Shoot The Messenger? I Can Think Of Far Better Ways To Kill Mark Latham

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There are some ‘facts’ that are incontrovertible. For instance, the earth is not flat. It’s also warming.

Another simple fact is that Mark Latham is a master idiot.

He’s been performing the art of idiocy publicly for quite some time now, but I’d venture to say it was quite some time before he scored a gig spewing his special brand of vitriole for the Australian Financial Review.

The best example I can recall of early Latham idiocy was in March 2004, when Latham emerged from his Opposition leader bunker one afternoon to announce that if elected, the ALP would abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the nation’s peak body of service delivery to the most marginalized communities in the nation.

Latham’s public reasoning was that ATSIC was a disgraced, corrupt body.

It certainly had its problems – as all government departments do – but if there’s one thing ATSIC wasn’t, it was corrupt.

At the time, ATSIC had just emerged from its ninth straight unqualified annual audit (by the Australian Government’s own audit office no less), and had been described by various senior government bureaucrats and organisations – such as the Productivity Commission – as having some of the best programs in the Commonwealth.

In private, as we later learned from The Latham Diaries, Latham wasn’t actually concerned about ATSIC itself. He was worried that John Howard was going to try and use Aboriginal issues – specifically the loathed (in the minds of the media) ATSIC – as a wedge in the upcoming election. So Latham thought he’d beat ‘Honest John’ to the punch.

For his part, Howard had been vowing to abolish the body since he was in Opposition, but never quite found the numbers in government. Suddenly, he couldn’t believe his luck.

Howard matched the offer, won the election, and duly axed a landmark organisation that reshaped the way bureaucracies engage with first peoples.

Needless to say, five minutes understanding of where modern-day service delivery to Aboriginal communities is today – the Northern Territory intervention, Noel Pearson’s Cape York Welfare Trials, and the Indigenous Advancement Scheme, for example – explains why I think there’s a strong case to be made for Mark Latham to be hung, drawn and quartered, and his remains strewn throughout the suburbs of Canberra as a warning to other Labor populists.

As history records, Latham left parliament less than a year later after losing the election. The Australian people, it seems preferred a small, racist traditionalist to a large, oafish irrationalist.

Latham was never held to account for his role in the decimation of Aboriginal service delivery, and never will be. Although in fairness, neither has Howard, Mal Brough, Amanda Vanstone or Jenny Macklin for that matter.

But as it turned out, Latham didn’t just hold a deep antipathy towards ‘the blacks’. He also holds some pretty remarkable views on women.

The proof is in the reading, and this particular column – published in June this year and the primer that preceded his demise – is worth remembering.

The headline, ironically, was “Mark Latham argues we are putting women in danger”.

“If one were to play a word game identifying mutually exclusive concepts, it would look something like this: Genocide and Human Rights. Nazism and Compassion. Domestic Violence and Entertainment.

“Readers can imagine my surprise, therefore, in discovering that the Australian of the Year and domestic violence campaigner, Rosie Batty, is listed as a paid speaker with the Keynote Entertainment bureau.”

Rosie Batty, of course, is the current Australian of the Year, and the mother of a child brutally murdered by his father.

With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine Latham’s missive going downhill from there, but somehow, he pulls it off.

“Earlier this month at the National Press Club, Batty launched a new publicly-funded intrusion into the world of independent journalism.

“It’s called the Our Watch Awards, a brazen attempt to make the media adopt feminist dogma in its reporting of family violence.”

How dare they launch a journalism award specifically aimed at acknowledging the reporting of violence against women. What cheek!

And as if to firm up his credentials as the nation’s leading misogynist, Latham decided to go full f*ckwit.

“The root causes of domestic violence are socio-economic. So-called awareness campaigns that seek to change the behaviour of men across the country are a waste of money,” Latham wrote.

“Governments need to target their efforts at a critical, concentrated problem: feral males in feral communities.”

Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty.

Because, of course, men living in wealthier communities don’t bash women.

While I may regret it, for all the toxic shite that Andrew Bolt has peddled in his time with the Herald-Sun, I challenge anyone to point to any single article which is as irresponsible, factually baseless and so utterly pointless as that spewed forth by Latham.

Of course, beating up people terrified by their decline in public relevance doesn’t achieve much. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. So rather than just ‘shooting the messenger’, maybe when coming to contemplate how to combat gutter-scribes like Latham it’s more productive to focus on the ‘other messenger’.

In other words, a more pertinent question might be, ‘Why on God’s green earth did the Fin Review publish Latham – and in particular that column – in the first place?’

As an editor for almost two decades, I can’t for the life of me imagine a piece as vicious and plainly stupid getting past my desk, let alone into print.

There is only one reason why an otherwise respectable publication would publish such drivel: there’s a buck to be made.

Of all the papers in all the land, the AFR had a long history of being reasonably moderately, and a fair step from sensationalist. But increasingly, its parent company Fairfax has adopted a ‘cake and eat it too’ approach to journalism, as Michael Brull recently pointed out in New Matilda.

Fairfax likes to think of its mastheads as the ‘New York Times’ of Australia, but the company increasingly adopts the sort of racist (and sexist) click-bait more closely associated with Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post.

What’s particularly baffling about the Fin’s decision is that Fairfax is home to so many excellent female writers.

In my view, the best journalist in the press gallery is Laura Tingle. Fairfax used to enjoy the stellar work of Michelle Grattan, Lenore Taylor and, even further back, Margot Kingston. It still employs outstanding investigative reporters like Kate McClymont.

So how does a male Fairfax editor – in this case editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury – walk into a room full of powerful women in the morning, knowing what he published the day before?

He must have thick skin, almost as thick as Latham’s skull.

There are several cautionary tales from Latham’s public implosion. The first is that if you employ monkeys, you get peanuts. Or in Latham’s case, if you employ attention-seekers, you get attention seeking.

The other cautionary tale is that you can only employ so many of them before your credibility evaporates.

That’s also an incontrovertible fact.

We look forward to the announcement of Latham’s replacement. Mike Calrton would be a good candidate. Or maybe even Rosie Batty.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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