Latham's Law

Latham’s law

31 March 2012

10:00 PM

31 March 2012

10:00 PM

No one could accuse the Queensland Labor Party of over-intellectualising its political tactics.

At a time when academics and commentators have been agonising over the ALP’s identity crisis — the unresolved question of who and what it stands for — the simple folk north of the border have been looking elsewhere. Forget about changing policies or changing leaders. They believe the answer to Labor’s woes can be found in the local real estate window.

The day after Anna Bligh’s wipeout, her predecessor and mentor, Peter Beattie, said that Julia Gillard needed to buy a house in Queensland. I am sure I wasn’t alone in waiting in vain for the punchline to Beattie’s statement. This wacky advice was repeated by the Federal Member for Blair, Shayne Neumann, who said he could put Gillard in touch with ‘a good real estate agent in Ipswich’.

Given the Prime Minister’s habit of breaking election promises, she would fit in perfectly with Queensland’s real estate agents, the remnants of the white shoe brigade. The state’s used car dealers and snake-oil salesmen would also feel comfortable in fetching a cup of sugar from the Real Julia next door. Always ready to seize a PR opportunity, Gillard’s staff could pitch her story to Selling Houses Australia as the ultimate real estate transition: the nation’s leading citizen selling out of an old, rundown bungalow in Deakin ACT and upgrading to the concrete-rendered, sand-swept delights of Maroochydore.

But why stop there? If a leader domiciled in Queensland is such an electoral advantage, why not a constituency in the sunshine state? Gillard should claim Labor’s safest federal seat as her own. Upon checking the pendulum, I have identified the perfect target: the electorate of Griffith. The sitting member has had his troubles of late, variously described by his colleagues as a ‘psychopath’, ‘prima donna’, ‘dysfunctional bully’ and someone ‘who does not hold any Labor values’. Surely this ALP misfit could not survive a preselection challenge from the PM. It looks like another job for the faceless men.


Neumann’s fellow Queenslander Graham Perrett shot to fame last year with his promise to resign if Kevin Rudd returned to the Labor leadership. He also has some interesting ideas about Labor’s electoral revival, telling the Australian on Tuesday:

The Mormons don’t phone you. You’ve got to knock on doors and look people in the eyes if we’re to have any chance.

Most people, of course, duck for cover when they realise the Mormons are coming down the street — turning off the TV and jumping behind the couch. One feels Labor’s candidates, especially an oddity like Perrett, will receive a similar reception when they go doorknocking at the next federal election. ‘Hello, anybody there?’

I can hear him calling from the front porch, ‘I’m not a Mormon, I’m Graham Perrett, a Labor Member of Parliament.’

Another real estate expert is Paul Howes, the Trotskyist turned right-wing ALP union chief. Last year he ‘bet his house that Julia Gillard will lead Labor to the next election’. Howes is an example of the Labor movement entering a twilight zone of political delusion. In October he declared:

With Newspoll trending upwards for Labor, momentum is now a factor. Don’t forget that as recently as May [2011] Labor was leading the coalition on a two-party preferred basis. Those voters are still out there and they’re coming back to Labor … [our] numbers are climbing and that’s what those in the game like to call momentum.

A month later, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he again took succour in the Newspoll numbers:

The dramatic improvement in Julia Gillard’s personal ratings provided a much needed shot in the arm for a Prime Minister who can no longer be described as ‘embattled’. At the end of the parliamentary year, the PM can look back on a year of enormous achievement … On all the major issues of the year, Tony Abbott was the loser. It must be depressing for him.

With predictions like these, Howes will soon need Neumann’s real estate agent, as he searches for a new place to live. Twelve months ago in NSW, Labor polled 24 per cent of the primary vote. Last Saturday it recorded 27 per cent in Queensland, as its parliamentary representation was reduced to the size of a rugby sevens team.


On Tuesday, Howes’ favoured measure of public opinion had the Gillard government at 28 per cent of the primary vote and the Coalition at 47. One rather detects a pattern at play. The Labor base has dissolved, replaced by an upwardly mobile, aspirational class with no emotional or economic connection to a trade union-based party. Once Labor starts lying to the public about financial issues, as Gillard did with her carbon tax, it is inviting electoral annihilation. Gillard cannot possibly lead the ALP to the next election for the simple reason she will be slaughtered.

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