November 6th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Why Bush is better for Australia ...

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor in shock after its disastrous rout

QUARANTINE: Citrus canker: Biosecurity Australia must be held accountable

ENVIRONMENT: How Howard can neutralise green vote

INTEREST RATES: Myth and reality of Reserve Bank independence

INDONESIA: Yudhoyono's new deal for Australia

TAIWAN: Cross-strait issue a delicate balance

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Not so noble a prize / Wickedness / Demonology / Indonesia

IRAQ WAR: Did Saddam Hussein back al-Qa'ida?

MEDIA: Mark Latham's wrong turns

ABORTION: Facts banish the myth of the 'backyard butcher'

OPINION: How I would tackle poverty

CULTURE: Children's author plumbs new depths

End the shame of ACT pornography (letter)

Unborn child treated as 'a malignant tumour' (letter)

BOOKS: Catholicism, Protestantism And Capitalism, by Amintore Fanfani

Books promotion page

Mark Latham's wrong turns

by Tim Wallace

News Weekly, November 6, 2004
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.

Friendly Society

Latham shouldn't have been creeping around the set of Big Brother; he should have been knocking on the front door of a weatherboard in the Brisbane suburb of Nundah, the office of Foresters ANA Friendly Society.

Foresters should not have been unknown to Latham. In October 2002, in a speech to the Australian Fabian Society, he noted that Foresters was running exactly the type of scheme he championed in his policy agenda for economic ownership - matched savings accounts, "a new way of encouraging poor people to save for home ownership and their children's education".

"Labor wants to develop a national program of the matched savings accounts," he said. "We want to work with the welfare and corporate sectors to find new solutions to poverty."

Which presumably means Latham wants a fund like Foresters to prosper, since it represents exactly the type of financial institution he needs to create his stakeholder society in which all have access to social, human and financial capital.

Foresters offers a variety of opportunities for local community capital growth. Its micro-finance initiatives include a financial distress fund that provides no-interest loans of up to $2000, a community credit fund, and various savings and loans circles.

Its eco-fund assists members to make their homes more ecologically sustainable.

Its ethical superannuation trust, established in 1993, was the first of its kind in Australia. Only 15 per cent of funds are invested in the stockmarket; the bulk of funds go to social enterprises such as housing for the disabled, community kindergartens and credit unions in remote areas where banks don't see a buck to be made.

On the day Latham was proclaiming on Big 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

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