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Tag Archives: Mark Latham

The Verdict

Last night I had the misfortune to catch an episode of The Verdict on Channel 9 and I was appalled, not only by Karl Stefanovic’s poor hosting skills which see panelists all speaking over the top of each other while Mark Latham shouts his barroom opinions incessantly, but by the absolute rubbish they confidently espouse.

Michelle Payne’s comments about chauvinism after winning the Melbourne Cup led to a discussion about the gender disparity in sport which sees women paid far less than men, not having access to commonly held workplace entitlements, and women’s sport receiving very little coverage in the media.

Some boofy footballer said there’s nothing chauvinistic about it, he just doesn’t like watching netball or basketball. Because that’s all women play, right?

Mark Latham said the fact of the matter is that, if the men’s cricket team played the women’s team they would flog them. Men are stronger, get over it.

A journalist said sport’s a business and because more people want to watch the men, that’s what will be telecast. Which completely ignores the lack of marketing for female sports and the value of their achievements.  Sport has just become something for TV execs to fight over.

Amanda Vanstone suggested it was just genetics.  She feels sport is a display of strength and men aren’t interested in watching strong women.  They choose their partners by who they want to have sex with and who they want to mother their children.  Women, on the other hand, want a strong man to protect them.  Simple.

I should have turned off then and there but an interview with Albo was coming up so I thought I would hang in – a bad choice.

The discussion turned to Victorian schools who will soon have access to a new feminism curriculum called “Fightback”, created by Fitzroy High School’s Feminist Collective, a group started by teacher Briony O’Keeffe and some of her students in 2013.

The Feminist Collective started as lunchtime sessions on feminism, and turned into an elective offered twice a week. The classes became a safe place for young feminists to vent.

The students were angry that good friends were falling victim to eating disorders; that white middle class men dominated their reading lists; that objectifying images of girls they knew were circulating on Facebook; and that they were being branded “feminazis” on social media.

The response to this was facile and predictable – there is no place in our schools for that sort of stuff; they should all be doing more maths and science; it’s up to the families.

Had they done any research, they would have found that a recent National Community Attitudes towards Violence Against Women Survey showed younger men, particularly those aged between 16-25, are more likely to hold attitudes that support violence.

The course, which has been aligned with the Victorian curriculum, and is aimed at male and female secondary students, includes about 30 lessons on systemic sexism, the objectification of women, and the link between gender inequality and violence against women.

Students taking the course are asked to reflect on their experience of objectification, compare images of famous men and women in the media, deconstruct sexist cartoons, and debunk “hairy armpit” myths about feminists.

They explore the term “patriarchy”, and examine statistics on the gender wage gap, violence against women, and female representation in sport.

If I was teaching it, I would include a discussion on how men are treated in child custody cases as well because that is one area where males are often subject to gender-based discrimination.

The woman who devised the course said the boys in the class initially found the experience confronting.

“It’s like when you understand that you’re privileged because you’re a white person – you didn’t choose it, there’s nothing you can do about it, but you have [privilege] nonetheless – and it’s a confronting thing to know how [you] are supposed to feel about it.”

I found this a very pertinent analogy which could lead to discussions about Indigenous disadvantage, the pros and cons of positive discrimination, same sex marriage, and how feminism is not just about women but about equality.

With our growing focus on the importance of literacy and STEMM subjects, it is worth remembering that young people spend far more of their waking hours at school than they do with their parents. There are also discussions that young people may be hesitant to have with their families.  Teachers have a great responsibility to not only teach their subject matter, but to help young people become productive, well-rounded, emotionally secure adults who can contribute to a cohesive society.  Life isn’t all about maths.

 

Note: Regular panel member psychologist Sandy Rea and guest Indira Naidoo both tried to inject some sanity into the discussion.  Sadly they were shouted down and interrupted every time they tried to speak.

 

Domestic violence and the bourgeoisie

In the last few weeks two rather disparate male journalists, Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper and Mark Latham, late of the Australian Financial Review, have observed that the current orthodox position on domestic violence against women and children holds that domestic violence can affect any woman, in any demographic, and is not socioeconomically determined.

Both men contest that position, arguing instead that women living in poverty are disproportionately vulnerable to domestic attacks, and that current opinion is based on the erroneous belief that patriarchal notions of male domination, entitlement and privilege (otherwise known as rape culture) are the cause of violence against women.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the concept of so-called rape culture as the sole cause of violence against women, but neither do I agree that violence against women is predominantly determined by socioeconomic conditions.

What I find interesting is that two white middle class males have within weeks of each other put forward the argument that middle class women are significantly less subject to domestic violence perpetrated by intimate partners than are less affluent women. It’s interesting because feminists have spent the last few decades struggling to expose middle class violence, and it has been a far more difficult exposure than one might at first imagine.

Both Latham and McKenzie-Murray point to statistics to support their view, however, neither explores the possibility that domestic violence is quite likely underreported by middle class women. Without even trying, I can think of a wealth of examples of women and children living middle class lives, all of whom have endured or are enduring violence perpetrated by intimate partners and who have not, and will not, report the crime to police.

The middle class life has long been associated with denial and repression, and a pathological dedication to privacy, all of which are designed to build a wall of silence intended to keep things in the family. The common prescription is to refrain from airing dirty family linen in public. To transgress these bourgeois norms is to commit a social crime that is not readily forgiven or forgotten by peers. If you doubt me, reflect how only very recently have we begun to hold institutions and public figures to account for decades of sexual transgressions against children, and how so many offenders got away with it because it was wicked of them to say bad things about that good kind man. Why, even our Prime Minister appears in court to provide character references for paedophile priests!

It’s perfectly possible to account for domestic violence as both a socioeconomic issue, and a product of male privilege and entitlement. There is also, as McKenzie-Murray points out, the criminological aspect of domestic violence, which acknowledges the individual pathologies of perpetrators. Surely, if we are to have any chance at all of halting this epidemic we have to address all possible contributing factors?

I am uncertain why this argument that ostensibly pits the middle class woman against the less affluent in terms of their comparative rates of suffering, has suddenly emerged. I don’t think it’s a good sign. For far too long domestic violence was framed as an us and them problem: consigned to the poor, to Indigenous communities, far removed from the middle class whom, it was unquestioningly assumed, did not behave like that.

What we ought to be doing is making it easier for middle class women to come out of the closet about our experiences of family violence, not advocating a caste system of suffering based on socioeconomic factors. Domestic violence and violence against women is not an us and them situation, however comforting that delusion might be to some. It’s alarming to note the beginnings of a swing back to that delusion, after so many years of feminist efforts to escape it.

In the interests of fairness I disclose that I grew up in a professional family whose male head, a doctor, perpetrated unspeakable violence on its members.

This article was first published on No Place For Sheep.

 

Mark Latham: “The Political Bubble”

In this hard-hitting analysis of Australian democracy, the political parties that inhabit it, and other important components necessary for its existence, Mark Latham leaves the reader with an “if only” thought to reflect on.

That’s what I did before writing my piece Seriously, Is Our Democracy Stuffed?

If only we could look beyond our party affiliations and see that our democracy is in deep trouble.

Latham does so, and along the way gives his own party a decent serve, particularly its inability to construct an effective climate change debate based on factual evidence. He persuasively argues that to put the case where people saw it as weather, rather than climate, was wrong and he forensically reasons the way it should have been debated. In the process he takes apart people like Andrew Bolt and others who can only ever argue from a position of limited knowledge and say that “environmentalism” is a code-word for “socialism”.

The chapter on climate change will madden both sides but provides a good analysis of why the issue has degenerated in recent years.

There are a number of single issues that he addresses like the attacks on Gillard, (a whole chapter) the role of the media and its declining ethics, and the cult of personality. He does so with considerable gusto calling a spade a spade, not sparing a thought for the niceties of diplomacy.

Richard Fergusion of The Australian:

In true Latham fashion, a lot a space in this book is devoted to ripping apart old enemies and sneering at opponents. It’s a shame because under the rage and the bile and what looks at times like pure hatred, he does articulate a manifesto for governance that may intrigue people with a love of politics, even if it sometimes lacks coherence.

As I said Latham writes with a degree of straightforwardness but never indulges in hatred. But then Fergusion writes for Murdoch press so one would expect a degree of perfunctory mockery.

However the central tenet of his highly readable observations is that people have lost their trust in the system. That trust has collapsed.

He reckons that the average punter has turned off to the spin cycle, the hyperbole and manufactured outrage of people like Pyne and Abbott. The partisan politics that has nothing to do with the common good.

“Australians once trusted the democratic process. While we got on with our lives, we assumed our politicians had our best interests at heart.”

When Abbott came to power he promised to restore trust in Australian politics. At the launch of a book by Paul Kelly he said when asked about the state of our democracy.

“It’s not the system which is the problem, it is the people who from time-to-time inhabit it. Our challenge at every level is to be our best selves.”

The assumption in the answer was now that Labor, and in particular Rudd and Gillard were out of the system democracy would right itself. Nathan contends and illustrates that it is indeed Abbott as opposition leader and now Prime Minister who, by his actions and policies, has made the major contribution in the corruption of our democracy.

“Tony Abbott promised to restore trust in Australian politics but, as with most of his promises, it was dispensable.”

Still Latham maintains that both sides of politics are guilty of inflated or broken promises that only contribute to voter disillusionment. He concludes that the disillusionment with major party politics had given way to contempt, and leaders must adapt to a new reality: a more self-reliant, affluent and educated community that was less trusting of institutions, sick of old-style politics, and more attuned to the scourge of “spin”.

"We are witnessing a major disruption in democratic practice" (Mark Latham. Image from 3aw.com.au)

“We are witnessing a major disruption in democratic practice” (Mark Latham. Image from 3aw.com.au)

Latham says governments across the western world are struggling to deliver improvements for their people, with technological change and globalisation neutering traditional policy areas. In Australia the delegation of utility pricing to independent regulatory bodies and the advent of national competition policy has further reduced the role of government in economic settings.

“We are witnessing a major disruption in democratic practice”, Latham writes. “The formal structures of politics still function by their traditional rules and conventions, while the people they supposedly represent have moved on to a new world of self-reliance and institutional distrust.”

For all his criticism of the system and the people who inhabit it Latham doesn’t shy away from solutions. He lists 10 proposals for change that include the introduction of voluntary voting, on the basis it could force parties to develop policy ideas that captured public imagination, along with caps on election spending, transparency measures to expose meetings between lobbyists and ministers, and expansion of community ballots to widen input into the selection of candidates.

His 10 proposals for change include a prescription for arresting voter apathy – “the cycle of apathocracy” – is based on the belief that Australia “will never return to an era of mass membership politics and democratic participation”. Instead, party politics should be brought into line with public expectations: “less obtrusive, less grandiose, less pretentious.”

This is a most serious subject and this book is worthy of a considered read. It guarantees to please those like me who are in agreement with his premise that our political system has lost the trust of the people. It won’t please those with a right to rule mentality and for those who sit on the fence it might provide some answers to the ‘’what if’’ question.

If you want to read the 10 proposals click here.

‘A brilliant analysis of Australia in the era of Tony Abbott and fanatical right-wing politics.’ ROBERT MANNE

Author Information:

Mark Latham was the Federal Member for Werriwa from 1994 to 2005, becoming Leader of the Labor Party in 2003. Prior to entering Federal Parliament, he spent seven years on Liverpool Council in south-west Sydney. He is the author of eight other books, including The Latham Diaries (2005) and Not Dead Yet (2013).

Since leaving politics, Mark Latham has been a columnist for the Australian Financial Review and worked on radio and television as a political commentator. He lives in outer-south-west Sydney with his wife Janine and their three children.

Black Swans and Narratives

Black Swan

Photo: Fairfax media

We’re natural story making machines. We like to give our universe a sense of order and reason, so when something happens, we like to create a plausible narrative on this. Of course, sometimes the narrative is just plain wrong, but if enough people repeat it, it seems to make sense.

For example, many people have talked about “that handshake” as being the defining moment in the 2004 election. Mark Latham’s aggressive handshake with John Howard made the electorate think of him as a bully and not controlled enough to be PM. Of course, this completely overlooks the fact that the handshake probably had little effect on the vast majority of the electorate. If a mistake by Howard or one of his front bench had led to a Latham victory, then commentators would be suggesting that the handshake was the moment where Latham defined himself as a younger, more appealing candidate and made Howard look old and past it.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, “The Black Swan” talks about the dangers of retrospective analysis. He argues “almost all consequential events in history come from the unexpected—yet humans later convince themselves that these events are explainable in hindsight.” That we, for example, respond as though the events leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union were obvious and Reagan’s decisions were part of a brilliant strategy.

Apple’s resurgence under Steve Jobs is well documented. With Jobs’ death, Apple may continue to thrive or may be overtaken by a more creative company. Whatever, the narrative may have Jobs as the guru who was irreplaceable, as someone who imposed such a strong culture that Apple continues to thrive or even as someone whose importance was exaggerated. With hindsight, one of those will be an obvious narrative, but which will it be? That’s the interesting question.

And so with Labor’s leadership change. Will the media begin to speculate about a Turnbull challenge if the polls are poor?

A few people have suggested that Shorten has done himself no favours. Of course, that may well be the case. In five years time – if anyone cares – we may be writing that Shorten destroyed his chances of ever being PM when he publicly backed Rudd. But there are many potential narratives. If Rudd goes close or wins (amazing!), then Shorten will be able to paint his “difficult decision” as what saved the ALP from an electoral wipeout. Rather than be the pariah, he can be the “hero” of the narrative. His ambition is obvious, but whether his decision to back Rudd hinders or helps that decision only time will tell.

At the moment, there is a lot of anger from Gillard supporters. Some feel that Rudd’s negativity and treachery shouldn’t be rewarded. I’ve heard more than one person declare that they’ll never vote Labor again. But when it comes to election day, how many will actually preference the Abbott led Liberals above the ALP? Abbott’s negativity or Rudd’s undermining? Mm, if the Greens don’t get a boost, they may as well give up politics and create a real “Direct Action” plan for the environment.

Rudd may not be the messiah. (“He’s just a naughty boy!”) Last night, Michael Kroger was saying that he was the “worst Prime Minister we’d ever had”! (Where have I heard that before?) He also said that Labor all hated each other. No-one asked him if he’d had lunch with Costello lately, or whether he’d like to provide a reference for Jeff Kennett to take over at Melbourne.

But apart from Kroger, the Liberal’s narrative is now looking more inconsistent than ever. “Rudd was replaced by the ‘faceless men’ – outrageous!” becomes “Rudd was restored by the ‘faceless men’ – outrageous!” Except that in recent ballot it was the actual party that voted for Rudd – no suggestion of external union interference. If anything, the unions backed Gillard.

Similarly, the ad that the Liberals have ready, using quotes from Gillard, Latham, Garrett, Emerson and others, doesn’t quite make sense. Aren’t these the people who the Liberals have told us aren’t worth listening to? But how can they work together? Aren’t these people leaving Parliament? 

Even the idea that Julia lied about the Carbon tax and needs to be punished is being blunted by the media. Headlines like “Rudd’s Revenge” may actually help Labor. I know that they’re not intended to. But for some, it’ll be Rudd who got rid of “that woman”, after Abbott was too ineffectual to do it.

How it actually pans out is guesswork. I’m sure that some of the comments will tell me that they know that Labor are still heading for oblivion and that others will tell me that it’s all ok, now Kevin’s back in charge. And some people will be right, but beware the retrospective narrative. Beware the “Of course, Shorten had to do what he did – he saved them!” or “If only they’d stuck with Julia – it’d have be ok!” Some people have announced with certainty that Labor would be thrown out on September 14th and the Liberals had a countdown clock – neither, whichever way it goes, will be true. (Unless Rudd does hold it on September 14th, and loses badly!).

Gillard has done an extraordinary job, under impossible circumstances; history should be kinder to her than the media criticism over the past few years would suggest. But then no-one ever points out that Whitlam left almost no Government debt. Or that “Blue Poles” is now worth many, many more times what we paid for it.

History, someone once said, is written by the winners. Actually, it’s written by the writers. Let’s make sure that the “official” version is not the only voice being heard.

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