At Monday’s Labor caucus meeting, Queensland MP Graham Perrett asked whether there was any process for removing the pictures of Billy Hughes and Mark Latham from the room’s wall.
Bill Shorten countered that “they are there as a reminder.”
It’s been a good while since Latham has had much in common with the party he once led, but he can still boil the blood of some of its members.
Earlier on Monday, the former federal opposition leader had continued his idiosyncratic post-parliamentary journey by announcing he is joining the Liberal Democrats, the libertarian outfit which has one senator, David Leyonhjelm.
Kaila Murnain, Labor’s general secretary in New South Wales, quickly tweeted that Latham was not a financial member of the NSW ALP. “Party Officers tonight resolved that if Mark Latham ever attempts to re-join the ALP, that his application be rejected.”
Not that there’s any prospect – as far ahead as one can ever see with this maverick – that Latham would be making any such application.
He has little but bitter condemnation for his old kennel – in contrast to what he sees as the attractions of his new political abode.
“Recently I attended the Liberty Conference in Sydney, a wonderful forum supporting freedom of speech and opposing PC, social engineering and cultural Marxism”, he posted on Mark Latham’s Outsiders.
“Debate and ideas flourished, unlike today’s Labor Party, which has barred me from speaking at membership events in Western Sydney (via Sussex Street Stalinist Rose Jackson).”
“I support 80-90 percent of the Liberal Democrats platform, pretty good for someone with strong views formed over a long period of time. Plus, as a party of freedom, the Liberal Democrats allow room for dissent and diversity of opinion (Shorten Labor is only interested in diversity of skin colour, gender and sexuality - Safe Schools BS).”
Latham also bought into a couple of specific well-publicised Labor controversies on Monday.
Shorten was on the back foot over a Labor TV advertisement, shown in Queensland at the weekend, committing to developing Australian skills and employing “Australians First”. The ad featured a sea of white faces.
Industry minister Arthur Sinodinos suggested Labor was trying to target supporters of One Nation, which is polling strongly in Queensland, while many in the ALP were angry.
Shorten sought to play down the matter while conceding an error had been made. “Some people have pointed out the lack of diversity in the ALP’s video about local jobs. Fair cop. A bad oversight that won’t happen again,” he tweeted.
But frontbencher Anthony Albanese, in comments some took as reflecting leadership rivalry, climbed into the issue, describing the ad as a “shocker” and saying it was “not the sort of ad that I want my party to be promoting”.
Latham’s assessment was brutal in the opposite direction and, for him, typical: “Nobody gives a stuff about any of this diversity stuff except the elites”, he told Andrew Bolt on Sky.
He also dissed a controversial video done by Labor’s Sam Dastyari, where the senator posed in front of modest Sydney houses to make a point about housing affordability.
Dastyari was “sneering at people because they live in a humble dwelling”, Latham said.
“Sam Dastyari is unfortunately an example of what’s gone wrong with today’s Labor, he’s out there with the anti-white racism slurring people just because of their skin colour”, he said. Besides, Dastyari was signed up to ethnic groups who were driving prices up – the best thing that could be done for housing affordability was to cut migration.
In talking about his decision to join the Liberal Democrats, Latham declared himself not only up for the fight for free speech in Australia but for a wider battle. “We are also in a struggle to save our Western civilisation”, he said, condemning identity politics and the “rolling back of enlightenment values”. Shades of Tony Abbott, who said last week: “It will help the Liberal party if we place ourselves firmly on the side of Western civilisation against its critics, and of Australian values against the politically correct wreckers and cynics”.
Latham said he was “against anyone who wants to roll back the principles of meritocracy. There was once a time when the Labor party stood for merit, it was indeed the great Whitlam principle.”
Pressed on whether his new allegiance meant he might attempt a parliamentary comeback, Latham said that “if the time comes when I thought the best way to muster the fight was in one of the parliaments of the country, yeah, I’d do that.”
Leyonhjelm said Latham now realised that values and principles were more significant than tribal loyalties.
As to whether Latham might seek a second parliamentary career: “I said to him last weekend that going back into parliament was a bit like getting married a second time – a triumph of hope over expectation. He said he had been married a second time – and was much better at it.”
Leyonhjelm’s interpretation was that his new party member wasn’t ruling out another tilt. He’d have to get preselection, of course.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra