So Mark Latham has trumped Beasley to become the new leader of the Australian opposition. I’d like to share some thoughts.

Firstly, anyone that calls John Howard an arse licker, and states that George W. Bush “is the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory” gets my attention. Whether or not he gets my vote remains to be seen.

One thing, though, is that I am suddenly excited about Australian politics again. For the past 12 months I have watched the deputy opposition leader on TV more than the leader himself, and when the leader has spoken it has been less than inspiring. And the thought of Beazley taking the top spot again really had me worried.

I get the feeling that Latham is coming to office with a fresher perspective, a bit of new blood. And his penchant for saying what he means (which is often what the public is thinking) is a refreshing change. I was honestly disappointed to see a statement in a BBC report yesterday that “has promised to tone down his plain speaking”. You know what – I think the Australian people want some plain talk. Cut through the BS and say it like it is. I hope he doesn’t completely shut down.

There are, of course, some dilemmas.

Firstly, he won the leadership by a slim margin. This has the potential to cause party-room conflict. I hope that there were a large number of fence sitters amongst Beazley’s supporters who will now get behind the new leader. However, knowing politicians, this won’t be the case. I just hope they can pull their head in and realise that, if there is any chance of a Labor victory at the next election, they need to support the new leadership team once it takes shape.

Secondly, the press are having a field day with Latham’s prior outbursts and actions. This is positive, in one respect, because Latham is not particularly well known by the general public, and as they say any publicity is good publicity – to a point. I hope that soon policy announcements will take the place of the punditry (ok, so perhaps I’m dreaming here), because I think that Labor, under Latham, will have some good things to say on policy issues.

Thirdly, I’m not sure that Latham is electable just yet. He is inexperienced in many regards. But like I said about Arnie a few weeks back, Latham can leverage that by getting good people involved around policy making, and, shock horror, perhaps he’ll listen to them. Time will tell. Also, there is a lot of work to do to raise awareness in the public mind about who he is, what he stands for, how well he can control the (seemingly divided) party. This will take time – if Howard calls an early election, it will be a very tough sell. And Howard, if nothing else, is cunning in using elections timing and circumstances to his advantage.

Despite all of this, I am genuinely excited about his appointment. And TBH, so are many of my friends – including some who I would never expect. Call me an optimist, but I am actually inspired enough to feel that there is someone in a position of power in Australian politics who may be able to make a real difference, and to whom it is worth writing to and lobbying – that perhaps now our calls for a humane refugee policy, for an end of our support for the war on Iraq, for a commitment to Kyoto, for support of the public health system, for support of public education may actually be heard. Trade policy is still going to be a tough one for Labor, their track record is less than sterling.

I don’t know much about his history politically, and I don’t know how things are going to develop from here, but I am willing to keep an open mind and see where he takes the party from here. If he does the right thing, hell, I might even sign up to help out with an electoral campaign. But I’m getting ahead of myself…