his exposure of the treachery of the Labor premiers, an example of which can be found on this wikipedia entry on former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks.

Bracks has broken his promise, hoping the odium will wear off before the next State election. But we're copping the fall-out electorally... Bracks, however, was unmoved, even when Faulkner put it right on him... Sat there like a statue, that silly grin on his face.

Margo Kingston has elsewher commented on the spoiling effects of former Labor Premier Beattie's forced local government amalgamations.

I don't think anything Latham wrote in The Latham Diaries has been disputed. In the past I have repeatedly challenged others to state where anything he had written was wrong and this challenge has not been met. As examples:

From johnquiggin.com "Make Telstra Public Again" on 8 August 2006:

Please provide me with some concrete examples of Latham’s “pathetic self-justification” from the Latham Diaries some time.

From forum.onlineopinion.com.au "Don't let Peter Beattie save John Howard's political hide" on 8 August 2007:

... why won't you show where anything he has written in his book was wrong? Presumably you have a copy of The Latham Diaries and it would be take little effort on your part to show where he was factually wrong if you are correct in what you write.

The attitude expressed by Lorraine is closest to my own. It may not be possible to know whether Mark Latham was an "oppportunist or an idealist turned sour from rejection". I hope the latter was the case. In an article on Online Opinion Can Labor bring about a just society? published on 26 September 2007 I expressed this:

... the fact remains that the Labor has drawn, and continues to draw, into its ranks, people who have the best motivations and aim to work through the Labor Party to bring about goals similar to what the Labor Party originally stood for. It would be wrong to assume, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable corrupting influences that now exist within Labor that such elements will never again prevail.

This happened in the years of the Whitlam Labor Government and happened, more recently, albeit very briefly and tenuously, when Mark Latham became Labor Party leader.


In his diaries, he stated that his goal was to take political power in order to give it back to communities and ordinary people. He also adopted “politically incorrect” stances including opposition to high immigration and once referred to many Australians' fixation upon the rising value of their own homes (largely caused by the increased demand for property fueled by immigration) as “the great Australian disease”.

He was resolved to begin to drastically reduce the scale of woodchipping in Tasmania and to end Australia's involvement in the Iraq war.

Standing for such decent democratic principles also eventually proved to be Mark Latham's undoing, but the fact that he came so close to succeeding, shows that even the Labor Party is not entirely impervious to the influence of genuinely uncorrupted progressive political forces.

Obviously, my regard for Latham has also dropped since then.

Craig Rowley, it's hard to know for sure what influence Latham will have. In spite of its relatively small circulation, I am sure that views in the AFR article can be more widely propogated. I can see an opportunity for Liberals to seize upon Latham's words to bolster their case. I am also concerned that People like Beattie who endorsed the economomc management of Howard and Costello about a fortnight ago may also find ways to propagate thorughout the electorate.

If up until recently Latham enjoyed sone degree of credibiity with people like myself, it still seems possible that he may be able to influence who also had considered him credible. Even if he were not able to convince them outright to support Howard, it could still have the effect of undemining their strength of their conviction against Howard's IR laws, unless Latham's views are not properly countered.

How the mighty fall

I too admired Latham and have to admit I read the whole of his book.  This is a very disappointing step for him and he goes way down in my estimation.  Latham was looked after by many in the Labor Party or he would not have made it as far as he did. So it begs the question,  was he an opportunist or an idealist now turned sour from rejection?  Whichever, these articles do him no favour.  Most Australians don't like disloyal people so maybe it will have little effect on voting.

As to Howard's spending spree, just imagine how much good he could have done with the money he has squandered.  And he would be way ahead in the polls if he had spent the money wisely on infrastructure, climate change, health and education. Instead he chose to blatantly waste it and then have the gall to deny the Australian public information about decision making.  Call this a democracy?  The longer Howard has been around the further we have moved away from one. 

Just on the question of climate change and the problems with the Murray Darling river system, Howard promised to set up a billion(s) dollar fund from the sale of Telstra.  Does anyone know what happened to all of the money? So much waste.  So many missed opportunities.  There should be laws to charge politicians who so blatantly abuse their office and the trust the Australian people put in them to manage the country.

Breakdown of ads worsens the picture

Webdiary 20 Nov 2007

James I agree with the thrust of your article but I think the $1 billion figure is somewhat overblown since it mixes in govt spending that might be acceptable with that which is clearly advertorial if not outright rorting.

When we break down the figures (where we can and of course this govt isn’t going to make that easy, they are about institutionalising deceit after all) we get lower numbers but the cynicism being employed is more obvious.

Thus, for example a parliamentary library note from July 2006 shows that in raw spending the Howard govt between 1999-2000 and 2004-05 spent roughly triple per year what was spent in 1996-97. If we compare them to the Keating govt’s worst year ($106 million in 1995-96, surprise, surprise) they were spending roughly 20-50% more per year every year between 2001-2005.

Today’s news reports that Howard spent $280 in the last financial year (2006-07) and we know he’s been spending profligately ever since 30 June this year because we’ve all been inflicted wall to wall with new ads on WorkChoices. Ads that began running before the latest changes they were advertising had even passed through parliament!

Howard is defending himself today via references to ads about violence toward women and defence recruiting. Yet a breakdown on such campaigns quickly reveals where real priorities in spending lie. We know that of the $280 million last year $196 million was not for defence. We know from history that, while the govt did run a campaign on Domestic Violence between 2002 and 2005 that cost $13.7 million, they also ran one between 1998 and 2000 for the GST and spent 118.7 million on that. They spent 15.7 million in one year (2004-05) telling us how they had strengthened Medicare.

Figures for Workchoices and the Citizenship (basically propping up a wedge campaign) are harder to come by. My memory tells me initially around $45 million was allocated for Workchoices last year (more than double what the govt claimed unions were spending) but perhaps other Webdiarists can provide better figures and sources.

Let’s also not forget that all this advertising allows the govt to commission consultants to run focus groups and do polling, all with obvious political benefits.

Some other useful  sources on the topic:

Parliamentary Library Research Note Federal govt advertising 21 July 2004

Fred Argy, Government Advertising on Industrial Relations Discussion paper Nov 2007

Argy's paper also points out a deception in employer advertising on WorkChoices, they cleverly used the phrase “workplace reform” when referring to the dire consequences that would come from "rolling back workforce reform". It seems the bulk of this negative impact was calculated by assuming a rollback of the all the reforms made by the ALP govts in the 1990s as well. Something not on the agenda at all.

more figures on spending

A little more research, and around we go, almost back to where we started. I alighted on a section of James' own candobetter site and found a Hansard transcript of a speech by John Faulkner in August this year.

He cited initial WorkChoices advertising spending as $55 million. The new advertising begun in 2006 was budgeted at $23 million and has risen since. Overall, Faulkner argues the govt spend on Workchoices at over $120 million.  Another worst practice and precedent by the Howard govt.

Not much of a gift

Thanks for your article, James. You conclude on a strong point and I agree with it, though I reckon the title of the piece may need a question mark attached.

Circulation of the Weekend Australian Financial Review is estimated at about 90,000 (and some of that is to businesses, hotels, etc).

Other media oulets have not made much of Mark Latham's article in last Saturday's edition.

So, I suggest there might be perhaps 100 to 200 thousand people across the nation that even know he wrote that article. 

And I know it's stereotyping, but I'd say the majority would already lean toward the Coalition and reside in safe Liberal seats.

Which makes it questionable whether it's much of a gift that Latham has given to Howard.

Blah blah blah

It seems to me that Latham's attitude could best be summed up as "If I can't have her, no-one can".  If Labor wins on Saturday, it will only reinforce how appallingly badly he did in '04.

I was however impressed the other day that a Canberra Times letter writer, known for his right of centre views, managed to quote p364 of Latham's tome.  That is about 360 pages further than most of us got, and makes me think that masochism among the conservative classes is not only confined to English public schools.


Latham's comments I think give an unvarnished glimpse into how a politician sees the Howard government.

What the rest of regard as despicable lying he seems to regard as business as usual.

I find his views revealing and frightful. 


Yet another Labor leader I originally admired and have added to my loathe list.

Latham's entitled to his view. What he is not entitled to is dump on a party that nurtured him to the point where he became the Opposition Leader . He didn't get there by himself or his own efforts. It took thousands on hours of loyal work by unheard-of party members diligently working behind the scenes, as happens in all political parties.

Moreover, he lives a comfortable retirement now courtesy of the Aussie taxpayer-the majority who will suffer under Work "Choices".

If only other workers could look forward to such early retirement in this lifetime with such financial rewards.

Even I get it wrong sometimes: the man I admired is a selfish dork and a traitor to his party whose largesse he stills enjoys. And a bitter one to boot. He has found his true home -The Australian.

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