December 05, 2003


"Australia deserves better than to have an American apologist as its Prime Minister; than to have someone who is too weak to say no to Uncle Sam." Those were Mark Latham’s words back in February. Yesterday Latham -- only in his third day as ALP leader -- stood before an American flag following a meeting with the US Ambassador and tried to back away from his description of George W. Bush as incompetent and dangerous:

Mr Latham, with an American flag behind him, said his meeting with Mr Schieffer was good and friendly, and he looked forward to a strong working relationship.

Mr Latham had told him the Bush remarks were made as an individual member of parliament and now that he was leader of a major party he had a different perspective.

And here is that different perspective. Latham also, according Mike Seccombe, indicated that his previous utterances on Iraq were uninformed:

Henceforth, as "leader of the alternative government I really want to get all the briefings and information that I need. I was previously the shadow treasurer, a member of the Labor executive, but not privy to the sort of information that would lead to a considered judgement".

I’m happy to see Latham recanting his earlier, stupid views. But I would be, being pro-US. Anti-US lefties who’ve applauded Latham’s ascent might be feeling a little disillusioned. Kerry O’Brien interviewed Latham last night, and he wasn’t happy; here are a few of his questions:

Whose idea was that American flag today, and what on earth were you using it for?

Do you really think Australians would be impressed by the sight of Mark Latham, the man who aspires to lead this independent sovereign nation, using the American flag as a prop to try to neutralise the political problem you have created for yourself?

How do you move from one moment calling the American President dangerous and incompetent and then suddenly standing there, as you did today, not quite wrapped in the stars and stripes but close enough?

Grouchy Kerry! Nothing angers old Red more than the sight of a US flag (especially as there was no direct American involvement in Latham’s press conference; I can’t recall John Howard ever posing before a US flag in such a circumstance). Latham now seems eager to match Howard’s enthusiasm for close US ties. As well, writes Louise Dodson, he wants to adopt Howard’s politics and meet George W. Bush:

Latham is out to steal Howard's politics and Howard knows it ... Determined to become more statesmanlike and restore relations with the US after he described George Bush as "the most dangerous and incompetent president in living memory", Latham made it a priority to meet US ambassador Tom Schieffer. He also plans to visit the Bush Administration.


Posted by Tim Blair at December 5, 2003 03:08 AM

Yes, but how does Kerry think that Latham "scrubs up"?

Posted by: Dave S. at December 5, 2003 at 03:50 AM

Latham is 42. Too old.

Posted by: tim at December 5, 2003 at 03:54 AM

What the hell is a Billabong?

Posted by: John Harman at December 5, 2003 at 04:47 AM

Welcome to the real world, Latham. If you think we Yanks, and especially our Texan President, are going to forget your constant assaults on us right up until the point when it began to look like they might have consequences, you are dead wrong.

The one thing we despise more than an idiot or an honest enemy, is a coward. And you, Mr. Latham, have just shown yourself up as a coward.

Posted by: R. C. Dean at December 5, 2003 at 05:29 AM

John Harman

Main Entry: bil·la·bong
Pronunciation: 'bi-l&-"bo[ng], -"bä[ng]
Function: noun
Etymology: Wiradhuri (Australian aboriginal language of central New South Wales) bilaba[ng]
Date: 1861
1 Australian a : a blind channel leading out from a river b : a usually dry streambed that is filled seasonally
2 Australian : a backwater forming a stagnant pool

google "waltzing matilda" - Australia's unofficial anthem. The billabong is the location for all the action.

Latham is as mad as a cut snake. He will self destruct.

Posted by: youcancallmemeyer at December 5, 2003 at 06:34 AM

George Bush does not take kindly of people who bash him and then later try to suck up to him. If this bozo is elected, expect Bush to give him and Australia the cold shoulder.

Posted by: Jeremy at December 5, 2003 at 07:07 AM

Lataham was elected leader of the ALP to give the Left the satisfaction of seeing him give the Liberals and Right hell with his pugnacious style.
Yet Latham has now promised to renounce the head-kicking in order to not offend the Australian mainstream ie women & nice men.
MOreover he is now puckering up for a bout of arse kissing to the US president and the
"aspirationals, to improve his image amogntst financial and political elites ie the Right.
The sad thing is that this turnaround in Latham style and Labor substance will neither hurt Howard's feelings nor get him elected.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at December 5, 2003 at 07:21 AM

Welcome to the new political correctness... absolutely no criticism of the US, it's policies, it's administration will be tolerated.

Posted by: dunidid at December 5, 2003 at 08:29 AM

Why shouldn't Kerry O'Brien be sceptical about Mark Latham's displaying of the US flag? It seems obvious (to me at least) that the flag was a "prop to try to neutralise the political problem" that Latham's anti-US stance had caused him. If a politician is that transparent and seemingly hypocritical, we would expect our journo's to have a go at him, right?

Posted by: Jethro at December 5, 2003 at 08:54 AM

Jethro it depends which side of politics the guy is on.

Bob Brown is one of the most self-contradictory assholes going round. But the Greens are the innocent idealists in the eyes of the media and can do no wrong.

Posted by: Jono at December 5, 2003 at 09:15 AM

What, there are things a backbencher can say that a leader can't? How shocking.

What was even more bizarre was Kerry (and others) having a go at Latham for his straight talking (his crudity aside). Journalists usually have to ask question after question to slippery politicians to get something resembling an answer, and yet Latham gets hammered for straight talking. Not that mindless criticism being seen as 'hard-hitting' is unprecedented.

Posted by: William at December 5, 2003 at 09:18 AM

What a gutless bastard latham has demonstrated he is?
Just like Keating before him, all bloody mouth so long as no one can get back at them.

Watch as latham denys all his brave posturing of the past.

Prediction: watch latham and lawrence cuddle up as they emote and get all choked up over ragheads.

Posted by: lawrie at December 5, 2003 at 09:30 AM

I hope Bush doesn't fall for this. Howard is a true friend. Latham is clearly pulling a Bill Clinton and 'triangulating'. I suspect he'd go all 'EU' on us the second he took the oath of office. Not that I think that's going to happen, mind you...

Posted by: rc at December 5, 2003 at 09:49 AM

Matt Hayden (not the cricketer) has given Mad Mark a hand to set up a blog. It's @:
Now, I'm off to watch Matt Hayden (the cricketer).

Posted by: slatts at December 5, 2003 at 09:54 AM

Latham standing in front of the American flag is an insult to a great flag.

Posted by: James Riley at December 5, 2003 at 10:11 AM

Notice how he kept licking his lips every time he stared at Mr Schieffer's arse?

Posted by: Nelson at December 5, 2003 at 10:15 AM

---"the most dangerous and incompetent president in living memory"---

You know, if he's like Theodore Kennedy, with his liver trouble, "living memory" goes back only about... oh I'd say about, two or three hours. So maybe he is right.

Posted by: Charles at December 5, 2003 at 10:36 AM

Tim, I'd have to say I agreed with the skeptics here. I just don't know how sincere this Latham guy is. He sounds to me less like someone who has had a real change of heart than someone who really wants to be elected and has decided to go with a certain political flow to do so. But then, I'm cynical.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at December 5, 2003 at 11:00 AM

I agree with the skeptics but I like the way Tim says “excellent,” pure Monty Burns.

Posted by: ForNow at December 5, 2003 at 11:04 AM

I agree with the skeptics but I like the way Tim says “excellent,” pure Monty Burns.

Posted by: ForNow at December 5, 2003 at 11:04 AM

The lesson is: be careful what you wish for, Australian Broadcasting Commission.

You wanted an anti-American to lead your Labor Party and were so obsessed with that you were kind of prepared to accept a right economic agenda.

Now you've got him and on Day One he moderates his stand - as we all knew he would.

Don't expect Mark Latham to abandon his economic agenda as quickly as he was to clarify a few hot-headed intemperate remarks.

Posted by: ilibcc at December 5, 2003 at 11:05 AM

O'Brien's temper wasn't improved by the fact that the previous day the 7.30 Report did a story on Latham's election and didn't have an interview with him. Nor did any ABC media, Latham did it exclusively with Packer.
And then last night, to add insult to injury, Latham responded to O'Brien's welcome by stumbling over his name and calling him "Harry errrr Kerry"

Posted by: os at December 5, 2003 at 11:34 AM

That interview with Kezza last night was hilarious. Kerry got together a litany of Lathamisms from the past:

KERRY: ... you described Tony Abbott as, quote, "Basically hanging out of the backside of the British monarch whenever he can." What is this obsession you have with bottoms?

MARK LATHAM: I've no particular obsession with bottoms, it's a figure of speech --

KERRY O'BRIEN: Howard the arse-licker and the brown nose kissing bums, as you put it, Abbott hanging out of the Queen's backside, the conga line of suckholes...

there's more... much more...

Posted by: TimT at December 5, 2003 at 12:59 PM

I was just going to make that comment, TimT. I found the interview to be very revealing.

Latham had better get used to this sort of humiliation. I saw ABC's broadcast of question time in parliament this week, and the Government was really giving it to him, none more than that little scamp Peter Costello. Poor old Latham could only sit there with a look of utter befuddlement.

Posted by: Cruddrick at December 5, 2003 at 02:57 PM

This is very very funny. For the first time in my life I suddenly wished I was in Oz.

Posted by: Dave F at December 5, 2003 at 10:11 PM