5 December 2003

Latham and O'Brien on the politics of language

KERRY O'BRIEN: There's private and there's public.

If you ever have to meet the Queen, talking about the English upper class, as Australian PM, I wonder if her background notes on you would include your reference to Tony Abbott and the Queen in June last year where 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.

MARK LATHAM: Well I think 'bum' is a word that gets used a bit in this country.

It's not a swear word.

I'm sure you have used it yourself, so --

...you take together a full public life.

I have been in public office for 16 years.

I will go through your tapes and have a look at some of your commentary --

KERRY O'BRIEN: Feel free, but I'm not aspiring to lead this country.

MARK LATHAM: No, no, but you're leading a fine current affairs program.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I'm glad to eventually have you on it.

MARK LATHAM: I'm very pleased to be here and let's keep talking about the Australian language.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Someone who has known you very well says this has all been a calculated act on your part, what you apparently call controlled aggression ... although the taxi driver wasn't exactly controlled.

But the taxi driver aside, is that right, it's all a bit of calculated attention getting?

One thing that tends to happen in public life is that the media will put a simple label on someone.

MARK LATHAM: I used to be a maverick backbencher and then I got the bovver boy tag.

You move through responsibilities.

I'm like anybody else, I'm complex, multidimensional.

I don't live my life in a simplistic way.

Sometimes I drop a clanger, sometimes I make a mistake other times I get it right.

I'm not different to anyone else in that regard.

If you want me to be some predictable, orthodox, white bread politician, that is not Mark Latham.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I think the media, at least, will appreciate you the way you are Mark Latham.

MARK LATHAM: You're having fun, Kerry, that's the thing, you're having the fun.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've certainly given me plenty of material to work with.

MARK LATHAM: I've given you a couple of days to work it through.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Hopefully, next time, we can talk about policy when you're getting some of those down the pipeline, but for now thanks very much for talking with us.

MARK LATHAM: It is a pleasure, thank you, Kerry.

I've had more fun watching Australian politics in the last week than I've had for a long, long time. It's extraordinary how a single week suddenly has the coalition looking like a tired, silly government. Their latest, attacking Latham as a divorcee and relying on recriminations from his first wife, is the lowest of the low and unlikely to stop them bottoming out.

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