Mark Latham took a few wrong turns on the road to the Lodge. He drove like a man being fed directions by passengers holding the map upside down. The appearances contrived by his advisers to underline whatever message they wanted to deliver only served to undermine him.
If Latham had such great policies, why had he hoarded them like crackers for fireworks night, shooting them off in a torrent? Were they any good? Who knows?
There was no time for analysis in between the mystery bus trips to classrooms and factories and rainforests – and then another deluge of even more important, potentially election-swinging policies was upon us. Each volley exploded in spectacular but short-lived media starbursts over the enemy trenches, providing a little illumination to the conflict at hand but doing no real damage.
Ultimately, the images of the campaign served only to highlight that Labor was confused. Lindsay Tanner, the most significant voluntary exclusion from Labor’s new front bench, got to the heart of the matter after the election: the Labor Party did not know what it stood for.
Have the guiding lights of the party read too many of Latham’s books, or too few? At a certain point in this campaign I wondered if even Latham had read them.
Was this why his minders seemed so keen to keep him from substantial interviews with journalists who knew his books? It was fantastic thought – that in a nation of world-class literary hoaxes, Latham had pulled off the greatest off the lot, leaving his philosophical output to another? Yet this provoked the thought even before the campaign proper began.
The turning point was a day in July, when Latham was on the pre-campaign trail and took his bus down the Gold Coast road that led to Dreamworld. Latham the policy wonk, the man with the ideas, disappeared and Latham the media clown stole the show.
Latham shouldn’t have been creeping around the set of Big BrotherBig Brother, Foresters was accusing the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority of bullying and harassment. Foresters director Paul Rees said APRA did not understand or approve of community-based ethical investment; it could not tolerate the fund ideologically because it disregarded the stock exchange as the focus for wealth-generation.
Rees said APRA had refused to lift its membership cap so it had to turn prospective members away. His fund had been under almost perpetual review – five times in 10 years – while the regulator presided over spectacular failures like HIH.
Though Latham’s bus didn’t make it to Nundah to talk about the ownership revolution and the ladder of opportunity and the important role that funds like Foresters had in building social capital, I presumed it might have been an issue worthy of some passing comment.
Not a word
He might have at least made the point in a radio interview that community funds being invested in not-for-profit community child care is obviously more desirable than the prospect of child care being taken over by profit-driven conglomerates owned by members of the Liberal Party A-list.
And if the rules were hindering funds like Foresters, then the rules needed to change.
But I found no mention in any of his media statements that day, or before or after it. Not a word.
- Tim Wallace