Brisbane must be feeling very special this week. Two major political events in less than a week no less!
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day but just a tad windy along the foreshore of Brissy’ sprawling Southbank. I reckon the Sunshine state will have attention-deficit syndrome after the election campaign’s over. I doubt if the voters in Queensland have felt so important and so loved by the nation’s political leaders since Federation.
But then Queensland holds the keys to power in this election; the Coalition needs to hold on to their seats and Labor needs to win big here. If all the major parties were being really honest with themselves, they’d admit nobody has a clue how the votes in the State’s marginals will fall next weekend.
So, the Labor Leader and his tribe came-a-calling to see if he could convince the punters that he’s the man for the top job.
Griffith University’s Conservatorium of Music was buzzing. The party planners had been up and busy since before dawn to work through any glitches. It seemed the organisers weren’t going to leave anything to chance judging by the pic in the Sydney Morning Herald that morning: Latham and wife Janine were snapped practicing the obligatory post speech hug – talk about events being scripted!
Early on it became obvious that the true believers had all been given a bit of red cordial “ the energy was bouncing round the room. The eyes of the faithful were shining with excitement, they couldn’t wait to get the show started. The scene reminded me of hundreds of adoring sweet young things waiting for a rock star.
They were all there, a who’s who of the Labor party: the great man Gough, the other great man PJK, the premiers, the union bosses, the real rock star Peter Garrett, the kingmaker and puppet-master Laurie Brereton, the entire front bench. It went on and on “ a very impressive roll call. But most importantly, Latham’s mum.
It was a far better choice of venue than the Coalition’s launch and there was a lot more spontaneous clapping. Unlike Lib and Nat supporters, this audience didn’t need obvious prompting. This was a much better show all round, kicking off with party President, Carmen Lawrence, who was finally let out of her box by party bosses. I mean where has Carmen been over the past four and half weeks? They weren’t hiding her away were they? Surely not.
Peter Beattie was MC and did a sterling job. The Queensland premier is a terrific frontman who speaks simply and sincerely. And just quietly he looked much happier than at any time in the past week, after the pounding he’s taken over the suicide of Energex boss Greg Maddock.
In a refreshing change, it was wonderful to hear from the dutiful but largely silent wife. Janine Lacy was a revelation. Gone was the startled deer caught in the headlights look she had at January’s ALP conference. The Leader’s ‘partner in life’ appeared confident and polished. Whilst her speech was over-rehearsed, she delivered it well. Probably wanting to diffuse much of the negative publicity surrounding his personal life, Janine was there to not just stand by, but stand up, for her man.
The star of the show entered to rapturous clapping and cheering. An inspired choice of music, the Hunters and Collectors – Do you see what I see – ushered Latham into the auditorium. There he made a bee-line for his mentor, Gough Whitlam, enthusiastically embracing him in amongst the throng.
And what did we see?
An absolute show-stopper is what we saw. In fact Latham may have bought himself a one-way trip to the Lodge on the back of Australia’s senior citizens with a gem of an idea: Medicare Gold.
Just a few days ago I lamented Howard’s lack of goodies for his strongest support base the over 65’s. Post-launch Liberal party polling was telling hard heads they might have miscalculated. The grey voters, a very discerning mob, were a little unhappy that the PM had not delivered anything for them last Sunday, beyond targeting some dementia-focused community care measures. At the time, I believed our senior citizen Prime Minister would regret it. In hindsight, I was probably understating that case. Coalition strategists would have been quietly choking in their Melbourne election bunker yesterday afternoon.
Costed at just under $3 billion Latham, Medicare Gold will ensure that every senior citizen will be able to get a hospital bed when they need one, public or private. Labor will take on responsibility for the hospital care of everyone over 75 years of age. According to Latham this will make private health insurance unnecessary for oldies, and incredibly Labor is guaranteeing that insurance premiums will drop by at least 12 per cent – a very, very big call. There will also be quarterly indexing for pensions, translating into an extra $5 weekly for singles and $8 for couples. An extra $20 a week will go to grandparents who have primary care and responsibility of children.
Latham reiterated many of the announcements he’s made since the campaign began. Even though Treasury is yet to sign off on Labor’s family-tax package now it’s finally been submitted, Labor estimates yesterday’s new promises will cost a total of $3.7 billion.
Latham’s themes were fairness, aspiration and participation. Latham also assured us all Labor’s pledges were fully costed and fully funded (but then they always say that!).
There were some clever lines: ‘Mr Howard, too, has a simple goal: he wants the electorate to help him beat Bob Hawke in the Guinness Book of Records’ and ‘I’m ready to lead. He’s ready to leave’. Latham has an uncanny knack for coming up with savvy yet highly personal barbs and sledges, and he wheeled out a number of them during his speech.
Thankfully there wasn’t too much ‘Ease the Squeeze’, but he did constantly hark back to his own personal experience and upbringing. The hypocrisy of Latham in this respect is acute, considering his continued pleas for the media to ‘leave his family alone’, while he shamelessly uses them in political propaganda. And yes, I’m sure the Lathams do have a whacking great mortgage, as we were proudly told, but they’re not doing too badly in the scheme of things because Mark and Janine also own an investment property in Queanbeyan where Latham stays when he’s in Canberra. Hmmm, perhaps the less said about that the better? Doesn’t quite fit the storyline.
Towards the end of his speech Latham’s voice started to crack with emotion as he lauded his mother, sitting proudly in the front row, and spoke of his love for his wife and children who had helped make him a ‘better man’ “ Amen to that.
Overall Labor’s launch was more entertaining, slicker, and mercifully shorter than the Coalition’s. Latham’s performance was significantly better than the Prime Minister’s on Sunday. While Howard was determined and spirited (at least for him) and jangled a sack of gold in front of the electorate, he does not have Latham’s ability to reach out to the common man.
Latham wrote most of the speech himself, something he prefers to do for big events, and his language was peppered with words like respect, reward, opportunity, and fair go “ words that reach out and connect with punters.
Latham was pumped post speech, immediately jumping on the phone to accept well-wishes. There were some in the audience for whom it was all too much, and they spoke of ‘the Leader’ as though they’d had a semi-religious experience. The press gallery was impressed – and believe me its hard to impress that lot, who think they’ve seen it all – they are sure to give Latham a much easier ride than they did after the launch of the Family-Tax Package a few weeks back.
A possible small blip on the horizon in the coming days will be Labor’s policy to save Tassie’s forests which he promised to deliver shortly. He needs to snare more votes on the mainland and here he seems to be targeting the so-called ‘doctors’ wives’ vote. Labor strategists were waiting to see if Howard would follow through with an announcement after initially flagging a ban on logging in old growth forests. They were hoping they wouldn’t have to say anything at all, but it appears they now believe Howard has nothing left in the kitty for Tasmania, and have decided they are prepared to sacrifice Michelle O’Byrne in Bass to secure more mainland votes and importantly more Greens preferences. As a result, Latham will no doubt incur the wrath of a man many characterise as the greatest bully and grub in Australian politics, the Apple Isle’s Labor premier Paul Lennon, but that may be no bad thing.
Most of Australia will not see what I saw yesterday, beyond a snippet on the evening news, and the papers will not be able to convey what a mighty performance Latham gave. But mighty he was, and the party faithful were delirious. Labor is so close to victory they can smell it. Those older Australians to whom Mark Latham says we all owe a huge debt of gratitude may just well hand Labor victory – that’s if they’re prepared to believe him.
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