Latham's Law

Latham’s law

5 February 2011

11:00 AM

5 February 2011

11:00 AM

Forget the bellowing absurdity of Oprah, the true saviour of our tourism industry is Western Australia’s sunshine.

Forget the bellowing absurdity of Oprah, the true saviour of our tourism industry is Western Australia’s sunshine. With the eastern seaboard a wipeout this summer, my family headed west and enjoyed our best-ever holiday. It takes longer and costs more in airfares, but once there, the sun’s rays are guaranteed. The last time it rained in Perth in January, Wilson Tuckey was president of the Young Liberals.

Another summertime tradition: cheering against Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open. His hyper-gestures and silly ‘Come On’ calls rank him with the blowfly as a New Year’s nuisance. He lost me in 2001 with his abuse of a dark-skinned linesman for supposedly favouring Hewitt’s dark-skinned opponent, James Blake. Nationalistic barracking in sport can be a wonderful thing, but one needs to draw the line at Little Lleyton. Thankfully, in this year’s tournament, the gritty Argentine David Nalbandian eliminated him in the first round. Regrettably, the great JA, John Alexander, was also absent from the big matches, a victim of political success. As the newly elected member for Bennelong he is no longer part of Channel Seven’s commentary team. His insightful views are badly missed. So ‘Come On’ Labor, win back Bennelong and restore JA to his proper place in Australian public life: the tennis commentary booth.

Tony Abbott has announced a policy to build more dams as an answer to flooded rivers. Only one problem: behind their walls, dams cause the permanent flooding of rivers. Humankind thinks it can outsmart nature but, ultimately, nature always wins. Just as people who choose to live next to forests end up with burned homes, people who decide to live next to rivers end up with flooded homes. Instead of prohibiting development in flood zones, the intervention of the state has created a new form of moral hazard. With her flood tax, Julia Gillard is forcing people sensible enough to live in flood-free areas to subsidise those who built their homes near rivers. In Brisbane’s case, these waterside developments ignored the lessons of the 1974 floods. The new tax simply encourages more property greed in Queensland. Riverside construction can continue apace, knowing that when the waters rise, the rest of the country will pick up the bill.

The media has enjoyed a feeding frenzy on Gillard’s wooden style in dealing with the floods. At one level, it is hard to blame her. Is there a worse way of spending one’s summer than traipsing around the sodden streets of Brisbane, visiting a sea of Hawaiian shirts and hotpants? The poor woman was bored witless. That’s the problem with modern political leadership. It requires empathy, or at least the appearance of empathy for the TV cameras. High-quality actors like Bob Hawke and Peter Beattie were well-suited to the challenge. B-grade performers like Gillard are easily caught out. I put this down to two factors. First, she is reading off the wrong script. When Gillard and Kevin Rudd took over Labor’s leadership positions in late 2006 they tried to adopt a reliable, risk-free public persona — or as Rudd put it, playing the role of ‘Captain Reasonable’. This means avoiding displays of emotion and real-life temperament. Gillard, in effect, has become a one-trick pony, with a carefully measured media style, bordering on the robotic, even when circumstances require something more freewheeling. Perhaps the real Julia and the fake Julia should swap roles. Even if this were to occur, however, the real Julia is still a fairly dry fish. She is not a naturally empathetic person – displaying, for instance, noticeable discomfort around infant children. The femocrats will not like this statement, but I believe it to be true: anyone who chooses a life without children, as Gillard has, cannot have much love in them.

At last, a burst of hope in Australia’s economic debate. Traditionally, when rent-seekers have crawled out from under their rocks and urged protectionist policies, they have won the PR campaign and the attention of government. Consumer interests have been too fragmented and dispersed to fight back. Not anymore. Gerry Harvey’s campaign to tax online shopping was so appalling it provoked a consumer backlash. Like all protectionists, Harvey cast his argument in terms of preserving Australian jobs. Like all protectionists, he only invests in Australian jobs when its suits him commercially. Over many years, he has used his retail profits to buy and breed racehorses in New Zealand. Imagine his outrage if governments imposed a tax on the international movement of thoroughbreds.

It is never a good look when a newspaper changes its story. Five weeks ago the Australian claimed it was asked to hire me ‘when a deal was being negotiated for Latham to cover [the] federal election for the Nine Network and Sky News’. Now it has admitted the Nine Network was not involved. As for Sky News, the Australian’s error is easy to spot: I started at Sky the day after Labor’s leadership coup in June, well before the election campaign.

While on matters Australian, read the words of its contributing editor on 8 December 2010: ‘Julia Gillard has ended the year the way she would like … She is an asset rather than a liability for her party.’ And the same editor on 24 December: ‘The Labor party has ended the year at a remarkable low … The government won’t be able to pull itself out of the quagmire it is in.’ No wonder they call him Peter Van Oscillator.

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