The Latham Book of Quotations

According to the website of Mark Latham’s book of quotations A Conga Line of Suckholes:

Mark Latham was the Federal Member for Werriwa from 1994 to 2005. He was Leader of the Labor Party between 2003 and 2005. Mark Latham is the author of The Latham Diaries and five other books on Australian public policy, including Civilising Global Capital and From the Suburbs. He lives in the outer suburbs of Sydney with his wife and two children.

But if you don’t know that you’re unlikely to be interested in this eccentric collection. Virtually all the good quotes (with the exception of a few from Menzies, Whitlam and Keating) and many more besides can be found in international collections like Antony Jay’s Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations. The main interest in Conga Line is what it says about its author.

Latham’s old obsession with a fellow deeply flawed and complex politician, Richard Nixon, is on full display. In 223 pages there are 37 quotes by or about Nixon, a dozen more than Jay fits into 400 pages. Curiously, several of the Nixon quotes are about his extraordinary durability in the face of large setbacks. You can’t imagine Nixon voluntarily chucking it all in the way Latham did in January 2005 (though they both turned to book writing to fill in their retirement years).

Another theme that comes up more than once is not letting your enemies get the better of you. One, from Barry Humphries, is on the back cover: ‘Don’t let your enemies dwell rent-free in your head’. And then, under ‘Hatred’, another Nixonism: ‘Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.’ It’s sound advice, in itself, but not actually the wisdom a pyromaniacal bridge burner like Latham needed to read most, which would be to forgive a little more, so that you don’t end need to avoid enemies living in your head. I’m sure I was not the only person who found this part of Latham’s appearance on Andrew Denton’s interview show sad and misguided:

Continue reading “The Latham Book of Quotations”

The stalemated school choice debate

The compilers of the IPA Review 13 biggest mistakes list think that it is impossible to even trial a genuine parental choice system, where the money follows the pupil. Leaving aside the dispute over whether federal private school funding contributed to this situation, they may well be right to be pessimistic.

We can say two reasonably clear things about public opinion on schools.

The first is that private schools are generally seen as ‘better’ in various ways. With nearly a third of students already at private schools, obviously there is considerable revealed preference to that effect. Thousands of dollars paid every year are more convincing than any answer to an opinion pollster, but the polls back up those actions and add more. The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes has twice, in 2003 and 2005, asked its respondents to agree or disagree with the proposition that ‘private schools offer better education than public schools’. On each occasion, about half have agreed and a quarter disagreed.

Back in 1994, a Saulwick poll asked if its resondents had children, and money was no object, would they send their child to a private school? 58% said yes. Among respondents with children actually at a government school, 45% said they would choose a private school, suggesting a large minority would like a voucher that they could use at a school of their choosing. Ten years later, in 2004, an ACNielsen poll for the SMH (some information here, but the page is dysfunctioning) found that 34% of government school parents would not choose a government school if the cost of the alternatives was the same. Again, we could infer a constituency for vouchers here. Put together the parents who have already taken their kids to private schools and the parents who would like to and there is probably a small majority for proper school choice.

But the second thing we know about public opinion on schools casts doubt on that conclusion. This is that ALP/Australian Education Union campaigns on school funding have had an impact. When asked to agree or disagree with the proposition that ‘public schools receive less than their fair share of the education budget’, 3 polls in 2003, 2004 and 2005 came up with almost exactly the same result of nearly two-thirds agreement. Perhaps this just means that they think government schools should get more without private schools getting less. But in a 2004 Saulwick poll, 40% rejected the idea that paying taxes entitled parents to any financial assistance for sending their kids to a private school (though this was 11 percentage points down on 2001). So there is considerable scepticism about increasing funding for private schools.

The seems to be a stalemate here. There is too much support for the existing private schools for the left to achieve its goal of an entirely state-controlled system. But there also seems to be too much opposition to further funding of private schools to give all parents choice. Private school enrolments are likely to continue growing, aided by federal government policy and greater affluence meaning more parents can satisfy their underlying preferences. But unless their kids are bright enough to get scholarships, many poorer parents will just have to take their chances with the state system.