28/09/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Howard, Latham in shame game

28/09/2004 - 22:00


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Federal election 2004 will be memorable for several reasons, not least, the clash between the Lying Rodent, Prime Minister John Howard’s latest nickname, and the Road Rager, as Liberal Canning MHR, Don Randall, has dubbed Labor leader, Mark Latham.

Federal election 2004 will be memorable for several reasons, not least, the clash between the Lying Rodent, Prime Minister John Howard’s latest nickname, and the Road Rager, as Liberal Canning MHR, Don Randall, has dubbed Labor leader, Mark Latham.

For State Scene, however, it will be remembered as the contest that demonstrated both leaders have absolutely no shame.

In Mr Latham’s case it’s well-know Labor’s upper echelons breath a sigh of relief after each evening’s late news when they know he’s not insulted someone in the way he’s been so prone to do since entering federal politics.

Here are examples of his less salubrious attacks on people he obviously passionately dislikes.

Former Liberal MP, Tony Staley, who had been badly hurt in an automobile crash was described as “that deformed character . . . deformed in every sense of the word”.

Liberal Health Minister Tony Abbott who has publicly defended Australia’s constitutional links with Buckingham Palace was described as “hanging out the backside of the Queen”.

“I’m a hater. Part of the tribalness of politics is to really dislike the other side with intensity. And the more I see of them, the more I hate them”.

Notwithstanding this, the man with a road rage temperament has unveiled something called “Machinery of Government: The Labor Approach” which MPs will be expected to abide by.

And he did so without blushing or a skerrick of embarrassment.

His press release read: “Labor is ready to govern, and we will do so with high standards of integrity and accountability as our guiding principles”.

The document covered issues such as ministerial and, wait for it, parliamentary standards.

So the MP who lowered standards of public behaviour to subterranean levels is now telling voters that MPs will be expected to behave in accordance with standards he’s been involved in setting.


Now although Mr Howard is not prone to publicly insulting adversaries he is a wily operative and does not blush when he is discovered contending one thing one day and quite the opposite the next.

A case in point is his recent call on Liberal MHR for Sydney’s swish Wentworth seat, Peter King, not to recontest it against newly endorsed Liberal Republican Malcolm Turnbull, who snatched Mr King’s endorsement.

“I am sure deep down in his heart Peter King wouldn’t want to see the seat go to the Labor Party,” Mr Howard said.

“Wentworth is not the safe Liberal seat that many people imagine.”

So Mr King was expected to stand aside for banker Mr Turnbull who several senior Labor MPs have claimed made enquiries about gaining ALP endorsement.

But that’s not the crucial point. What’s of interest is Mr Howard’s call for Mr King to depart politics.

To fully appreciate that it’s necessary to look back to the March 1996 federal campaign and focus on two WA Liberal-held seats – swish Curtin and the north-coastal Moore.

In both WA Liberals “did a King” by disendorsing sitting members, Allan Rocher in Curtin and Paul Filing in Moore.

Now, you’d think that with Mr Howard having urged Mr King to stand aside in 2004 he’d perhaps done likewise in 1996.


In neither case did he call on dumped Mr Rocher and Mr Filing to stand aside for the endorsed Liberals.

In Curtin Premier Richard Court’s brother, Ken, had won endorsement.

In Moore it was Paul Stevenage who had previously contested Fremantle for the Liberals and did well considering it has been one of Labor’s safest seats for decades.

For reasons that needn’t be gone into here I followed Moore particularly closely in 1996 and so discovered that the Stevenage campaign team persistently telephoned Liberal Party headquarters in Canberra to ask Mr Howard for a personal endorsement and other help, neither of which ever came.

Both Mr Court and Mr Stevenage felt persona non grata as far as the Howard office was concerned.

Precisely why he took such a hard line against Mr Stevenage remains a mystery.

One theory was that he saw him as aligned to one-time Liberal power-broker Noel Crichton-Browne.

Another was that he saw Mr Filing as a soft Liberal.

The former was baseless since Mr Stevenage hadn’t met then Senator Crichton-Browne before being endorsed and was aligned to former Senator Fred Chaney’s backers who were bitter rivals of Senator Crichton-Browne, during his Fremantle candidacy.

But why let a few facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory?

The second theory was blown sky-high when Mr Filing, after winning Moore as an independent Liberal from Stevenage, promptly teamed up with Mr Howard’s bete noire, Pauline Hanson, another disendorsed Liberal who went on to create One Nation to teach Mr Howard and the Liberals a few lessons.

That post-1996 association almost resulted in Mr Filing becoming One Nation’s key WA organiser.

But the Howard cold shoulder to Mr Court is more easily explained.

Mr Rocher had been a Howard numbers guru during the years Mr Howard was eyeing off the Liberal leadership.

The two even became pals.

So much so that rumors circulated around Parliament House that PM Howard  wanted the now independent Liberal Mr Rocher to be elevated, in 1996, to the prestigious post of House of Representatives Speaker, a job he’d been eyeing off for years.

Now, let’s be clear, there’s nothing morally reprehensible about any of this on Mr Howard’s part.

Nor on Mr Rocher’s or Mr Filing’s parts either.

Maybe they were best for Curtin and Moore.

That said it is worth remembering that voters at the October 1998 election ignominiously dumped both.

Although Mr Filing launched a business to augment his parliamentary pension after his 1998 loss, Mr Rocher was handsomely rewarded with a consular post in Los Angeles.

No-one had ever recorded how members of the longtime WA Liberal Court family reacted on reading that news.

The pertinent point is, of course, why was Mr King pressured by Mr Howard to stand aside when in 1996 he treated two similarly dumped Liberals with kid gloves, one of them even being rewarded with a lucrative overseas job to cap of his parliamentary career.



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