Thursday 4 December 2003

New Labor in Australia

Most of this blog's readership is outside Australia, and probably knows even less about Australian politics than I do about the US or UK political scene. Who's the leader of the UK Conservatives? No idea, but at least it's not someone with a double-barrel name any more. What are the major political parties in the UK? Labour, Conservative, and .... Democrats? Social Democrats? Is there still a Liberal Party (under that name) stubbornly refusing to die? There's bound to be some Greens.

As for the US, the Democratic contenders are... Dean (who will get the job), Kerry, and the always-amusing-but-seriously-loopy Kucinich. And some others.

I've already posted a potted summary of Australian Political parties, so go read that to learn about the Dramatis Personae.

Recently - as in, the day-before-yesterday, the ALP (the party in Opposition) changed its leadership. Mark Latham won in a <sarcasm>landslide</sarcasm>, 47 to 45. Now what type of man is he? Well, there's an article in the Herald-Sun that will make interesting reading, especially to non-Australians. Some choice quotes:
I'd been appalled when he'd boasted of breaking the arm of a taxi driver in a brawl over a fare, and when he jeered former Liberal Tony Staley, who needs crutches to walk, as "deformed in every sense".
So I ignored Latham, and chatted instead with Geoff Clark, the Aboriginal leader.

But within minutes, one of Latham's drinking mates peeled off and plonked himself in my face, screaming obscenities for at least 10 minutes and plucking at my arm, clearly spoiling for a fight he didn't dare start.

It was Steve Roach, a Labor identity and CFMEU union official, and I ordered him out of the pub.

I later asked Latham whether he'd sent Roach over to me, but he refused to answer - though he later told Parliament he hadn't, then added I was a "nancy boy", anyway.
"I'm a hater," the man yesterday voted Labor's new leader brazenly told the Bulletin only last month.

And so he is. He's told how he teaches his sons to "hate" Liberals. He's also set them the example by using Parliament to attack a female journalist as a "skanky ho", or filthy whore.

He's branded another media critic as a "fair dinkum nutter", and yet another as a "drug addict".

HE'S even denounced civility as a conspiracy against poor people, and praised parents who were "having a go at the ref, yelling abuse" at their children's games as "the good parents, the ones who care".
All this is not just a bit of colour and movement, good for a laugh or a look-at-me headline, and of no political consequence.

On the contrary, that hate has affected his political judgment, to disastrous effect for Labor, if not for Latham personally.

He has gone on to call Prime Minister John Howard an "arse-licker" and the Liberals a "conga line of suckholes", and in February, excited by the cheers of Labor's anti-American Left, labelled US President George Bush "flaky" and "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory".

His extravagant abuse of Bush, by the way, came in a speech on Iraq during which he failed criticise Saddam Hussein.
Australians love a Larrikin - even one to whom it's all a political act. But we despise bullies and thugs. I'm personally willing to suspend judgement until I see more of the man, but odds are that Bob Carr ( Premier of NSW and arguably the most successful Labor politician in the country ) was right when he said just a few days ago:
"Mark Latham as leader of the federal Labor Party? That would be a diverting nine months."