9 Jun 2004, Comments (0)

He isn’t the Messiah, he’s just…

Author: Helen

Tim Dunlop asks:

Has Mark Latham given you any reasons to vote for him?
What are they?

No, he hasn’t really, but I’m very much a member of the ABH (Anyone but Howard) Party, at this stage.

Yes, I agree that substance should always take place over style, and that we shouldn’t vote for the candidates who are most telegenic, handsome, pretty, or stylish. I am suspicious of spin doctors who counsel their employers to be “warm” or “smile more”. That said, JH’s presence on the airwaves-particularly on radio, which I listen to as I drive or cook or do the dishes-is depressing me so much, I feel another three years with that voice coming out of the speakers every day will drive me to drown myself in the detergenty suds. In Howard’s case we know that the voice matches the politician.

Howard’s voice, grey, stuffy and choked back in the throat, is a sad and depressed voice. Perhaps this is natural, as he feels the increased finger-pointing over his many lies and evasions. Perhaps, with so many of his actions, it’s calculated, so that people like me will sympathise with him- an embattled little hero. If so, it isn’t working. I am counting the days until we get rid of that sad, tinny, plodding voice with its weary, over-spun utterances.

It’s not Mark Latham’s virtues that might cause me to vote Labor in the coming election. It’s definitely ABH. And as a Greens sympathiser living in the safe Labor seat of Gellibrand, I’m not likely to put Labor first on my card anyway. (I’m never under the illusion that the Greens would win, but I think it possible that a healthy and growing Green vote will gain some miniscule influence for the good on the bigger parties’ policies.) But let’s just pretend that I’m in a swinging seat and my pencil is poised over a ballot which might actually make a difference one way or another.

Nup… it’s still Anyone But Howard. I can’t bring myself to be enthusiastic or positive about Latham. Take the “Learning or Earning” youth policy he spruiked a few weeks ago. This is the kind of policy which, in the guise of a touchy-feely, youth-directed policy, eagerly embraces punitive measures dear to the heart of older conservatives.

Labor’s “learn or earn” policy is excellent news for Australia’s young people. But it could turn into “learn, earn or burn” unless someone in Labor pours cold water over Latham. The only time the Labor leader springs to life is when he can denounce unemployed people. On the ABC’s 7.30 Report, after his “learn or earn” announcement, Latham enthused about “breaching” – or financially penalising – young people on benefits who failed to “learn or earn” under Labor. “There would be no third option of people sitting around doing nothing,” he said.

Then there was Latham’s trip to the Tasmanian forests, where he soothed the CFMEU by assuring the timber industry that he wouldn’t do anything so silly as to end clearfell old-growth logging before the Tasmanian Government’s derisory deadline of 2010. How he proposes to reconcile this with his support for Peter Garrett’s candidacy as a Labor politician is beyond me.

Mark Latham is at heart a neoliberal who, but for the accident of birth and upbringing (and the political advantage of appealing to the Western Suburbs Battlers) might have felt quite at home in the Liberal party. That’s why any vote from me is just an “Anyone But Howard” vote.

Oh, and the Reading to your Children thing is getting a bit old, too. We need a comprehensive, well funded Early Childhood policy, not two books at tax time. And lay off being such a big hero because you read to your kids; we do, and we didn’t need Mem Fox to write and tell us to.

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