Feb 17, 2005

Adjournment: Mr Mark Latham


17 February 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.49 p.m.) —I rise tonight to pay tribute to the parliamentary career ended prematurely by the ill health of Mark Latham, the member for Werriwa. Mark was elected on 29 January 1994. It was appropriate that he was the member for Werriwa given that his mentor—the great Gough Whitlam—represented that seat with such distinction, including as Prime Minister in the years between 1972 and 1975. Mark Latham’s service federally followed other public service, in particular his service as a local councillor on Liverpool council between 1987 and 1994 and as mayor from 1991.

Mark had humble origins. He was proud of being a `houso’. He never shied away from being the boy from Green Valley. He was a person of ideas. He was a prolific writer. He helped write five books, most notably Civilising global capital: new thinking for Australian Labor. He was a great communicator verbally, and I think this was his greatest asset. He was articulate, clever, incisive, passionate and humorous. He could be tough. He was devastating on his opponents, but he could also be gentle, as he was when he spoke about his mum, and that certainly endeared him to me on a personal level.

I did not always agree with Mark’s views—far from it. We had major disagreements over economic policy and social policy both within and outside the forums of the Australian Labor Party. Mark, however, was always prepared to engage in political debate. He was indeed a great political figure. Whether you agreed with him or not, he always made a difference; you noticed that Mark Latham was there, both within and outside the party.

One of his last public forums was in my electorate of Grayndler, at Leichhardt Town Hall, on Monday, 22 November last year. We sent out invitations. People thought it was rather odd that I was doorknocking just after the election. Some 600 or 700 people filled the hall—we do not know, because it was packed. Many people were turned away. He engaged on a whole range of issues. He took questions from all comers.

I did not vote for him to be leader of the Labor Party. I believed that Kim Beazley was the best prospect to win the prime ministership. But as the leader he certainly set the agenda. He had the Howard government on the run over issues such as parliamentary superannuation and the free trade agreement, where he came up with a clever and principled solution to some of the internal disagreements the Labor Party had of moving amendments to protect the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and to protect our cultural content. In the end, the government had to cave in to a Labor position. He led a principled position in opposition to the Iraq war. I marched with Mark, young Oliver and my family at the demonstration in Sydney where more than a quarter of a million people marched in favour of peace just before that war began.

It is unfortunate that Mark’s career has been cut short by ill health. I wish him, his wife, Janine, and his wonderful two boys, Oliver and Isaac, all the best. Parliamentary life is very hard; it can be particularly hard on people’s health. Mark has made a decision that is in the interests of himself and his family. I am sure that all parliamentarians wish him well.