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10928Latham's Leichhardt meeting

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  • Pip Hinman
    Nov 22, 2004
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      An account of Latham’s community meeting in Leichhardt Town Hall on November 22

      By Pip Hinman

      They came in great numbers to the Leichhardt Town Hall on November 22 to hear directly from Mark Latham about Labor’s plans to combat Howard's agenda for the next three years. But the most they got was a series of platitudes, excuses and fudges. Latham is skilled at the jive talk – and many people want to be jived out of their post-election gloom.

      Some 600 people packed out the venue – the turn-out seemingly taking Latham and shadow environment MP Anthony Albanese by surprise.

      After a few preliminaries from Albanese, Latham spoke for about 10 minutes giving what seemed like a re-run of his pre-election policy speeches and a call for Labor, after losing three times in a row, to change.

      "I am determined to broaden Labor’s base and appeal. We must reach out to the new middle class … Labor has not yet crafted a new generation of economic policies and credibility… The challenge for Labor is to develop an economic agenda that works for all parts of society; policies that reward the effort and enterprise of the new middle class."

      Labor, he said, has been criticised for being too right, and too left. He said Labor would remain "centre-left" in its social policies, but didn’t care to define its economic policies.

      In an article in the Daily Telegraph on November 23, Latham made it clear that under his leadership the ALP would distance itself from its traditional special connection with the working class.

      He said: "The modern Labor party must establish fair market rules to empower workers, contractors and entrepreneours to do more for themsevles, while pushing ahead with a new tage in productivity growth, and sustaining surplus budgets, a lean public sector and downwrd pressure on interest rates.

      Latham finished up his comments saying he could cope with a few pats on the back, but was also prepared for a few kicks to the shins.

      In the end Latham was let off lightly. The majority of questions and comments, while critical of many of Labor’s policy, were polite. This was essentially a meeting of the clan, and while Latham got heaps of applause, and a standing ovation at the end, not all were happy.

      Latham’s desire to "reinvent" Labor as a party for the "middle class" is gloss for his desire to shift Labor to the right. But in inner city Sydney where the Greens did so well, attracting votes and help from disaffected ALP voters, Latham was careful not to sound too conservative.

      His answers to key social and economic questions including IR, same sex rights; refugees, Indigenous affairs and tax policy were the standard lines we all heard during the election campaign. It was as if Latham hadn’t thought about or didn’t want to disclose what Labor would be doing over the next three years as the major opposition party, and with a hostile Senate.

      Asked about Labor’s policy on the Iraq war and specifically the Australian troops, his reply was: "Well, if we’d got in, then the troops would be coming home." He then waffled on about working with the UN and the interim Iraqi government – the same one killing its own citizens in Fallujah with the US-led Coalition forces – to provide aid to the people who needed it.

      Despite lots of laughter at the end when someone in the audience said he hated Bush so much he wouldn’t piss on him, Latham reaffirmed his party’s support for the US alliance.

      A passionate, but considered plea from a once-ALP stalwart who said she had voted Green for the first time in her life because of Labor’s refusal to include marriage as part of the same sex rights package, was airily brushed off.

      No clear answer was given about what Labor would do in response to Howard’s industrial relations agenda, apart from reiterating motherhood statements about the importance of the arbitration commission and everyone getting a "fair go".

      The phrase "In three years’ time, Labor would … ", was repeated by Latham but with little accompanying information on how his party would be resisting Howard’s divisive agenda.

      There was clear concern about Labor’s preference deals with the far-right religious party, Family first, and the treatment of the Greens. But Latham, to the surprise of some, refused to concede any mistake.

      "Labor doesn’t always agree with the Greens", he said, adding that "The Greens are not holier than thou". The ALP’s preferences were "made available" before the election he said, glossing over the fact that many ALP supporters did not know about the deal and felt betrayed by Labor’s decision to preference Family First ahead of the Greens in Victoria, and elsewhere.

      Later on, in response to a concern about young people being sucked into the new evangelicalism, and a call for Labor to set up a left youth movement, Latham defended the religious right, arguing that while he personally wasn’t religious, they "did some good work".

      The last comment from the floor was left to Bob Gould (or "Bobby Gould", as Latham called him). Apart from a few warnings about not alienating the Greens – "the natural allies of Labor " and upsetting the refugee rights movement (by putting Lurie Ferguson into the shadow immigration portfolio) Gould trotted out his thesis that Latham was the "most left-wing leader" Labor had had in some time, and that "anyone else would take the party to the right".

      Most other commentators (including Latham) believes that Latham is taking the party to the right, but Gould thinks the opposite.

      While there were many true believers at the Leichhardt Town Hall last night, there were many others who had come for a look-see to find out of Latham had a fight-back plan. They were left disappointed.

      Outside, Green Left Weekly was well received, as was the Stop the War Coalition open letter (see below) to the ALP asking it to retain its "troops out" policy.

      ++++++++++++++++++++

      Open letter to the Australian Labor Party: Troops out now!

      John Howard’s Liberal-National Coalition government sent Australian troops to join the illegal US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Until recently, Labor’s policy was to bring the troops home by Christmas.

      But after the election, and to the dismay of many, the ALP leadership seems to be retreating from this policy arguing, among other things, that it isn’t practical.

      Abandoning the troops home call would signal a retreat from the biggest moral and political issue of our time.

      We, the undersigned call on the ALP not to junk its "troops out" policy.

      Mark Latham’s call for the troops to be brought home came soon after the Spanish people had voted overwhelmingly against their pro-war president. If the ALP leadership had decided to campaign against the war in the last election, it too would have been rewarded – as was the Greens’ Andrew Wilkie who ran a strong anti-war campaign in Bennelong, NSW.

      Public opinion was on side, and it gave inspiration to the peace movement. Finally, it seemed, the ALP had brought its policy into line with the views of the majority – that Australia has no business in an unjust and illegal war in Iraq.

      Calls for more humanitarian assistance mean nothing when little can be done while a full-scale war of occupation continues.

      Some 100,000 Iraqis are now presumed dead in this war – one hundred times the number of coalition troop losses. More than half were women and children killed in air strikes, according to a report in the respected medical journal The Lancet. And the current Coalition assault on Iraqi cities and towns to "eradicate" the resistance in the lead-up to the Iraqi elections scheduled for January is likely to massively increase that figure.

      Farnaz Fassihi, an American journalist born in Iran who writes from Baghdad for The Wall Street Journal, describes the war as a "disaster". "The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and can’t be put back into a bottle", she said in October.

      This is why the occupying troops must leave. They are not liberating Iraqis – they are killing them, indiscriminately. The departure of the relatively small number of Australian troops will send a powerful political signal – that the war in Iraq cannot end through military occupation.

      As the former weapons’ inspector Scott Ritter put it "… 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians in the prosecution of an illegal and unjust war not only condemns us, it adds credibility to those who oppose us".

      Iraqis have the right to decide how to run their own country, and the majority wants the occupying forces to leave.

      We call on the ALP not to back away from its pre-election pledge, and to campaign actively to bring the Australian troops home from Iraq.

      Signatories include: Sister Susan Connelly (Mary Mackillop Institute for East Timoree Studies), Wendy Bacon, Colin Charlton (NSW Greens), Donna Mulhearn; Max Lane (Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific); Dr Will Saunders; Alison Dellit (Green Left Weekly); Tommy McKeever (Irish anti-war movement); Shane Condrogan (ALP); Rebekah Doran (UTA Students Association President); Alison Broinowski; Senator Kerry Nettle (Greesn); Lee Rhiannon (Greens MLC NSW);  Karen Adler (When the World Said No to War); Ian Cohen (Greens MLC NSW); Rachel Siewert (Greens Senator elect WA); Randwick Botany Greens; Robert Kennedy (Newtown Peace Group); National convenors of Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative; Paula Shouha (Australian Dental Association), Marty Jany (Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance); Ciarain Connolly (Irish anti-war movement); John Turner (NSW Teachers' Federation); John Percy (Democratic Socialist Perspective); Anna Samson (CPSU), plus many more.

      * organisations listed for ID purposes only    

       

       

      Please sign on and send to Kevin Rudd at Kevin.Rudd.mp@... and a copy to stwcoalition@...

       

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