September 19, 2004


Chatting with David Marr before a Radio National forum Friday night, heís surprised that lately Iím thinking Mark Latham will win. Iím just as surprised he believes Howard is a certainty. Onlookers are surprised weíre talking instead of smashing chairs over each otherís heads.

Anyway, Iím not exactly sure why I think Latham will win. The polls certainly donít support me:

And even Hugh Mackay -- returned to The Age for the duration of the campaign, may it please end quickly -- believes Howard will be re-elected:

At the mid-point of this election campaign, it's hard to see how the result will be close. No doubt there will be some surprises in closely contested marginal seats but the overall mood of the electorate, tracked by my own qualitative research throughout the year, strongly favours maintenance of the status quo.

Lord knows, itís not as though I want Latham to win; and, in fact, the Labor leader seems to be doing his best to sabotage his own campaign:

The Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, today promised to serve as prime minister until the war on terrorism was won.

Speaking at the Labor Party's West Australian campaign launch, Mr Latham said he was the only prime ministerial candidate to undertake to see out the war on terrorism to its end.

"If you elect me as prime minister, I will see the fight against terror through to the end, securing the safety of the Australian people."

A few more of these Superman outbursts and I might have to re-think. One reason for a Latham win: the economy has been so good for so long that any relationship between it and the Howard government is dulled. Howard seemed to be making a huge reach during the debate when he mentioned the economy his government inherited waaaaaay back in 1996; first-time voters in this election were then only ten years old, and -- like many of their elders -- have come to think that a zippy economy is as elemental a fact of Australian life as a Brisbane Lions appearance in the Grand Final. If Howard loses, it might not be due to the Not Happy John! factor, but the opposite: happy Australians up for a gamble on Latham. Fear of terrorism? Australians have demonstrated an admirable resistance to fear. Terror may not be as much of an election issue as many suppose.

I do have a poor hunch history; for example, I was convinced until one week before the 1996 election that Keating would win. Maybe Iím just pessimistic. Or optimistic, considering the wealth of conserva-pundit items that a Latham government would deliver. Brian Toohey was also at the Radio National thing. We spoke for an hour or so afterwards; I wonít give exact details of what he said, because I think he was musing out loud on future column ideas, but he predicted some especially entertaining Latham-in-government possibilities.

More on the forum later. The ABC will broadcast edited highlights this Wednesday.

UPDATE. I sure can pick Ďem. A few hours after I posted this, Latham turned into a thrashing microphone-knocker during an interview with Laurie Oakes. The trouble began with this question: ďYou say they're better off on a weekly basis, but acknowledge they're worse off on an annual basis. Do you understand how silly that makes you sound?Ē

LAURIE OAKES: Mr Latham, I think you've knocked your microphone off there, would you be able to sort of stick it back on the coat, if that's all right?

MARK LATHAM: I was getting stuck into the debate about the benefits of our tax and families, so the mic's gone flying, but I'll whack it back on the tie. There we go.

LAURIE OAKES: That's the trouble with passionate political debate, has those effects.

MARK LATHAM: Well, it's...


MARK LATHAM: ... it's the problem with clips that fall off, too. So how's that?

LAURIE OAKES: That's pretty good.


LAURIE OAKES: You should be a technician in television.

Not great under pressure, is he? Laborite Chris Sheil will be alarmed:

Above all, I think Latho has to stay cool, reasonable, civilised ... When you have truth and reason on your side, as I feel sure the ALP has in this case, civilised and reasonable debate must always be the way to go.

Posted by Tim Blair at September 19, 2004 06:46 AM

I speak in ignorance (mostly) of Australian politics and politicians. But it's been my experience that most politicians who take one side of an issue and then change (gradually or otherwise) (sort of) to the other side, are lying. Of course, they are politicians, and so they lie as a matter of course. It's the people who count and who will correct, when things go wrong. So, feel confident in your choice.

This doesn't apply to the electorate in the U.S., if they choose Kerry. He is, hands down, a disaster.

Posted by: Rebecca at September 19, 2004 at 08:22 AM

I'm thinking that in some ways, the federal Liberal party is in the same position as NSW Labor at the last state election. The federal Liberal party has become more a machine for the re-election of the federal Liberal party than it is the representative of the citizens of Australia. However, the cracks are still small, and so the Liberal party will be reelected on the grounds that the status quo is just fine for most people.

Posted by: Alan Green at September 19, 2004 at 08:53 AM

I think that everyone was waiting to see what kind of policy changes that Latham was advocating and give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean the man was supposed to be brilliant and all that yeah? Well most of his major policies are now on the table and frankly they contain nothing really earth shattering or original. About the only original thing that I can recall is that he is going to be reading to his children every night or something like that - way to go Mark. So the unknown entity is becoming known and frankly it is not much chop.

Posted by: Rob at September 19, 2004 at 09:12 AM

Omen: AFL commentator said Howard would win a fight between Latham and Howard.

Tim, you seriously thought Keating would win the 96 election? Man, maybe it was because I was living in a regional area at the time, but out there NOBODY thought Keating would win. People hated him like the devil.

That's probably why the 96 election has Labor lose basically every seat outside the inner cities.

Posted by: Quentin George at September 19, 2004 at 09:43 AM

While I don't want Australians to live in a state of fear, nevertheless to ignore the reality of the determination and reach of terrorists, to act to minimise OUR personal risk, may put Australia in more of a mindset of prey. Thus curl up in a ball and leave it to the USA, our responsiblity being to criticise their war in light of our personal safety. When Latham promises that we need only concern ourselves with a reductionist war on terror, only what happens in SE Asia should invlove us, terrorism elsewhere is someone elses business, and that he can fix it in 3 years, he increases terrorism's ability to make our strength our weakness (Sun Tzu). Despite the orthodoxy that Iraq has put us at greater risk, never supported with evidence,there are many reasons to support the, it may be that the terrorists finite resources and the need to have a high success level the terrorists had to target us in Indonesia, because our current psychological state, is to attack terrorism not minimise it, and to be constanly on guard. Australians may instinctively recognise that this is what happened. Put Latham and his Don't worry, be happy, I am here, and my ignorance and lack of understanding of what is the nature and processes of terrorism doesn't matter, and the prey mind set is increased. He is a very dangerous high risk player, not a managed risk player and his ego always overides reason. And we know that he will knick off and leave us injured and alone in the dark if we cross him.

Posted by: ros at September 19, 2004 at 09:44 AM

Can Latham negotiate the last few meters of a close political race against a seasoned veteran like Howard?
I think not - I predict if it is close he will trip on the last hurdle.

Posted by: Genius at September 19, 2004 at 10:24 AM

Latham just had a meltdown on Sunday with Laurie Oaks. He became almost hysterical when explaining the better off weekly/worse of annually paradigm. My prediction is Howard by 10 seats.

Posted by: mark at September 19, 2004 at 10:37 AM

Latham the bully was certainly back. No doubt our media however will report it as the excitement of Latham. If he does win those of us that disagree with him can expect to be well and truly paid back. He tells us he is in to hate in politics. I think there is plenty of evidence that his hate extends to Australian citizens who support the cooalition and their beliefs and policies.

Posted by: Ros at September 19, 2004 at 10:46 AM

Gerard Henderson just made two excellent points about Latham on Insiders:

1. Why aren't more commentators saying more on Latham's tax policy, which will cost people on low-income, single income families around $600 a year? Can you imagine the howls of commentariat indignation if a Howard policy had the same effect?

2. Latham's school funding reallocation doesn't impact wealthy schools in Brisbane and Perth (as the PM says, HELLO! HELLO!)... that wouldn't have to do with the fact that there are truckloads of marginal Coalition seats in Queensland and Labor ones in WA, would it? It makes Latham's plan less like good policy, and more like the ideological indulgence it is (but not so far as to risk seats where they are needed).

Posted by: Alex at September 19, 2004 at 10:59 AM

Ditto Mark Latham meltdown.The guy is a thug.He was so hyped that he whacked the poor microphone off his lapel and continued on for a couple of minutes sounding like he was in another room.What did the microphone do to biff?Libs by 8 and if he keeps doing stuff like this morning Libs by 14.

Posted by: gubbaboy at September 19, 2004 at 11:29 AM

When is the election? Im sure pulling for Howard, over here in the US.

Posted by: debbie at September 19, 2004 at 12:06 PM

Totally off topic, but Tim Blair, did you go to Oak hill elementary in Saint Louis? Please email me at

Posted by: Dewaine James at September 19, 2004 at 12:41 PM

Am two hours behind here in WA, but did I just see Latham implode on the Sunday program?

He kept it together but at one point he looked like a guy barely to keep his impulse to violence in check. And this is the fellow they've put up for PM.

Posted by: Dean McAskil at September 19, 2004 at 12:41 PM

Debbie-9th october is our election date.
I am wishing for a Howard ,Bush double.
Dean,I had to pinch myself about Latham today.I'm glad it wasn't just me who thought his performance was one of a class warrior filled with hatred and arrogance.

Posted by: gubbaboy at September 19, 2004 at 01:02 PM


I've just a first hand taste of why the polls may not mean much. I got woken by a call this morning from AC Nielsen doing a survey for the Silly Moaning Hilmer, asking to speak to "the youngest adult in the household". I hung up and tried to go back to sleep, only to start wondering why they wanted the youngest adult in the household. Nothing to do with leftist beliefs being more common among younger voters, surely?

Posted by: Clem Snide at September 19, 2004 at 01:38 PM

By the way, Tim, 5:46 am!!!!! Out of curiosity, do you ever actually sleep?

Posted by: Clem Snide at September 19, 2004 at 01:43 PM

Dont worry about the 2 party preffered polls. Centrebet is backing the Libs $1.28, to Labor $3.30. Eaze that squeze Iron Mark!

Posted by: Troy at September 19, 2004 at 01:45 PM

So, Tim, you're concerned because Latham is pulling a Kerry-esque "You know all that stuff I was against before? I'll do it all now" turn on his platform?

Posted by: richard mcenroe at September 19, 2004 at 02:04 PM

Like Clem Snide, AC Nielsen called me Saturday. Like Clem, they wanted to speak to the youngest adult in the house.

This upset my wife, who is a few months older than me and wanted to stick it to Malcolm Turnbull.

Asking for the youngest adult could be a way of making sure of avoiding sample bias. Maybe other households are asked for the oldest adult. Just guessing here.

Posted by: The Mongrel at September 19, 2004 at 02:11 PM

Tim, don't tell us you're a closet St. Louisan?? Go Cards!

Dewaine: Was your Tim Blair an Aussie too?

Posted by: Angie Schultz at September 19, 2004 at 03:30 PM

In the interview with Oakes he uses the words "opportunities", "ladder", "ease" and "squeeze" in the first 40 words.
Gotta give him credit for staying on clich... er, message.

Posted by: fidens at September 19, 2004 at 03:37 PM


No Oak Hill background here, I'm afraid.

Clem & Mongrel -- that's fascinating about AC Neilsen. I'll make some calls about this tomorrow.

Posted by: tim at September 19, 2004 at 03:52 PM

That exchange with Laurie Oakes sounds like a John Clark/Brian Dawes routine.

Tim, the reason you failed to pick the '96 result is probably the same as many Melbourne/Sydneyites failing to pick Fraser in '75. The rest of the country failed to worship either Whitlam of Keating with the same fervour.

Posted by: jafa at September 19, 2004 at 03:55 PM

jafa - I hope so. I live in Sydney too, and there are a lot of ABH's here.

Latham wouldn't be a global disaster the way a Kerry presidency would be, but it would be awfully embarassing. I'd find myself apologising for our government every time I spoke to any of my American friends.

As gubbaboy said, Latham is a thug. Keating was kind of thuggish too, but at least he had intelligence and style. Latham has demonstrated neither.

I want a Howard/Bush double so I can watch the global lefty meltdown. Should be fun.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at September 19, 2004 at 04:32 PM

Revisited the Sunday program on web. Couldn't really understand what he was saying live. Reading it, "going to solve the problem, labor has solved the problem.. and thats obviously good policy" any other food you want to eat, but the substance for the Australian people is in the policy, and it's really good stuff." etc. The guy is actually rattling in the top story. It's gibberish. We have had fair warning, he did tell us that Tony Abbott had been stalking him for 8 years. What has Labor done. He wouldn't be able to go the distance as Prime Minister.

Posted by: Ros at September 19, 2004 at 05:06 PM

Got to give this up. Tim I visited the Chris Sheil site. Scary. They stayed well away from the Sunday program. Had a go at lobbing a stink bomb. Now all I need is the courage to go back and see if they include poeple like me in their universe.

Posted by: ros at September 19, 2004 at 05:44 PM

"You should be a technician in television".

Biff Latham the cable guy.


Posted by: gubbaboy at September 19, 2004 at 05:48 PM

Don't you ever sleep?

Obviously not, Clem. The Zionists have captured him and subject him to sleep-deprivation torture until he agrees to spew out more right-wing filth on his blog.

Posted by: TimT at September 19, 2004 at 06:14 PM

Latham's flip out when asked whether he would be sending his kids to private or state schools reminded me of Bob Hawke during his drinking days. What a knuckle-dragging throwback.

Posted by: Peter Ness at September 19, 2004 at 11:44 PM

Looks to this Yank that Latham and Kerry are channeling each other. I have rarely see too politicians work to sabotage their own campaigns as hard as these two seem to be.

Posted by: David at September 20, 2004 at 01:16 AM

Well, the Greens have showed their true colours by giving their preferences to Labor. Now, if Labor gets in does that mean Mr Latham will agree to implement the following Green demands? Medicare funding for sex-change operations, an increase in company taxes and the legalisation of the drug ecstasy. That's just for starters. I hope people really know what they'll be voting for if Labor/Greens get in.

Posted by: Lofty at September 20, 2004 at 07:15 AM

"Chatting with David Marr"!!! "Latham to win"!!!!! Wash your mouth out Blair!

Posted by: Kate at September 20, 2004 at 08:15 AM

Golly Tim, you may be right. The latest Morgan Poll has Labor winning.

Posted by: john at September 20, 2004 at 09:42 AM

Tim I know you are extracting the urine. Centrebet has the ALP at $3.30 and the Government at $1.28. SO the smart money is obviously on Howard.

It seems to me that too many people look at the national campaign and the leaders and forget that the elction will really be decided in about 40 of the 150 seats. In NSW we know Latham, and we hate what we see. So I doubt whether he will pick up more than 2 seats here (Dobell from the Libs and Cunningham from the Greens). Victoria seems about even, as does SA. Tas and WA may yield 3 or 4 seats TO THE GOVERNMENT. The Territories may yield one (in NT) to the ALP. This means that Latham has to win 10-14 seats in QLD if he wants to put his bottom on the Governement benches in the House of Reps. That is not going to happen. Coalition by 10.

Posted by: Toryhere at September 20, 2004 at 10:53 AM

This man seriously scares me- He may have a university degree but he is way of the planet.
It's the eyes- he never engages with whom he is talking- He conjures up a picture of a guilty school miscreant, trying to recall the the alibi he has worked out to avoid blame or trying to work out which lie will best suit the occasion or if you wish to be kinder a contestant in a quiz show struggling to answer which of the four boxes holds the correct answer- the eyes fixed and dead.
If he gets in I'll feel safer in Mexico City

Posted by: Rosey at September 20, 2004 at 12:04 PM