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Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about organised politics

G'day. This is the text of the speech Mark Latham is giving tonight. I'll publish a transcript of my interview with Mark Latham tomorrow.

 

Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about organised politics

Public Lecture by Mark Latham
University of Melbourne, 27 September 2005

Let me start with a few thank yous. I want to thank the Vice Chancellor and his university for hosting this public lecture, demonstrating that The Latham Diaries have a lot to say about political science and social studies in this country.

I also want to thank Louise Adler and her team at Melbourne University Publishing for producing the book and weathering the storm that surrounds it. As Senator Faulkner always told me, political history is written in books, not newspaper articles. And MUP has published a good-looking and accessible book for the benefit of future historians and students.

But most of all, I want to thank the political and media establishment for the way in which they have received The Latham Diaries. When John Howard, the Australian Labor Party, the Canberra Press Gallery, and the Packer and Murdoch empires combine, as they have over the past fortnight, to tell people not to read this book, it sends a powerful message: the Canberra Club has a lot to worry about and a lot to hide.

Thankfully, the reading public are not silly. They are not easily swayed by media hysteria and sensationalism. They know what's going on here: The Latham Diaries blow the whistle on the Canberra Club, providing a contemporary, behind-the-scenes account of the many flaws in the system.

This is why the book sold out last week and MUP has had to triple the print run. Universally, as they read the diaries, people are discovering that it is a very different book from the one they have been hearing about in the media. It is full of good humour, reflection and serious analysis about the true state of Australian politics.

Many years ago, I reached the conclusion that there are no ethics or standards in the commercial media. But even I have been surprised by the long list of commentators who reviewed the book without having read it. And those who have offered critical reviews without admitting that they are, in fact, criticised in the book.

This confirms my belief, as set out in the diaries, that if politics is show business for ugly people, then political commentary in Australia is payback from ugly old men. My long-running arrangement with them still applies: I write fifty words about them and then they write 50 000 words about me.

So, I again thank them for their contribution. They have convinced a significant number of people (well-educated and discerning) to read the book. These days, the public distrust media opinion even more than they distrust the major political parties. Increasingly, they want to cut out the middleman, the unnecessary filter of third party opinion, and make their own judgement, straight from the source material-in this case, The Latham Diaries.

My other thank you is to the audience here this evening. I appreciate your interest in the book and the lessons that can be drawn from my political career. That's my theme for this lecture: passing on my experience and advice after eleven years in Federal Labor politics.

In a gathering such as this, I'm sure there are some young idealistic people interested in running for parliament. I have to say to you, as frankly and sincerely as I can, don't do it.

It doesn't give me any pleasure to say this, but I need to be honest with you. The system is fundamentally sick and broken, and there are other more productive and satisfying ways in which you can contribute to society. Whatever you do, don't get involved in organised politics. Let me give you ten good reasons why you should do something else with your time.

Number One: The Problem of Public Apathy

There was a time when politics was treated as an honoured profession in our society, but that time has now passed. After decades of ridicule in the media and shameful opportunism and cynicism on both sides of politics, most people now treat politicians with contempt. Only the political class maintains the façade that what they do is important and well respected.

Public apathy has hollowed out our democracy and handed power to a small clique of party machine men. The original ideals of representative democracy-based on mass participation, community involvement and accountability - have been replaced by the work of an elected aristocracy.

How has this happened? I think Marshall McLuhan was correct: the medium is the message. When television became the dominant political medium in the 1970s, it emptied out the intellectual content and idealism of the system, narrowing the politicians into seven-second grabs and media imagery. Just look at the artificiality of modern election campaigning, with everything staged and choreographed for TV. Politics has become a temporary and shallow exercise in spin, something akin to the world of commercial advertising.

Naturally, over time, the public began to see through the phoniness of this system. And how did the major parties respond to the public's cynicism? They became even narrower-in the 1980s, adopting new forms of technology and professionalism to get the message through. Not face-to-face argument and persuasion, but direct mail, advertising and telephone polling. That is, replaying back to the electorate the things people have already told the pollster.

And so the vicious cycle continued: people became even more cynical and stopped participating in politics. By the 1990s, the limited number of Australians that used to belong to political parties and go to meetings had dried up. In the Labor Party, for example, active party membership (as opposed to ethnic branch stacking) collapsed. It became a virtual party, ripe for takeover by the factional chiefs and machine men.

In my old constituency of Werriwa, for instance, there would be no more than fifty active members (devoting more than two hours per week to Party matters). This is a traditional Labor seat, represented by two party leaders and a Federal Treasurer, where only one in every 2500 citizens takes an active interest in Labor politics. My successor in Werriwa had not been to a local branch meeting in twenty years  -he was hand-picked by the Sussex Street machine because of his compliance to the ruling Right-wing faction.

This is the state of modern Labor, the oldest political party in the country. I estimate that it has no more than 7500 real members nationwide, enough to fill a small suburban soccer ground. And the Liberal and National Parties are even worse off.

The politicians hate to admit it, but apathy rules in Australian politics. In my diaries I conclude that the electorate is broken into four groups:

  • Fifteen per cent of people who are well informed and progressive in their values, caring about community services and social justice - a passionate but limited audience.

  • Another fifteen per cent who are well informed conservatives: essentially business types, social elites and religious fanatics committed to the status quo in society.

  • A further twenty per cent who are down and out in society: the chronically unemployed, disabled, mentally ill and isolated-people who are often hostile and bitter about the political system, with good reason.

  • And finally, the great apathetic middle class that determines election outcomes in Australia-heavily committed to materialism and the consumption of voyeuristic media, but largely disinterested in politics and public debate.

In all the media commentary about my diaries, no one has tried to contradict this analysis, preferring to simply ignore it. If the political class owned up to this basic truth about the sad nature of our democracy, it would be puncturing its own air of self-importance. And that is the last thing they will ever do.

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you decide to join a political party and hope to run for parliament, you need to know what you are getting yourself in for-a sensible precaution. You will find that politics is now widely regarded as a dishonourable profession, ripe for media ridicule, public cynicism and distrust. Inevitably, you will join a party hollowed out by these problems and dominated by an unhealthy subculture of machine politics.

This may be a bleak and pessimistic conclusion to reach but at least it has the virtues of honesty and realism: whatever you do, don't do it.

Number Two: The Loss of Personal Privacy

One of the worrying trends in our society is the rise of escapism. As the relations between people have broken down-evident in the loss of community and social capital - they have sought to escape these difficulties through the pursuit of materialism and voyeurism. In particular, this is the new religion of middle-class Australia: people reaching for four-wheel drives, double-storey homes, reality television and gossip magazines to find meaning and satisfaction in their lives.

I despair at the cult of celebrity that now dominates much of our public culture. As people struggle with their social relationships, they invariably peer into other people's lives, seeking solace in someone else's reality. The public's thirst for celebrity seems insatiable: witness the power and popularity of reality TV. Anyone can have his or her fifteen minutes of fame while everyone else watches.

This has had a devastating impact on Australia's political culture. Politics is now regarded as just another form of entertainment, ripe for ridicule and prying into politicians' private lives. We have gone down the American path in ending the distinction between public and private, looking at politics through the prism of fame and celebrity.

The media feeds this habit because it sustains their profits. They try to legitimise it through 'the public's right to know' but in practice, they could not survive financially without fostering society's voyeurism. This is what gives the media their mass: everyone knowing what other people are doing, even if it has nothing to do with them.

One of the reasons for publishing my diaries is to let people know how bad the media's voyeurism has become. During my fourteen months as Leader of the Opposition, I had journalists and photographers hiding in the dark outside my home. I had them charging along the beach trying to take pictures of my children playing in the sand. I had them working themselves up into feverish speculation about a buck's night video that did not exist. I had them prying into trivial and untrue things that supposedly happened to my family twenty years ago. I even had the Sydney Morning Herald take the unprecedented step of allocating two so-called investigative journalists for two months to research and write up a long profile about my sex life. They didn't find much, of course, but the experience in being researched this way was sickening.

The commercial media do not like my book because it exposes them for what they are: voyeuristic and unethical. For some journalists, the problem runs even deeper. One of the telling aspects of the John Brogden tragedy in New South Wales was the involvement of the same group of media men who took such an unhealthy interest in my private life, namely Glenn Milne, Luke McIlveen and David Penberthy from News Limited and Damien Murphy from Fairfax. Quite frankly, Freud would have a field day with some of these characters.

Another example of bad behaviour recorded in my diaries was Mark Riley, now a presenter for Channel Seven News, going through Minister Helen Coonan's household garbage bin to obtain documents for a story. It is a terribly degrading and depraved thing for a grown man to do. With the publication of this incident, I expected that the Press Gallery might show some contrition.

Far from it, the Vice-President of the Gallery, Paul Bongiorno, from Channel Ten, defended the practice, saying, "There's no disgrace getting your hands dirty for a good story. What about rummaging around for the truth?" When I was Labor Leader, Bongiorno would ring my press office every other day, passing on tips and information picked up from the Liberals. I now feel ashamed of this association. Indeed, it makes my stomach turn to realise how badly media ethics in this country have deteriorated. Along with other vermin, they now regard people's garbage bins as fair game.

So if anyone here is thinking of a career in politics, apply this simple test tonight. Go home, walk past your garbage bin and see how comfortable you feel at the prospect of a Mark Riley or a Paul Bongiorno rummaging through your personal items and debris for material they can broadcast to the public. Any normal, decent person would reach the same conclusion I reached: this is a sick culture that should be avoided.

Number Three: The Crippling Impact on Family

During my round of media interviews last week, I heard the story of someone who thought about going into politics and then decided against it. He told one of his friends he couldn't do it because "he didn't hate his children enough". This is a wise assessment of the impact of politics on family life and the reason why people with young children should stay out of the system. It's a hopeless lifestyle.

As a politician, I spent a lot of time talking about policies to help people get the balance right between work and family. In practice, I needed some myself. This was an unbearable part of the job. Even during the honeymoon period, my first months as Opposition Leader, I was worried about the way in which politics was overwhelming my family life, colonising my private time. Throughout 2004, the diaries recorded these personal concerns.

The diaries also dealt with the shocking level of media intrusion into our lives. Undoubtedly, this is the worst aspect of public life: the assumption by the media and the general public that they own part of you, that everything you do is public property. For a young family, in particular, this was untenable.

Some political leaders seem to revel in the non-stop attention and busy schedule that these positions provide. I disliked this part of the job, what seemed like an endless series of short and superficial encounters with people-the antithesis of family life. As the former Howard Government minister, Warwick Smith, said to me: every day you spend away from your children is a day you never get back. And in politics, you spend far too many days away from your children.

Leaving parliament behind has been liberating for my health and my family. I have no doubt it was the right decision. I love being a home-dad, although it is pathetic to see the media denigrate this style of life. Last week the presenter on ABC morning radio in Adelaide complained that when my children go to school, I will be sitting around the house doing nothing. I'm yet to find out what planet he comes from.

One of my goals now is to regain my privacy. I will never be anonymous again in this country but at least I can return to a normal life. There is something horribly unnatural about losing your privacy. It's like losing part of yourself and the security and peace of mind that comes from knowing that these things belong to you, your loved ones and nobody else. I spent too many years talking about the importance of the public sector without properly valuing the things in life that are private and personal. I'm now making up for lost time.

Number Four: The Rise of Machine Politics

A recurring theme in my diaries is the corrosive impact of machine politics on the ALP. This is a key point for young people to understand: in becoming politically active today, you would not be joining a political party (in the conventional sense) but a political machine - an oligarchy dominated by opportunism, careerism and acts of bastardry. This is the unhappy story of Labor's culture over the past twenty years.

As Labor's real membership declined, it was relatively easy for a handful of factional powerbrokers to grab hold of the Party in the 1980s. They had the resources of head office and the trade unions to back them and met little resistance from the so-called rank-and-file membership (which had been gutted by ethnic branch stacking). This was a takeover hostile to democratic principles: they stripped the remaining assets of the Party, turning ALP conferences and policy committees into hand-picked, stage-managed jokes.

A few dozen Party officials and faction bosses now effectively control the organisation: who goes into Parliament, how MPs vote in Caucus and how decisions are made in national and State Party forums. Very few people progress without their say so: through Young Labor, into trade union and State ministerial offices, recruited for future factional and parliamentary service. It's a dense network of influence - full of favours, patronage and, if anyone falls out with them, payback.

You need to be brave and carefree to stand up to them, breaking the code of silence by which machine politics operates. That's what my diaries have done. Politicians who write books after they leave parliament usually offer sanitised versions to the public. They are still on the gravy train, hoping to benefit from the system's largesse.

In my case, I have no desire to be the Ambassador to Spain or Head of the Water Board, so I can speak freely and give an honest account of events. The system doesn't like it, of course, as it threatens the status and power of a generation of machine politicians, hangers-on and media pretenders. But I say that's a good thing. I walked outside the system and believe the public has got the right to know what goes on inside it.

Many senior Labor people privately agree with my analysis of the Party, but are too scared to speak openly for fear of retribution. Let me give some examples:

  • In January, Jennie George, the Member for Throsby and former ACTU President, wrote to me, saying that, "Politics is a brutal business. I thought the union movement was tough, but this was no comparison to the internal dysfunctional culture of the ALP". Brutal and dysfunctional - apt descriptions of the way in which the Labor movement operates.

  • In February, Barry Jones, the ALP National President, wrote to me as follows: "The major problems in the Party are systemic, essentially caused by the stranglehold on recruitment by the factions, which remain as cancerous as they were when Hawke and Wran used that term in their 2002 review". Two more apt descriptions - 'systemic' and 'cancerous'.

  • Two weeks ago, a Federal MP from Victoria wrote that, "I hope the sensible things you have to say about the state of the Party are not subsumed in an orgy of banal trivia whipped up by the media, as it is indeed in a parlous state, particularly in Victoria". A sharp analysis and prophecy.

  • Last week, a Federal MP from one of the smaller States emailed me as follows: "I actually feel positive about what I have read so far (in your book) and in the longer term, you may have given the Labor Party a last gasp at reforming itself before we go the way of the British Liberals in the 1920s".

  • And just yesterday, another email, from a Labor frontbencher: "Congratulations on the book. If anything it is mild, compared to what goes on inside the Party … In particular, we need to do something about the number of union hacks winning pre-selection for the Senate. This just adds to the stultifying impact of the factions".

While it is sad to see Australian Labor degenerate so badly, this issue also needs to be understood in its broader context. Political scientists have identified machine politics as a persistent problem for social democratic parties.

Fifty years ago, in his book Political Parties, Robert Michels argued that prominent Left-wing movements inevitably fall under the influence of paid officials and apparatchiks, men more committed to the bureaucratic control and administration of the party than the radical transformation of society. The party machine offers its own rewards, in the form of careerism and enhanced social status. Over time, these benefits become an end in their own right. Idealism and ideology are superseded by the internal contest and maintenance of power - an intractable problem.

My experience inside the ALP replicates the Michels model. As the diaries show, I thought about these issues for nearly a decade but was never able to find a feasible solution. Others might have more success in the future, but my conclusions then, as now, are overwhelmingly pessimistic. I cannot see a way of overcoming the machine men and their influence.

Number Five: The Politics of Personal Destruction (Labor-style)

As the factions have taken control of the ALP, they have perverted its political methods. Dissidents and independent thinkers have been systematically attacked and marginalised by the party bosses. What the powerbrokers cannot control, they will destroy. And they are not too fussy about how this might be achieved. It has produced a culture that Graham Richardson brazenly popularised as 'whatever it takes'.

Nothing is off limits. Personal matters are seen as fair game and are frequently used to hound the vulnerable into submission. This is now the ruling culture inside the Labor Caucus, with the many factional and sub-factional chiefs spending all day on the phone, gossiping, plotting and spreading rumours about their so-called colleagues. It is the politics of personal destruction.

My diaries detail the tragic impact of this culture on Greg Wilton. Five years after Greg's death, it was time for the truth to be told. The immediate response of the Canberra Club was instructive: they went into denial, with the media insisting that if Kim Beazley had cried about Greg's death in the parliamentary condolence motion then surely, as Leader of the ALP, he would have contacted and comforted Greg behind the scenes. Greg's sister, Leeanda Wilton, has confirmed the truth of this matter and highlighted the burning paradox about Beazley: an impression of public decency, offset by the private reality of indecency.

I have no doubt that, over time, people will also come forward and confirm the nature of his personal smear against me. Notwithstanding the threats and intimidation of the ALP machine men, too many people know about this matter for it to be kept inside the Party.

For instance, after his conversation with Beazley's campaign manager, Robert Ray, in late 2003, John Murphy was so disturbed by what he had heard that he sought reassurance about my character from two senior Caucus members. I have spoken to both of them and there is no way in the world Murphy was worried about my record on Liverpool Council, as he is now claiming. The matter concerned a sexual harassment smear against me.

Again, it has been instructive to watch the media reporting of this issue. It reveals the self-centred, know-all nature of so many journalists, believing that if they did not see or hear something in Canberra, it could not have happened. I cite three examples:

  • In the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 September, David Marr wrote that, "The allegations swirling round Mark Latham at the last election-sexual harassment (etc) - were not being leaked to the press by his very many enemies in Labor ranks. They were pushing other complaints but not these".

  • In The Australian last Saturday, a Sussex Street press secretary, Brad Norington, wrote that, "No complaint was pursued, no dirt file kept and the (sexual harassment) issue lapsed (in 1998)".

  • Two Saturdays ago in the same newspaper, Matt Price wrote that, "Perhaps I move in the wrong circles but not once did I hear any scuttlebutt about Latham's personal life from colleagues, opponents or anyone else".

Have no doubt, one of the circles Matt Price has moved in for many years is Annabel Crabb's - in fact, few journalists in Canberra are closer friends. Marr, Norington and Price look silly, however, when one reads Crabb's assessment of the sexual harassment smear, emailed to me in March:

This was, for years, quite a persistent rumour among Labor people. I should say I heard the rumour a few times over the years but only ever from Labor people, and usually as part of a colourful diatribe against the Latham character from known detractors.

It will be interesting to see how Crabb deals with this matter in her forthcoming book on Labor in Opposition. Better still, when she launches the book later this week, Crabb should identify the 'Labor people' involved.

In practice, the politics of personal destruction, in all its sickness and perversion, is now a regular part of the Canberra culture. The only rational, effective way of dealing with it is to avoid it like the plague.

Number Six: The Politics of Personal Destruction (Liberal-style)

The John Brogden tragedy has shown that the culture on the other side of politics is just as bad. Even after he had resigned the Liberal Party leadership, Brogden's enemies inside the Party were still trying to destroy him. Then they moved on to spreading rumours about a leadership contender, Barry O'Farrell, with claims about a magazine supposedly found in his office twelve years ago. More sick puppies in the sick world of Australian politics.

No one should be surprised about this part of the Liberal Party. Any organisation that has Bill Heffernan in a senior position-the right-hand-man to the Prime Minister, no less-is obviously comfortable with the politics of personal destruction. As John Hewson has written, "Howard has used Heffernan to distribute dirt and to run his agenda against individuals for almost as long as I have known him". Given that Hewson has known Howard for more than twenty-five years, this behaviour is well entrenched.

After his disgusting campaign against Justice Michael Kirby, Heffernan's papers should have been stamped 'never to tour again'. To see him reinvented in the media these days as some kind of romantic, rough-riding Australian original is appalling. For me, Heffernan's perverted obsessions with sex are the antithesis of what Australian male culture should be about.

Increasingly, normal people, especially those with young families, will steer clear of a political system dominated by the likes of Howard and Heffernan. The political class in this country is narrowing into two types of characters: the flint-hearted machine men who are happy to do whatever it takes, and the freaks and weirdos of the Religious Right, with their sexual hang-ups and policy obsessions. This is happening on both sides of politics in varying degrees.

Number Seven: The Entrenched Conservatism of Australian Politics

These trends are making the work environment of Australian politics incredibly conservative. This is one of the important themes in my book-the way in which the system tries to push people into a culture of conformity: the acceptable way of thinking and expressing oneself. The key power-blocs of modern politics - the party machines, commercial media and business establishment - try to foster this one-dimensional approach. They like their politicians to be cautious, predictable and easily brought under control.

Multi-dimensional characters, vibrant and progressive in their beliefs, are seen as a threat to the status quo. They may do something radical, disturbing the existing order of things and its vested interests. Have no doubt: the elites who have accumulated power and privilege in our society will always fight hard to maintain it.

By and large, they have been highly successful. Over time, our national political culture has become more timid and uniform. Just look along the benches of the Australian Parliament: it has lost its larrikins, its true Australian characters. In their place sit the bland white-bread politicians, the true Tories of parliamentary life.

Please understand the extent of this problem, the forces lined up against you. All the influences, all the messages in modern politics are conservative:

  • The media are just another form of commerce, so they support the status quo in society. They see stability as good for the business environment, good for commerce and their advertising revenue-institutionalised conservatism. Their journalists are simple souls, not too keen on extensive research and original analysis. They like the one-dimensional characters in politics because they are nice and easy to report. In their world-view, anyone who swears, has a dig and stays up past 9 p.m. looks like a dangerous radical.

  • The system is also conservative about ideas. In the academic world, the process of responding to new evidence, revising old findings and reaching fresh conclusions is known as learning. It is celebrated as intellectual growth. In politics, it is demonised as wild and erratic. A century ago, Australia was seen internationally as a social laboratory. Today, we live in a conservative backwater.

  • The political machine men only preserve their hierarchy of command and control if the people below them always comply. The values and methods of party politics have become very insular. Anyone genuinely interested in innovation and risk-taking is stigmatised as mad and dangerous. The system now has zero tolerance of radical policies and those who advocate them.

Number Eight: The Arrogance and Incompetence of the Media

More things need to be said about the media, serious problems that can make public life unbearable. My diaries deal with these issues in detail:

  • The arrogance of the media-the significant number of proprietors, broadcasters and journalists who regard themselves as political participants, much more than observers. Most politicians, of course, are afraid to take on this problem, deciding not to tell the truth about the media because they might need them in the future.

  • Indeed, the worst relationship in the media is the dependency relationship formed between the party machine men and selected journalists. The machine men provide access to strategic leaks, polling and other forms of 'inside' information and, in return, the journalists run their line for them. This is one of the reasons why 'off-the-record' reporting has become so prevalent in Canberra-a weird form of secret society in which journalists now use more anonymous quotes than on-the-record information.

  • Another corrosive media practice is the relentless trivialisation of public life. Big, serious policy issues are seen and presented through the prism of conflict and personality politics. Increasingly, the media use politics to entertain the public, rather than inform them in the traditional sense.

  • Finally, on this point, anyone going into politics has to deal with an extraordinary level of media incompetence - basic errors of fact and misreporting. In part, this is a by-product of the voyeuristic culture: whatever the media do not know about you, they will simply make up. This is the one industry I know of where the more mistakes people make, the more likely they are to be promoted.

Number Nine: Social Problems Require Social Solutions

In this lecture I've been critical of Australia's political culture, but this issue also needs to be seen in its broader context. I regard party politics and the media as public manifestations of a bigger, more serious problem-the loss of social capital. If families and communities are falling apart, if people feel alienated and empty in their relationship with others, if the bonds of social trust and support are weak, it is hardly surprising that our political parties are dominated by self-serving oligarchies.

Without a strong base of social capital, it is relatively easy for a small group of people to control and manipulate the political system. They simply fill the gap left by the paucity of public participation and community activism. History tells us this is how hierarchies of power are established and sustained. The weakness of our democracy is a function of the sickness of our society.

Traditionally, left-of-centre parties have tried to achieve their goals for social justice by tackling various forms of economic disadvantage. Today, however, the biggest problems in society, the things that cause hardship and distress for people, tend to be relationship-based. They are social issues, not economic. The paradox is stunning: we live in a nation with record levels of financial growth and prosperity, yet also record levels of discontent and public angst. The evidence is all around us:

  • The extraordinary loss of peace of mind in society, evident in record rates of stress, depression and mental illness.

  • The breakdown in basic relationships of family and community, generating new problems of loneliness and isolation in Australia. The traditional voluntary and mutual associations of community life have all but disappeared, replaced by home fortresses and gated housing estates.

  • The appalling incidence of crimes against family and loved ones: sexual assault, domestic violence and the sickness of child abuse.

  • And the spillover of these problems onto the next generation of young Australians, in the form of street crime, drug and alcohol abuse and youth suicide.

A striking aspect of this phenomenon has been the way in which it has affected all parts of society, regardless of their economic standing. Poor communities, after several generations of long-term unemployment and financial disadvantage in Australia, now face the further challenge of social disintegration, a loss of self-esteem and solidarity. Thirty years ago, these communities were financially poor but socially rich. Today, they face poverty on both fronts.

While the middle class in Australia has experienced the assets and wealth of an unprecedented economic boom, its social balance sheet has moved in the opposite direction. The treadmill of work and the endless accumulation of material goods have not necessarily made people happier. In many cases, it has denied them the time and pleasures of family life, replacing strong and loving social relationships with feelings of stress and alienation.

This is the savage trade-off of middle-class life: generating financial wealth but at a significant cost to social capital. Thus, social exclusion needs to be understood as more than financial poverty. It also involves the poverty of society, the exclusion of many affluent Australians from strong and trusting personal relationships.

These changes represent a huge shift in the structure of our society. The role of the market economy has expanded, while community life has been downsized. Today, when Australians see a social problem, they are more likely to pursue a market-based answer than a community solution. This has led to the commercialisation of public services and the grotesque expansion of market forces into social relationships. It has weakened the uniquely Australian institutions of mateship and egalitarianism.

Unlike other forms of capital, social capital is a learned habit. It exists in the experiences and relationships between people. If people are not able to exercise their trust in each other, they are likely to lose it. This appears to be the unhappy state of modern Australian society. The relationship between international markets and local communities has become imbalanced. For too many citizens, global capital has become a substitute for social capital.

In my experience and study of the new middle class, people have a particular way of dealing with this problem. Sure, they would like to find a solution to a range of problems in their community, but their faith in our system of governance is so weak, they have no expectation that this is possible. It is inconceivable to them that various forms of political and civic action might make a difference. They become resigned, therefore, to a weak set of social relationships.

In these circumstances, people tend to withdraw further from civil society and pursue other forms of personal recognition and self-esteem. The politics of 'me', the individual, replaces the politics of 'we', the community. People try to escape from these relationship-based problems by turning inwards, pursuing temporary and artificial forms of personal gratification-hence the rise of materialism and voyeurism.

The crisis in social capital is also a crisis for social democracy. If people do not practise mutual trust and cooperation in their lives, they are not likely to support the redistributive functions of government. If they have no interest or experience in helping their neighbours, why would they want the public sector to help people they have never met? Indeed, the dominant electoral mood is to take resources away from other people and communities, as evidenced by the rise of downwards envy in Australia.

In my diaries, I often agonised about these issues, trying to find ways of making the social democratic project sustainable. After a decade of research and analysis, my conclusions were bleak. The task of social reformers is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. Not only must they rebuild the trust and cohesiveness of civil society, they also need to motivate people about the value and possibilities of organised politics. If and when these formidable tasks are completed, they then need to win majority public support for a sweeping program of social justice.

The pillars of conservatism in our society have a much easier task: supporting the status quo and scaring people about the uncertainties of political change. They have no interest in generating public enthusiasm in politics and the reform process. This is what binds the ruling class together: the shared interests of the conservative parties, the commercial media and other parts of the business establishment in preserving the existing social order and its concentration of power in their hands.

Is today's Labor Party, built around its own hierarchy of conservatism and machine politics, going to challenge and overcome this system? Not that I can see. Even if it were hungry to take on the ruling elite, I doubt that the Party would embrace the appropriate reform program: grassroots policies to rebuild social cooperation and mutuality. Labor politicians come into parliament to take control, to pull the levers of public administration. They support a top-down process of governance, based on an expectation that politicians and political machines can direct and control social outcomes. They are not familiar or comfortable with the methodology of social capital.

Community building sits outside the conventional methods of party politics. Whereas public policy relies on a sense of order and predictability, the work of civil society is spontaneous and disorderly. Whereas governments try to have a direct and tangible impact on their citizens, the creation of mutual trust relies on processes that are diffuse and intangible. There is no point in passing a Social Capital Bill and expecting it to make people community-minded.

Trust occurs as a by-product of the relationship between people. It is not like a well-ordered machine, whereby policy makers can pull the levers and mandate a particular result. The best they can hope for is to influence the social environment in which trust is created. They need to see themselves as facilitators of social capital, rather than controllers of social outcomes.

This is best achieved by transferring influence and resources to communities, devolving as many decisions and public services as possible. Real power comes from giving power away. But this is not how the parliamentary system works, especially a machine political party. Powerbrokers try to capture and control the authority of government, not give it away. They believe in the centralisation of power, not its dispersal. The square peg of Labor politics does not fit into the round hole of social capital, an insoluble problem.

So the most effective contribution people can make to our society is at a community level: in rebuilding social capital, improving our neighbourhoods, joining social movements and helping local charities, sporting and community organisations. Social problems require social solutions. The answers are not to be found in organised politics.

Number Ten: The Sane, Rational Choice

Finally, if you don't believe me, take the advice of the biographer, Michael Duffy, who knows my experience well. Last weekend, he wrote that:

It remains the most extraordinary thing about Latham that he voluntarily walked away from the leadership of the ALP. Indeed, it is one of the most unusual actions ever by any Australian politician. It made him a class traitor, that class being the only one that matters any more in politics: the political class. The diaries have merely compounded the original offence, which was to reject what that class regards as most important: politics itself.

Some members of the political class, incapable of understanding this have suggested that Latham is insane. However, from the outside it looks the opposite: it looks like an act of supreme sanity. People involved in politics spend a lot of time these days talking about how bad it has become.

Latham is not unique in this regard (although the scale and insight in The Latham Diaries are new and important). But most of the critics don't seem to take what they're saying seriously, because they stay in there. But Latham did take that decay seriously.

Ladies and gentlemen, you too should take it seriously. If you are a young, idealistic person, don't get involved in organised politics. Contribute to your community, your neighbourhood, your immediate circle of trust and support. This is the best way forward for a better society.

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re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Now this is the Mark Latham that got my attention in the first place. Bet the newspapers dont rush to print this as quickly as they did the 'juicy' bits from the Diaries!

Thank you Mark...

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

If these are Mark's best points, did he get them across in the best possible way in his book?

Margo: The introduction to his book goes into his themes. The speech is a reworking of those themes.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Many in media and politics have commented, "we dodged a bullet - imagine if this guy was PM" or labelled Latham a hypocrite. These are valid points: but not, however, good reasons to ignore his criticisms of our media/political culture.

In particular, I agree with him that we need to stop accepting, "anonymous sources" in the media - they have become a plague.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Onya Mark, get set, ready, go....and have a peaceful and rewarding life due to someone who has done his 'time', learned the lessons to be learned and lived to tell the tale.

Margo: Hi Jenny. I attended the public lecture, and thought Latham's speech was an absolute downer. He describes a dead end for politics, and proposes nothing as an alternative to the majors. The minor parties and the rise of the independents, which - left and right - are responses to the sickness in the majors - don't rate a mention. And doing community work doesn't get the people where you live a voice on the national stage, where national decisions effecting all of us are made. Indeed, if you accept Mark's judgement, politics is not a calling any sane person would enter. So where does that leave public life? It was a depressing evening, all in all. I asked Mark about this stuff in our interview this morning, when he was still writing his speech. I'll publish the transcript of that interview tomorrow.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

This is magic stuff - long overdue. The establishment rattling of politics by Mark Latham and journalism by Margo Kingston is from the same direction - outside.

The buggers are drawing their wagons into a circle.

Take no prisoners. Go Mark, Go Margo.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

He talks about 'religious fanatics' wanting to maintain the status quo. Who is he talking about? I have a good idea, but I want someone to confirm.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Cool, Mark Latham - thanks. You're not "insane", an impression pushed upon Australians by the ALP as well as the media since your book became public, so much so, that the "majority" of Australians would now already explain you away like this. Good the book was a sell-out, and it shows many people want to find out for themselves.

That's the second 'thanks', which is for Margo. Putting up "the whole speech" and allowing readers to judge for themselves and discuss the issue is Margo's intent. Thanks to Webdiary we have it here, and before anyone else.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

A depressing assessment but I can easily believe it is accurate. He has no solutions to offer at this point, but I can't see a soul who feels this deeply about the value of community turning his back on it forever.

After a time to heal, enjoy his family while they are young, and his local community, I think he will be back to contribute at a national level. And with this sort of insight percolating quietly away for a few years it will be very interesting to see what form that contribution takes.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Kevin de Bonis, you saw the "edit" button on Wikipedia? You can change the entry if you want to.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I'd like to send out a general call to all those who are interested in balance and factual reporting.

The free internet encyclopedia - Wikipedia - has been hijacked by right wingers distorting the entry about Mark Latham.

I would invite people to go to Wikipedia.com and read the entry for Mark Latham. It is obviously distorted and biased. The entry uses negative spin and negative imagery to paint a picture of Latham which is extremely unflattering. The entry selectively reports on Latham's record and it selects those aspects of Latham's career which are negatively controversial. The attempts it makes at 'balance' and are unconvincing as objective factual reporting.

Wikipedia is an excellent resource and is read by people worldwide. Unfortunately it is open to abuse by unscrupulous people.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Oscar Werring I think a lot of it is - 'if we didn't see this before, he must have been lying to us, and if so, what reason do we have to believe him now?'

I didn't think he lied very much, except over his views towards the military, his associates and ANZUS. Well, that makes it pretty big, but let's not go there. But the rest of the personality was there - the foul mouthed slanderer, the thin skinned heckler, the bully and the thug, the duality between the rational and the irrational with policy and personal choices, the idealogue and the demogogue.

It is just that so many, especially in the media, were looking to get rid of Howard that they jumped for joy over the good parts (and broadcasted it to all and sundry) and they thought that the essence of the good would outweigh the bad. The Australian public thought otherwise, or at least an electoral majority did, and eventually the veneer that was placed over his real self, the iconoclastic, uncommunicative and unwell man, that very veneer that was put up by his supporters, was ripped away.

And so he put it to book format. Whatever he says has to be judged from that perspective, at least to me it does. Either he was always telling the truth, and people deceived themselves about him, or he never told the truth and tried to hide it. Either way, those flaws on the publics part or his colour many people's judgement of what he says, and what he does, these days.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

We still need good people to choose to go into big politics, both national and state - and hope they won’t be totally corrupted once they are there. And we need good people to try to talk with, work with and hopefully positively influence politicians (lobbying – which should not be seen as a dirty word).

What Mark gives us is a healthy reality check from his unique perspective - we knew all this in a way already, from Button and Watson and others, but we need to be reminded of it. Some (maybe a lot?) of politicians in the major parties are graceless, devious, arrogant and dishonest. Fortunately, quite a few are not.

Similar things can be said about the national media who report and comment on politics. From my SIEV X experience, also fairly unique, I have seem some of the best and some of the worst of the political media. They are a very mixed bag too.

And of course there are agendas – things to be done – that just cannot be addressed at local or community levels. A lot of things can be and need to be done there - I agree. Mark’s emphasis on kids is on the money.

But who engages with abuses in the criminal justice system? Who engages with national human rights standards eg for indigenous Australians, refugees and ethnic minorities? Who engages with national security and foreign policy – not letting ourselves become a second-rate and despised appendage of the US? With counter-terrorism and the real threats to human rights in that area now? Who engages with the industrial relations system and protecting minimal decent working standards? All this is national politics, and if everyone decent walked away from it, where would we then be?

Having said all that, and thus hoping our young people won’t take Mark’s advice - I am still very grateful for the Latham Diaries. It is important that hypocrisy and deceit be exposed, let the chips fall where they may. It may encourage higher standards in the next generation of politicians. And I congratulate Mark Latham on the way the public is receiving his work now. I’m with Jack Smit there too.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I agree that Mark's speech is a bit of a downer but he has clearly identified what he perceives as the key problems facing our (political) society. Not possessing the answers to those tough problems is not a reason to keep quiet.

I believe that the greatest problem with his case is the idea that "no change is possible". If anything history shows conclusively that "no change is impossible".

His comments on organisation also are factually incorrect. Ever since 2 cells got together to make a go of it 4 billion years ago organisation has been at the heart of power. The idea that the organised forces of the religious right or proto-fascists can be beaten by becoming dis-organised is just plain wrong. A different structure might be required but "organisation" in some form will be at the heart of any coherent challenge to the existing powers that be.

None-the-less interesting stuff. It will be interesting to see what the "comrades" make of it at the next branch meeting. I will report.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Does anyone agree with his 4 groups in society, Point 1?
20% of our society consists of the down and out, the chronically unemployed, disabled, mentally ill, and isolated people who are often hostile and bitter?

Funny, I thought most politicians saw 80% of us as being like this.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

F Kendall - I spent 2 hours editing the article on Sunday - but its been changed back every time. I'm not knowledgeable enough about the system to work out how to change it back without going thru the time consuming process of re editing. There seems to be a concerted effort to maintain the bias. I'm trying to work out a more permanent solution to this situation.

I simply think its unacceptable to have this bias go unchallenged and allowed to stand.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I attended. Though his diagnosis of what was wrong with Labor was correct, he seems to 'blame the voter' once too many times.

I found him both defeatist and naive. Defeatist in that he assumed that just because politics didn't work out for him, it wouldn't work out for anyone else (including some young questioners who were politically active).

Also, as I said to Margo, how can you make a difference on matters of public and national importance if you do as Mark advocates and join the committee of your local football or bowling club? Not that there is anything wrong with that, but you'd unlikely to do much good if your real passion is elsewhere.

Now onto the naivety. None of the disadvantages of politics (loss of privacy, backstabbing, machinations, the toll on family) are new. They are common to any organisation.

Anyone who enters politics (or any senior position) knows the personal and family sacrifices that need to be made. Being PM (or opposition leader) is not a part-time job, especially when those who are trying to undermine you are no doubt doing it full-time.

Besides, compared to say Beazley (from WA) and others from country areas with no direct flights, Latham had it easy, with Werriwa being just 3-4hrs drive away.

What about the internal machinations? This occurs everywhere. Even in community or hobby clubs (the type Latham wants us all to join) infighting can be extreme. There may even be factions, mismanagement, rumour campaigns and meeting stacking. Community organisations have done a great deal of good, but it is wrong to say that they are free of politics and power plays.

Latham should have known about the shifting allegiances and backstabbing within his own party given his political upbringing.

Anyone who has been to a single Young Labor branch meeting knows that members divide themselves into left and right, sit at opposite sides of the hall and try to score points off one another by passing pointless resolutions about something (whether the local student union or something on the other side of the world). And you might even be asked 'what faction are you in' before you've signed up.

Nevertheless I found Latham an engaging and interesting speaker. He has a lot to offer, but he conspicuously lacked a Howardesque health and stamina for politics. Should he re-enter public life, he'd make a good talkback radio host, and probably do better at it than Jeff Kennett.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I may have missed something here, but wasn't Mark Latham quite adept at using machine politics to get his "foot-up" into what he calls the "gravy train"? Even in this speech he perpetuates the myth of being the outsider with comments such as: "I walked outside the system" - if anything he was nurtured from university days to be involved in politics. He had the inside running - after all how many political aspirants have ex-prime ministers as mentors? Yet how quickly longtime mentors are cast aside (hugged at campaign launches and discarded like a worn pair of old socks several months later).

Finally, should young idealistic people forget about organised politics - then they are no longer by definition idealists.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Dear Mark Latham, how can you talk about the Canberra culture, when you have never met a Canberran or anyone out side of the Parliamentary triangle. The people you meet are Seaguls (or Sydnees); not one of them lives in Canberra or know a Canberran. The culture you talk about is actually the Sydney culture that I call rat baggery and racism.

Sydney seagulls are so named because they fly in on Monday morning make a loud noise and sh*t all over the place before they fly home on Thursday. All the Parliamentarians and the advisors and the journos head home on Thursday. These seagulls like yourself Mr Latham, never venture out of the Parliamentary triangle and think Canberra is bounded by the new concrete walls surrounding the Parliament house. I understand these have been erected to keep out protesters and students because they frighten the occupants. The once open and welcoming Parliament house is more like a bunker. Why has there been no comment on this desecration of the building and why do the television stations insist on running old pictures of Parliament house before Howard and his crew got hold of it. This is the Sydnee culture of Alan Jones and all the other Sydnee ratbags where they cause a problem then hide from the consequences.

I would rather the Sydnees stay at home along with Barnabies rather than disgrace the good people of Canberra. The real culture of Canberra exists a long way from the open sewer of the Parliament and the Sydnees of your association.

ed Kerri: Hi Warwick. You are a new-comer, you get a bit of leeway but you'll notice I've softened your jagged edges; no need to aim for blood here on Webdiary. Cheers.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I understand where Mark is coming from. I have been involved in politics for many years: for the labour workers, the bastard watchers, and the chlorophyllians. Party politics in Australia at the 'office' level is one and the same.

But Mark is wrong in one key area: council politics. (Maybe he had a bad experience...) Local council is the place to create a globally sustainable environment locally.

Look around you. Local councils create a life worth living on a daily basis: libraries, baby and child health care, parks and gardens, festivals, streetscapes, planning laws, etc. The quality of our daily lives is dependent on the quality of our councils.

Mark and all aspirants: don't give up politics, just go back to basics where it is the person not the party that matters.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

It is funny to see Latham complaining about the politics of personal destruction after being a master of it when he was in Parliament through his filthy vulgar language. He is a hypocrite; no wonder the Lefties love him as he fits in with their character and values.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I wasn't there. The general consensus appears that the delivery made for a rather depressing evening, but I find that the text reads as a strong argument for greater localised governance and organisation - a strengthening of civil society, rather than of the market or government.

It would probably more interesting to hear Latham talk about the positives of community, rather than the sickness of the obese organisational structures of our political system - but hey, after what he went through you are probably entitled to come out more jaded than most.

I'll look forward to Margo's interview...

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Very interesting speech, demonstrating that Latham can be thoughtful when he wants to be. However, despite that clearly Latham is a flawed character who, at best, is partly motivated by personal reasons.

A number of things can be said here. Firstly the Michels thesis is very important for Latham's argument. At that point in his speech Latham states, "Fifty years ago, in his book Political Parties, Robert Michels argued that prominent Left-wing movements inevitably fall under the influence of paid officials and apparatchiks, men more committed to the bureaucratic control and administration of the party than the radical transformation of society".

There is little doubt that such a tendency exists, and certainly there is a grain of truth in the Michels thesis with respect to the ALP but one must be wary of the keyword here, that being "inevitable". Nothing is "inevitable" in human affairs and there is nothing "inevitable" about left wing movements descending into oligarchy and domination which then reproduces itself, for instance the movement against corporate globalisation is very mindful of this and adopts organisational strategies informed by models of participatory democracy that are designed to prevent the formation of an organisational class within the movement.

The second main argument revolves around the issue of social capital. Here Latham asserts that we live in an age of great economic prosperity but great social dislocation. This is quite paradoxical. Latham is on more solid ground further down when he states, "when Australians see a social problem, they are more likely to pursue a market-based answer than a community solution. This has led to the commercialisation of public services and the grotesque expansion of market forces into social relationships". Karl Polanyi in his classic The Great Transformation made essentially the same point namely that the "self-regulating market" has the effect of destroying society.

Contrast this aspect of Latham's analysis with that of the main intellectual spokesperson of the Socialist Left faction of the ALP, Lindsay Tanner. He too claims that economic rationalism is responsible for great prosperity but he too, paradoxically, claims that ours is a community experiencing great social dislocation. How does Tanner explain this paradox? According to the Socialist Left's intellectual spokesperson the reason for this dislocation lies in the individualism of the social movements that arose in the 1960s and 1970s. That's Tanner the "socialist".

All up, in his personal crusade against his political opponents Latham happens to make some interesting points but his overall conclusion cannot be accepted. If the 15 per cent of the population that Latham claims is progressive and concerned with social justice (a figure too low in my view) were to accept his advice then Australia would be a much more meaner and unfair place. If all they did was "improving our neighbourhoods, joining social movements and helping local charities, sporting and community organisations" then the legislative agenda would necessarily be dominated even more by the big corporations.

There is still a role for a political party that acts as the legislative arm of social movements and community based activists. But as Latham, via Michels points out, such a party must be a party of its members, which sadly at this point the ALP is not.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I am a member of the Labor Party but was quite tormented about who to vote for last elections because I saw Latham as a volatile bully. Now that I've read excerpts from his diary I no longer want anything to do with Labor. I had always pushed for Beazley to get in before they elected Latham as leader. Now after reading how dangerous he actually was I am ashamed to be a Labor member. Whatever you think of Howard, nothing could have been more dangerous to Australia than Latham. I want no part of a party that accepted him to be leader. I knew when Latham made his comments about Bush that his leadership was sealed. That is how sick the Labor party is. Totally blinded by Bush hatred to see real danger.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I agree with Peter Parker. I think Mark Latham shows he has never worked in a job outside politics because from my experience, private enterprise can be just as brutal as he describes politics as being. Any young person thinking of a career in politics shouldn't let the infighting and backstabbing deter them although may find it helpful to read Latham's Diaries to prepare themselves for the battle.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Well said, Margo, I also thought the omission of independents/minor parties was a major flaw. Still, given our current electoral framework, the main game IS between a pair of horribly corrupted teams, with no real concern for this common good. And, on this level, I'd have to say his diagnosis was spot-on...

Trouble is, we'll never get the majority to re-engage without the prospect of effective mechanisms whereby they can do so... witness the farce of the 'republican' issue/referendum - wherein the majority viewpoint was enlisted/then hijacked by the ARM elites, who then expected the voters to blithely roll-over.

I was one who - despite despising monarchy - voted against... simply because I KNEW that this issue was our best current means to reform our political system - and I refused to let it be hijacked in this way. And I wasn't the only one.

Next time anyone tries that 'apathy' line re the Australian electorate, please remember said referendum - and, Solomon, I'm talking to you here, amongst others. Despairing of effective reform - and turning-off in consequence - is hardly the same as apathy. But, when their hopes were aroused - and then dashed by backroom deals between the monarchists & the ARM - they voted AGAINST their proclaimed wishes, so as to keep the possibility of real future reform open.

That is not the action of an 'apathetic' electorate, by any standard.

I've got a piece on a perfectly feasible model for selection of a president - by randomly-chosen deliberative assembly - and the powers that person would need to effectively drive our political system back where it belongs. I also think that it could easily gather widespead support from the 'apathetic' - if there was any chance that they'd get to hear about it. If you like, I'll submit it to Webdiary... as I'd love to see what this contentious readership thinks of the idea!

All the best.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

This was enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to reading Margo's interview.

The comments on the contemporary situation of our society and politics are good, but there is also too much of a sense of the victim about Latham that is a little distasteful, as is the halcyonic dream of the past that he seems to use as a yardstick.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

There is one fundamental question Theodore Hanf and the International Center for Human Sciences have been asking: 'Should all students, young and young at heart, become Webdiarists?'

[One] of our findings is that education makes people more inclined to tolerance. The more education they get, the more democratic their inclinations are. It doesn't matter what kind of education they receive. The hypothesis we derive from this is that the more education - people receive the better able they are to assess their opportunities. The greater their access to opportunities, the more they think about democracy...

The key is job prospects. I've found no correlation whatsoever between religiosity and inclination toward democracy.

In most of our case studies there is an inter-relationship between job satisfaction, entrepreneurial capacity, religiosity - in terms of belief and practice - and democratic practice.

What makes people more democratic, anyway? (Just a reminder go to Bugmenot.com if you're prompted for a user name and password)

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

It's official: Osama bin Laden has won the war against terror! John Howard yesterday sued for peace, giving up long-held and much cherished traditions in Australia such as freedom of speech, the presumption of innocence before the law, and the separation of powers between the judiciary and government.

Under the new laws agreed to yesterday by Howard and State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers, people can be arrested and detained, and have all of their civil liberties suspended for long periods of time without any reason being given, or any right to appeal or challenge their imprisonment.

Howard has long claimed that the reason why terrorists were targeting Australia and Australians were our freedom and democratic way of life. It seems that Howard believes that Australia will cease to be a terrorist target now that we have given up these freedoms.

From now on, anyone opposing Howard can expect to be thrown into jail, tortured, and even expelled from Australia without any of the legal protections we have taken for granted in the past. It is expected that Howard’s political opponents, especially militant trade unionists will be the first to experience first hand this loss of civil liberties as the Government brings in new industrial relations laws.

Opposition leader, Bob Brown, clearly oblivious to his own personal danger from these new laws, was understood to describe Howard's capitulation to Osama bin Laden as 'a dark day for Australia'. Former opposition leader Kim Beazley, obviously keen to avoid incarcaration, applauded the new laws, and claimed that they did not go far enough.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Margo, I used to think you were anti-Howard pro left. I see that I was wrong. The great majority of journos (left and right, middle and otherwise) have taken a long hard look at Latham and pronounced it as a sorry period in Australia's political history. Some had a "I told you so" gleam in their pen (Adams), some others apologised for getting it wrong (we still await Ramsey's apology), others were simply amazed at this bloke's ability to bitch about the polical environment when he was one of the leaders (if not the leader) of the nastiness pack.

But now, Webdiary holds Mark up as a decent bloke whose ideas would have propelled Australia down some lefty utopian path.

Yes Margo, I was wrong. You're some Liberal or HG Nichols Society stooge who is determined to keep Latham in the political discussion.

For our childrens' sake, and for the sake of the Country, let's fill in the Latham grave and walk away.... at least until the ad campaign during the next election.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Kevin De Bonis, I never pay any attention to quotes from Wikipedia. It's not real research. A quick flick to a free internet information site? Spare me.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Daniel Boase-Jelinek: "From now on, anyone opposing Howard can expect to be thrown into jail, tortured, and even expelled from Australia without any of the legal protections we have taken for granted in the past".

So now a little bit of planned terror perhaps a suicide attack or two is now known as opposition to John Howard? A interesting take on the situation I will grant you that. I wonder if the people being blown up will think the same way?

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Stuart Lord, I'm also interested in this 'religious fanatics' question. Who or what is he on about with that one?

On the one hand he's decrying the loss of social capital, but on the other he's decrying 'religious fanatical conservatism'. If the church community doesn't provide social capital, then what possibly can?

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

The banner on the Herald-Sun tells all about Latham's grief - "Terrorists among us". This goes straight to his beef about contemporary politics. We have a government that manages by headlines.

To break this mould, Labor ought to be pitching its tent on fixed terms for the federal government. Under the current system of vice-regal prerogative, the PM, and only the PM, decides when we can vote on his performance, and I reckon that gets under Latham's thick skin. If Latham is fair dinkum, he had no desire to exercise a patrician role for thirty years in politics, then drift out to a cushy appointment, either as a tobacco salesman, or bagman for Beijing's nuclear industry. This system suits the press gallery, too, as the daily agenda is manufactured by the praetorian guard and all the foot soldiers have to do is fill out the columns with sporting analogies.

How would it be if Packer tapped Howard on the head before Xmas, and told him "It's time, John. Do what we say or we will do you. Think about a long and successful career, all those long hours in the office away from the hearth, with only a young PA to keep you company." We can guess who Howard listens to, but what about his successor? Will any of Costello, Nelson, Abbott or Downer have the people of Australia uppermost in their minds, if he is PM and has to decide on the election date? Like hell. Costello will take advice from the Melbourne Club, Abbott from the Cardinal, Downer from Dick Cheney and Turnbull from his mates at Macquarie. The only one who may listen to the inner muse, or the spirit of democracy, is Nelson.

It's a little smooth for the State premiers, enjoying the sweet fruits of office while most of them have moved to fixed terms, to be reassuring Kim Beazley that the latest polls are nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about, for them, that is. While Labor is in perpetual opposition in Canberra, the premiers' odds of remaining are enhanced. Is it in Beazley's character to move out of his comfort zone, to promote discussion about a brand new way of doing politics in this tiny nation? I think not. We haven't heard the last of Mark Latham.

Latham had the better of Tony Jones on Lateline last night, and Tony knew it. Latham has more arrows in his quiver, he knows who has been massaging who during the parliamentary sessions in Canberra. I think Andrew Bolt's loyal following would be dismayed to see the videos of our own bonobos in action. I look forward to the next instalment of the Latham story, and the silence from the press gallery. It's a culture that deserves to be busted, but Beazley is not the person for the job.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Sorry Mark - I've tried community contribution at least three ways and got chewed up each time - by ethnic politics in local Chamber of Commerce, by torpor and envy in local heritage group, by caucus apparatchiks and death threats in local Council.

I'm so against the perversions wreaked by 'party machines' even at local level (including manipulation of voting law) that I started/named my own political entity as NO POLITICS.

Our aim is to be "The party to be party of when you hate political parties." Integrity and independence are key points in our constitution (have to have one to be registered!)

More members are always welcome; and right now there's a special invitation to join if your name's Latham.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Margo, Mark is in a liminal zone which is why he is uncomfortable to be around. And one of the things about liminality is that it is the ultimate teaching place and a position that ensures ongoing compassion. Mark was trying to be caring for those young people and give them good advice. But as I said before, Mark is quite the modernist. He thinks that his views are the 'truth' whereas I would say that there are many truths according to the context. Wait and see. There will be something quite creative come out of this enormous shift in his axis mundi. I have no doubt we have not seen the last of Mark Latham of whom I am personally supportive of as one human being to another.

I, of course, am committed to politics but then I can because I belong to the Greens, not the ALP or the Libs. :) I did edit out a whole reflection about where I thought politics should be heading so I will tell you now.

My Greens branch has thought long and hard about where we are going after the last election. We have decided that we can make our best contribution at the local council level. So we engage in community activism, linking up with and supporting other groups- no room for prima donnas here. There are significant issues in the Indigenous community i.e. Pam Island and racism in the local community. There are chronic low cost housing shortages and the environmental issues are pretty crook. For example, just outside Townsville, we have mining companies drilling to suss out uranium deposits. We also have a local council (ALP) which is determined to be make Townsville into another Gold Coast by ruining small adjacent settlements which are havens for the natural and irreplaceable values of community. We have the largest military base in Northern Australia, we have a regional uni which will be devastated by the imposition of the VSU and then there is the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef. So you can see we have our work cut out for us.

So with our limited resources, we do the ethical, messy and creative business of engaging in democracy. We are not perfect but each one of us feels productive for having tried to do our best. We are making a difference by calling the powers that be to be accountable in ways that they are not used to. That is we draw attention to values. And you can tell that we are making them uncomfortable because they are no longer as nice to us like they were when we were the 'pet' greenies.

In the last election, we defied the ALP about automatic preferences and upset quite a few Greenies down south until they cottoned on the value of a bargaining strategy. :) Yes it was a torrid time because Townsville was crucial to the ALP for winning the election.

I am now content to work within existing institutions and structures having made sense of Foucault's conception of praxis (1981) as defying “every abuse of power, whoever the author, whoever the victims”. Will we ever get into power? I don't know and at this point, I don't care but that is a personal perspective. Others may not be as sanguine about that prospect.

Locally, I talk about 'love' of humanity being a democratic virtue as part of a non-violent, grass roots approach to preserving people and the environment. And I accept that not everyone will get it but it seems to go down well enough. So there are others ways to be political than what Mark thinks. And factoring in my spiritual leanings, you can see where I got this model of 'politics' from and it wasn't the Greens handbook.

So be of good cheer Margo. There are other 'vays and means' as you yourself have demonstrated.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I'd like to think that Latham is doing what I hope he is - lighting a bonfire to "burn the bodies."

In spite of what I would call an air of belligerence, Latham spoke eloquently of what he believed he was accomplishing. Excerpt from Lateline transcript:

Tony, what I'm giving you and other readers of the book, people who go through it systemically, is a look at the behind the scenes politics in Canberra.

If you think for a moment that when John Howard sits down planning numbers and strategy with Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott and his other supporters there against Peter Costello, that they heap praise on Costello and pat him on the back and sing 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow', that demonstrates a naivety in the journalists. All of these journalists have been racing around saying we know what goes on in Canberra, here it is, we'll tell you. They know diddly squat.

The fact that behind the scenes in politics there's a lot of stuff going on - you've got the iceberg submerged below the water. Well, that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. What I'm doing is busting the club and the cone of silence in Canberra where the journalists and politicians protect each other a lot and letting people under the banner of 'right to know' know about the behind-the-scenes activities in Canberra.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I find Latham to be a complete hypocrite, outlining all these 'core values' he expects others to share but never displays himself.

He complains about the low public opinion of politicians, yet never acknowledges that his own aggression and divisiveness has contributed to this.

He embraces 'democracy' yet seems contemptuous of those ordinary Australians disengaged from politics.

He wants people to be 'united' yet openly describes himself as a 'hater'

He rallies against 'politcs of personal destruction', conveniently overlooking the insults and personal abuse he's dished out to his opponents over the years.

He whines about 'the rise of machine politics'. forgetting that he's milked the ALP machine all his life, from Liverpool Council to Opposition Leader.

My opinion: In Latham's eyes the problem is not that the ALP has done these things, but that it's done them TO HIM. I cannot feel sympathy with someone who dished it out so heavily and so often when he now complains about copping a bit back.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Mark Latham: "Thankfully, the reading public are not silly."

Unfortunately for Mark, neither was the voting public.

Stuart Lord: "He talks about 'religious fanatics' wanting to maintain the status quo. Who is he talking about?"

The ALP Catholic Right, perhaps?

In any case, a full century after the Taff Vale decision, that defining historical incident which showed the clear necessity for Labour to be fully active in organised politics, we shouldn't be surprised the lightweight Latham still cannot see the point.

It puts me in mind of a quip by a stand-up comedian I saw not long after the bland Gerald Ford became President.

"The Republican Party. It started off as a Lincoln - and ended up a standard '74 Ford."

Having failed so pathetically in organised politics, poor Mark is now trying to make a virtue out of the inescapable need for him to retire from public life.

What this means, of course, is that he's going to be around blathering excuses and giving useless advice for the next forty years or more.

At our expense.

The really big question which hovers over this weird incident in Australian politics is this: How did such a dill end up leading the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party?

How could so fragile an ego, so brittle a personality, so vulgar and simplisitc an individual get a run at administering the national affairs of an entire continent?

Bob Hawke was on TV this morning, both castigating Latham as a loser - and yet defending his own decision to campaign on Latham's behalf.

He said something like: "They having made this stupid decision to make him leader, I felt morally obligated to campaign for him." (or similar)

Huh?

Given the same logic, had a total tyrant somehow got the leadership, then Bob would have "felt morally obligated to campaign for him", too.

I contrast Hawkey's principled stance with, say, Churchill's withering campaign against Neville Chamberlain; or for that matter Lincoln's against Stephen Douglas.

One an insider completely unafraid to openly state the unpalatable truth about his own Party's incompetent leader; the other a complete outsider wholly unprepared to surrender the levers of power by shying from political debate.

Maybe it needs crises like 1938 or 1860 before Providence makes such people step forward?

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I haven't read the book, I can't purchase it in Port Lincoln! Distributors won't sent it to our bookstores unless they purchase a carton of them. My brother went to Adelaide yesterday and they are everywhere. Ho hum, we will continue to be treated like county hicks no matter what. So much for trying to support our local businesses.

One comment I wish to make.... When you are too busy pointing the finger at everybody else you need to take a long hard look in the mirror, because all of what you say is just merely a reflection of yourself. Can't wait to get the book.... maybe for Christmas!

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

While it's good to see Mark Latham state the obvious, there is no way that the people who need to hear this (the great apathetic middle class), will be exposed to it. And if they are, they won't have the time or inclination to reflect on it anyway.

We live in the most beautiful, diverse country on earth (my personal opinion for what it's worth), and each and everyone one of us is fortunate, that by some quirk of reality, we happened to be born here.

So what do we do?
Piss it away, lock up the borders, and tell ourselves how much the rest of the world loves us.

An extreme view perhaps, but is it far from the truth?

We are, per person, the richest nation on earth when it comes to natural resources, "We decide who comes here and under what circumstances", and as for the last one...

Thanks for the advice Mark, and thanks to Margo et al for giving everyone a say, but the only way to get people to listen is to lead by example. If it looks like one person is doing well and enjoying life then others are sure to follow.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Melanie Steiner writes that "[the Labor party is] Totally blinded by Bush hatred to see real danger".

This is a real danger for Australian politics. We need a real, credible, sane, constructive opposition (even if I were a Howard supporter I'd think so). I was most disturbed by the apparent revelation in Latham's diaries that he would have sought to ditch the US alliance. Even if I thought ditching that alliance was the right policy (I don't), it would represent a major shift. When was Latham going to share that little idea with the voters - after he got elected?

I think blind hatred for Bush endangers US politics as well, and similarly keeps the (US) Democrats from really forming an effective alternative to the Republicans in power. The US, and Australia, will be around long after Bush and Howard are gone, and oppositions in both countries need to get their blinders off.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Margo, can I suggest you give Peter Garrett a call to ask him what he thinks about Latham's underlying thesis here? Garrett is, after all, someone who went the other way, from grassroots politics into parliament.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read the transcript of Marks' speech. Puts much of what he discussed with Tony Jones into much better context.

Maybe his 'beligerent' attitude during his time in politics was because of his inability to effect the changes he knew needed to occur. Would make anyone short tempered and frustrated. (Just a thought)

I still feel sad that we have lost someone from public life who could think outside the box, whether we agreed with his thinking or not, it was a welcome change. I too have lamented the loss of the characters in public life. We need a bit of larrikinism. It is the Australian way. Let's not lose it. Most of the politicians today make you depressed just watching them. How many have a gleam in their eye and a sense of fun shining through the dark suit? Bring back a few of Al Grasby's ties and Don Dunstan's suits. Much more uplifting in times of trouble!

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Latham picked a bad day to tell people to forget about organised politics. I generally agree with all of the problems he cites, but I can't agree on his conclusion.

In many ways he may be right that you can make more of a practical difference working in your community, but only so far. It is important to remember that politics, and the decisions made by our political leaders in some way impact on every aspect of our lives. The result being that any efforts at the community level could in an instant be destroyed by government policy decisions.

Yesterday we saw a prime example of why we can't ignore politics - the new anti-terror laws. Nothing at the community level can do anything about this. A fortnight ago (it seems like months ago) we also saw the Federal Parliament pass legislation that, whatever your opinion of it may be, you would have to agree could have a huge lasting impact on telecommunications in Australia - community-level work can't do much about nationwide telecommunications infrastructure.

Regarding the minor parties and independents. The Greens represent a 'brand' of politics that will only ever capture about 5-10% of the vote - they'll be an important part of the system, but they can't eat into its heart. The other minor parties have such low membership numbers that they are effectively 'machine' parties (I was a member of one, so I know - and the problem was compounded by an even lower level of 'member activism' - the members had the power to make a difference, but didn't care), just as bad as the majors, if not worse because they actually claim to be different. As for independents, getting an independent elected is virtually impossible because of the resources (both human and financial) required to run a campaign.

The sad reality is: organised politics is sick, but we can't afford to ignore it because it impacts upon every aspect of our lives. If only Latham had:

a) been a little more restrained in what he published in the Diaries (I don't think it was appropirate for him to publish the sort of raw personal expressions that people may often write in private diaries, but usually keep private);
b) Been a litte more open-minded in that he comes across as being too much like an old-style 'class-warrior'. He'd probably find many 'small-l' liberals who agree with his main themes, but I doubt that he'd be able to work with them, and
c) Not made these most recent blanket criticisms of politics, and perhaps taken more time out to think about things.

Then he perhaps had an opportunity to address these problems by starting up a new political party/movement. A generation ago in the UK, people disillusioned with the Labour 'machine' broke away anf formed the SDP. The long-term result, aside from the creation of a new 'third-force' (the Lib-Dems) to challenge the two-party status-quo, was that the Labour Party itself was forced to reform, creating Tony Blair' New Labour. (Someone with more knowledge of British politics is welcome to correct me if I'm wrong on any of that.)

Mark Latham, I can understand how you must be feeling, and I like a lot of what you have to say, but you've made some mistakes here. It is more important than ever that young idealistic people (and realistic people too) do get involved in politics. Our challenge is to find an effective way of getting involved.

PS. I regret that I never seem to find the time to read everything on Webdiary or to comment, but it's an excellent forum, please keep up the good work!

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Hi Janet, have you tried buying the book online - I know you can buy it online from Gleebooks.com.au - although maybe you can find somewhere closer to you.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Michael Duffy: "It remains the most extraordinary thing about Latham that he voluntarily walked away from the leadership of the ALP."

That's like saying that Captain Edward John Smith, the Master of the Titanic "voluntarily gave up sailing ships in 1912".

Yeah, well Captain Smith didn't have to wait around for the shareholders of White Star Shipping Line to show him the bloody door, did he?

He just put the revolver to his head before the bloody ship went down.

Mark, on the other hand, would not have "voluntarily walked away from politics" had he got into the Lodge, hey?

No. He waited till he got a rebuff. Then spat the dummy like a child.

This is choice...

Mark Latham: "Another corrosive media practice is the relentless trivialisation of public life."

You mean like when Michael Carlton asked you if you'd "get the troops out by Christmas"?

Yeah. That was trivial and incompetent.

But which mooch then, boots and all, jumped in and said: "Yeah. Sure. Why not?"

Who was the dill with the idiotic power handshake before the TV cameras?

Who did the facile "reading to kids", "junk food" and "selling Kiribilli House" policy announcements (so-called) not so subtly timed for the network evening news?

Mark Latham: "There was a time when politics was treated as an honoured profession in our society, but that time has now passed."

Huh? When was that I wonder?

Sometime before Pericles the Great, or perhaps Kimon Son of Miltiades, totalled up their pottery shards to discover they'd been banished from Athens?

Having heard the voice of the people, Latham now whinges about not getting enough respect.

Then he says: "I despair at the cult of celebrity that now dominates much of our public culture."

Well, that's odd, Mark.

Because you seemed to be revelling in respect and the public gaze at those Party election rallies when you made a point of having yourself publicly annointed "Tiberius", adopted son to Gough's "Caesar Augustus".

What kind of a twat would run for the office of Prime Minister - and then whinge about loss of privacy?

There are a host of valuable 'back room' roles that men of talent can play in politics.

But those blokes don't get the good tables at restaurants, do they? So, you didn't want that sort of role did you?

For twenty years you've been touting yourself as Gough's successor instead. Didn't Gough mention the "lack of privacy"?

Now you can see why I always said Latham was the finest vaudeville routine since the Three Stooges.

At least Larry, Curly and Moe knew they were clowns.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Jenny, I think he's a technological determinist. Note that he cites Macluhan and the effect that television and other technologies have had on the political process. Perhaps it was a mere flourish but I don't think so, given the detail he goes in to.

John, I thought the Republic "No" vote was a victory for spite, rather than apathy. As a cynical young person, rather than an idealistic one, I accept Mark's analysis as self-evidently correct.

Please do, Damian. I was wondering what happened to you.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

St Joan of Mark, the inner cabal of both Liberal and Labor, together with our "politically correct" media, presents a stout firewall to the rest of us.

Who amongst us has not tried to scale the wall of that bastion, only to be ignored?

Take away the razzamatazz and see Mark's effort for what it really is. He is trying to set a fire to the bastion by using the only material he has for kindling... himself.

Go mate! I think I'll join you.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

I really liked this piece and agreed with it totally. Even though I had no time for Latham as a politician, and thought his character seemed dodgy, this analysis of how messed up Australian politics and society is rang completely true to me.

I don't see any answers though. Not even at the community level. Councils are taking an economic rationalist approach to providing social services, and volunteer work doesn't pay the bills. Centrelink etc are increasingly hostile towards "dole bludgers" who want to volunteer rather than clean toilets for a living, and new welfare systems are being created which are destroying people.

Worst still is when others refuse to acknowledge how fascistic things are becoming, accusing people of whinging when they are shafted by bureaucracies, and punishing those who get angry/ complain about rough treatment.

Switching off 95% of our brains seems to be the only viable solution to these problems.

re: Ten reasons why young idealistic people should forget about

Solomon Wakeling, my take was that the victory of the NO case on the Republic was a strong signal that Australians wanted no more of Keatingesque condescension. I mean, what an appalling campaign wheeling out all those celebrities and flying in Robert Hughes, Geoffrey Robertson and so on.

I'll never forget watching the tally room, and seeing the human coat-hanger and stage mannequin, Rachel Ward, in tears and disbelief muttering, "no, no... why? It was supposed to be Yes." I thought, "what the bloody hell would you know about Australia you stuck-up blow-in pom?"

I knew the case was lost when Geoffrey Robertson was filmed sniffly rebuking a crowd member who demanded, "what would you bloody know about what we want for a Constitution?" He replied, "oh I don't know, I only WRITE Constitutions for a living!" in that ridiculous voice of his. Don't get me wrong, I adore Geoffrey, but he was not a vote winner in that environment.

I voted a resounding NO! I had recently returned to Sydney, having lived in New York for a few years, and I was just gobsmacked that people actually thought that Australians were not to be trusted with directly electing their own President!

The whole political class was opposed to direct election, and y'all had the gall to blame Howard for "breaking the nation's heart!" Can you imagine what a turbo-charged pre-Sex and the City New York gal thought about this amateurish nightmare?

I was ashamed to contact my American friends, who were in even more disbelief than I, saying "oh Noelene, you can't stay there. Quickly, come back to the First world!" Which I did, toute suite, as the divine Kath Day would say.

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Margo Kingston

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