Saturday, March 20, 2004

Did Mark Latham’s family commit welfare fraud?

For a start, I note that the suggestion implicit in this question would ordinarily be strictly of the “gutter journalism” school. I don’t mean it to imply that, even if his family (his parents specifically) illegally accepted taxpayer subsidies, that Mark Latham himself had any part in this – he clearly didn’t. And that, ordinarily, would therefore mean the matter rests where it lies.

Latham’s dad has been dead 25 years, and to the extent that Latham’s father was not the sole, or principle perpetrator of a possible welfare fraud, Latham’s mum (still living) would have considerable mitigating circumstances for having done so, IMO. In addition, Latham’s mum is not, in her own right, a public figure – and this blog has better things to do than selectively highlight the misdemeanours of assorted nobodies.

Despite the above reservations, recent comments made by Mark Latham appear to amply justify his family’s financial circumstances in the 1960s and 70s being a matter of legitimate public interest.

My line of inquiry centres on how Latham’s family obtained, and then lived in for almost two decades, a rent-subsidised (I’m assuming) publicly-owned house at Green Valley, when Latham’s father was in full-time work as a technician with Australia Post* throughout (AFAIK) this period, until his death in 1979. Having worked for Australia Post myself in the early 1980s, I know it to have then been a strongly-unionised and (not surprisingly therefore) quite-well paying organisation. (The shame is I left this to go to uni, and so a life of crappy pay and unemployment ever since!)

Back to Latham, the key question can be refined thus: What was Latham’s family, one of average size at the time (2 adults, 4 kids), doing in subsidised public housing in the first place, given that their principal breadwinner’s wages would have been at least average earnings of the day?

Maybe my assumption that Latham’s father’s job was reasonably paid is incorrect. It is impossible to independently verify this now, especially as Latham himself has been curiously evasive as to even what when his father’s job title was (same URL).

Latham’s evasiveness here is part of an observable pattern. To date, Latham has admitted that his father had a gambling addiction, but has sought to deny that his father also had a drinking problem:

A few offensive things have been written [about his father] but he wasn’t a drunk. A few things get written that he was on the grog – he wasn’t and I can never remember alcohol in the house. There was never alcohol in the house. It wasn’t that.**

Like an overt, boorish homophobe at a party (who is most likely a closet gay), Latham’s recent attacks on dole bludgers and “slackers” are probably subconsciously self-incriminatory. In circuitously denying his father may have had a drinking problem in the above quote, Latham offers only fatuous proof. Of course, few alcoholic, full-time employed middle-aged men of the 1960s and 1970s did any drinking at home. Or gambling either, for that matter. Almost all gambling (then, and slightly less-so now) took place in licensed premises. Further, poker machines – the heroin-ultimate of poly-addicted gamblers (and a thing curiously unmentioned in today’s Australian magazine feature story) – were widespread in Sydney licensed clubs, even in the 1960s.

In the end, I’m not interested in if and whether Latham’s father gambled (or gambled and drank) away an unseemly amount of his earnings. That’s strictly Latham family business. However, if these activities lead to the Latham family going into public housing when they were not ordinarily (= honestly) eligible, then a fraud on the taxpayers has been committed. Despite the presumed main perpetrator of such a fraud being long dead, the public now has a right to know more – both because of Latham’s prime ministerial aspirations, and because Latham seems to now be channelling a murky stain from his private past into a disgraceful, open campaign against un- and McJob- employed GenXers.

* And its predecessor organisation, the PMG

** Christine Jackman “Looking for Mr Latham” The Weekend Australian Magazine 20 March 2004

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