Story transcripts

Latham at Large

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reporter: Mark Latham Producer: Stephen Taylor

If you asked us to describe the current election campaign, the word that immediately springs to mind is - "boring".

The race to the Lodge has been a cheerless trudge. And the so called "Great" Debate was about as stimulating as warm milk before bedtime. Someone needed to shake things up.

Well, our guest reporter, Mark Latham, certainly managed to do that.

But before you write him off as a bully and an attention seeker, remember, Mr Latham has experienced an election campaign from the frontline.

He knows the inner machinations. Maybe that's why the major parties are so scared of him.

Full transcript:

STORY -

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Now I want to say something. Julia!

JULIA GILLARD: Hello, Mark. How are you?

MARK LATHAM: It's hard not to get caught up in the shenanigans of a federal election...

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Tony, long time no see.

TONY ABBOTT: It is a long time, mate.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Are you brave enough to shake my hand?

MARK LATHAM: ..especially when Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard's every move is so closely watched.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Can I just ask why the Labor Party has made a complaint about me working for Channel Nine?

JULIA GILLARD: I don't know anything about that, Mark. If you want to work for Channel Nine, that's a matter for you.

MARK LATHAM: Much has been made of my meeting with the Prime Minister and, mostly, I've been portrayed as the villain. But what annoys the Labor Party is that I've upset the carefully stage-managed event they'd wanted this election to be. This campaign has had all the tricks of the politician's trade - just ask those little babies who've been kissed and cuddled by middle-aged strangers at fake campaign events. There's one important thing missing from this election campaign, and that's substance! The problem is politics is no longer about policy, no longer about making Australia a better place. It's about power, gaining it and then keeping it at all costs. Now, I'm not the most popular bloke around here but, take it from me, I've seen it from the inside, I know what I'm talking about and, at the end of this story, I'll even tell you how I'll be voting on Saturday. For those who don't remember, I was a Labor MP for 11 years, including 14 months as leader of the Opposition. In 2004, I fought - and lost - an election against John Howard. After that, I left Canberra disillusioned and disappointed with the antics of the party machine. Sadly, there's even more reason to be disappointed today.

VOTER 1: There's a lot of hot air but not a lot of real good promises.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Do you think it's got worse compared to past election campaigns?

VOTER 2: Yeah, definitely.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: This is the worst ever?

VOTER 2: Yep, a circus!

MARK LATHAM: From the moment Julia Gillard rolled Kevin Rudd to become our first female prime minister, she knew what her election plan would be. She didn't want to campaign on policy, just empty slogans. It's a trick both parties use - dumbing down politics and turning it into a beauty contest. The Labor Party is supposed to be full of reformist ideas but, in this election, they're following a small target strategy - exactly the same as the Liberal Party. In fact, there's no real difference between them.

SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS : I think it's lacklustre. Where is Julia Gillard's vision for Australia? And Tony Abbott is missing in action when it comes to vision.

MARK LATHAM: If we were really serious about this election, everyone, including the major parties, would be paying a lot more attention to this man. In all likelihood, Senator Bob Brown and his Green Party will control the next Parliament, but you'll rarely see him on the nightly news.

SENATOR BOB BROWN: We are giving people an alternative. We're not a faction. We're not a lobby group, We're not a preference machine for the big parties. We're here to replace them because they're failing the Australian people.

MARK LATHAM: Do you think both party leaders have been duping the Australian people in this campaign? That they're not fair dinkum?

SENATOR BOB BROWN: I'm not sure that they're not fair dinkum, but I think they've lost their way in that they don't represent the broad public interest.

MARK LATHAM: While Bob's left pushing his policies to the tiny band of media stragglers left in Canberra, out on the hustings, the big two are followed by an army of reporters and photographers.

REPORTER: We have press conferences of 40 minutes or so and I'm not sure we've got a straight answer to anything yet.

MARK LATHAM: Sure, there's a daily announcement or two but much more important is the photo opportunity. Everything is carefully choreographed by the backroom players, like this Labor staffer.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: You do all the hard work, all the argy-bargy.

LABOR STAFFER: Undercover.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Exactly - undercover sums it up perfectly. You don't get any acknowledgement.

LABOR STAFFER: That's OK, though.

MARK LATHAM: And when the politicians and the media can't think of anything new to film, they film themselves - even inside their little bubble, called the campaign bus.

JULIA GILLARD: Oh, no, they never have anybody on this bus, do they? I got assured they only brought the responsible journalists!

MARK LATHAM: Parties love this stuff because it distracts everyone from the serious issues of the day. But, to me, it shows how the media have become political prisoners, easily manipulated by the party machines. Take last weekend, for example. This is one of the really big campaign events. It's the first face-to-face meeting between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. We tried to get into this building to film it, we weren't allowed. In fact, the Labor Party has picked just a couple of cameras to do the filming, most of the media have been excluded, and certainly the Australian public have been excluded from this meeting behind closed doors. this is not real campaigning, it's not the real Julia Gillard, it's a sham. Inside, Gillard and former leader-turned-leaker Rudd tried to be friends, while, outside, the journalists were driven to the other side of town. So much of modern politics is a performance - Hollywood-style acting - but this one didn't work.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Where were you guys? That's the question I'd like to ask?

REPORTER: What do you make of our -

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: No, no, no you've asked me some questions. My turn now. What did you think of the fact that - REPORTER 2: I thought it was absolutely ludicrous, ridiculous.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: And where were you physically at the time when we were at -

REPORTER: We were at Scarborough, down the road there.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: So you were trapped in Scarborough?

REPORTER: Yes. It's a really, um, it's a really sort of strange evolution of the way campaigns are run.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Would you describe it as real campaigning?

REPORTER: No. No, I don't think it is. A real campaign is at least making yourself open to the possibility that a real person might come up and talk to you.

MARK LATHAM: After the Rudd meeting, Gillard was reunited with the media pack, so that a new set of happy, completely contrived, photo opportunities could continue. But, at the Brisbane Show, I became part of the show.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Julia, long time no see.

JULIA GILLARD: How are you?

MARK LATHAM: I'd heard the Labor Party didn't want me on the campaign trial, so I asked the PM about it.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: If you want to make complaints, you really should make them about Rudd, who's the one who's sabotaging your campaign.

MARK LATHAM: It wasn't my intention to steal Rudd's thunder, but my encounter with Gillard set off a storm of protest.

JULIA GILLARD: Nice to see you, and I hope you enjoy your life as a journalist now.

MARK LATHAM: I'd always thought the role of the reporter was to ask questions on the spot. But the politicians these days, they never answer them, so the media have to look elsewhere for news through sensationalism and beat-ups. LAURIE OAKES: There was an ugly incident yesterday with Julia Gillard...

MARK LATHAM: Back in his TV studio, Laurie Oakes led the charge of sanctimonious journalists. LAURIE OAKES: He's not a journalist, he's still full of bile and settling old scores...

MARK LATHAM: Most of my critics weren't even there, but it didn't stop their second-hand commentary. This is what I call 'absentee journalism'. On 'Sky News', I tried to put my side of the story. SKY

REPORTER: When you saw the front page the next day that calls it "the handshake from hell", when you saw the reaction, what did you think? Did you regret it, because the PM seemed, frankly, offended by it in the end?

MARK LATHAM: Well, that's a nonsense, that's an absolute nonsense. The media are desperate for a front page headline, sensationalism, seeing me there, so they fit me into the story they think is going to happen, irrespective of what actually does happen. I didn't swear at her, I didn't raise my voice. The physicality of it was all on her side, and she gave me an answer. True to form, it was a non-answer.

MARK LATHAM: Of course, this election's not just defined by the squabbles in the Labor Party. The Liberals have to convince Australia its candidate is up to the job, and that involves spin that'd make Warnie proud. Tony Abbott's only ever believed in three things - God, the monarchy, and Work Choices. Now he's got a campaign launch without the third one. He's not being fair dinkum.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Did you ever expect to come to a Liberal launch where they were supporting paid parental leave but not industrial relations reform? LIBERAL VOTER: Well, I knew that it was always going to be a soft spot because the unions will rip into us at any - they'll run a scare campaign, scare campaign on anything. So, obviously, he had to tread carefully.

MARK LATHAM: A few days after the party's campaign launch in Brisbane, I caught up with Tony Abbott in Western Sydney.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Now, Tony, long time no see.

TONY ABBOTT: It is a long time, mate.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Are you brave enough to shake my hand?

MARK LATHAM: He seemed happier to see me than the PM...

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: You won't end up in hospital.

MARK LATHAM: ..and was even prepared to take a question without notice.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: I was encouraged at the start of your campaign when you and your spokesperson, Scott Morrison, said that you'd be slashing the migration program, but then it's turned out that you've got the same target as the Gillard Government. What about a real policy, a fair dinkum policy, that gets the level of migration back to where it was, 100,000?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, what is the Gillard Government's target? That's the point. I think it's very important for her to say what her number is.

LATHAM ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL: I think people in Western Sydney - you, as the alternative prime minister - they want you to set a policy.

TONY ABBOTT: And I've said it - 170,000 is the maximum.

MARK LATHAM: Western Sydney is where I live - it's tough-minded and aspirational - and immigration is one of the big issues, along with asylum seekers and interest rates. This election will be won and lost in the marginal seats right here, and in Queensland. But Renai and Jamie Mainwaring see another issue, an even bigger problem for our democracy, distrust and disillusionment.

RENAI MAINWARING: I think more now it's not so much about who can do best for your country, who's going to do the least damage.

MARK LATHAM: Is there anything in the campaign that's positive and worthwhile for you?

RENAI MAINWARING: I haven't seen anything positive, personally.

JAMIE MAINWARING: There's not much that has actually been promised that would really affect ourselves or our family as such. There's not much out there at all.

MARK LATHAM: It's not hard to understand why the Mainwarings are sceptical because, at this stage of the campaign, all we ever see on TV is negative advertising, and that's another tactic designed to manipulate the voters.

MARK LATHAM: What are the particular techniques they use in these ads to demonise the other side?

ROB BELGIOVANE: Well, we're getting black and white photography, or sepia tone photography, we're getting horror movie music, you know the low 'bbbrrrrr' - one single note carrying through. We're getting scary noises, like doors slamming, to highlight key points. They said this, 'boom'. It's Alfred Hitchcock 101.

MARK LATHAM: When you look at the ads close up with advertising guru Rob Belgiovane, you notice the Labor and Liberal ads are almost identical.

ROB BELGIOVANE: So it's difficult to take it seriously, They're just having a go at each other instead of telling us what significant difference they're going to make.

MARK LATHAM: So, even in the world of advertising this is seen as pretty low-grade stuff?

ROB BELGIOVANE: It is low-grade stuff.

MARK LATHAM: So, this is really is a race to the bottom?

ROB BELGIOVANE: To some degree, yes. To some degree, it is.

MARK LATHAM: Labor and Liberal think playing it safe is the only way to achieve electoral success - follow the focus groups and never say what you really believe in. And then it struck me - there was a politician only a few years back who did speak her mind and had the courage of her convictions. Not everyone, including me, agreed, but so many Australians did! I never thought I'd be in the same room as Pauline Hanson, let alone interviewing her but, I've got to say, this has been an unusual week.

MARK LATHAM: So, Pauline, you were the most famous redhead in Australian politics. What do you think of the new one?

PAULINE HANSON: Well, on behalf of the Australian people, I'm asking for a 'please explain'. Why is Julia Gillard leading the Labor Party into this election as Prime Minister, and not Kevin Rudd?

MARK LATHAM: So do you see Gillard as a backstabber?

PAULINE HANSON: I don't like her and I don't trust her.

MARK LATHAM: That's fair enough. Do you think Tony Abbott is any better?

PAULINE HANSON: I will never forgive or forget what Tony Abbott did to me. He organised the slush fund against me which saw my imprisonment.

MARK LATHAM: In this election campaign, do you see much difference between Labor and Liberal?

PAULINE HANSON: It's become a popularity contest. They are not out there amongst the public and talking to the public. They need to wake up to themselves.

MARK LATHAM: When it comes to good ideas for Australia's future, Gillard and Abbott have given the voters a blank piece of paper. I say let's give them a blank piece of paper in return. They say voting is compulsory in Australia, but it's not compulsory to fill out the ballot paper. You can put it straight into the ballot box totally blank - that's what I'll be doing next Saturday, and I urge you to do the same. It's the ultimate protest vote.

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