Latham defends guest reporting role

Former Labor leader Mark Latham has defended his confrontation with Prime Minister Julia Gillard while posing as a journalist, arguing it was she who made it physical.

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The Nine Network, which has hired Mr Latham as a guest reporter for 60 Minutes, has apologised for Saturday’s ambush on the campaign trail, viewed by many as aggressive and reminiscent of the John Howard handshake.

Ms Gillard argued Mr Latham’s new role was inappropriate, saying on Sunday: “I am the prime minister of this country, I’m not a human interest story.”

But Mr Latham said the prime minister’s comments were “gobbledegook”, after she’d appeared on the cover of women’s magazines during the election campaign.

“I don’t need a permit to talk to a person that I’ve known well over the years,” he told Sky News on Monday.

“At one time we were very close, personally and politically, so I approached her and made a point that’s relevant to my story.”

Mr Latham said Ms Gillard gave him a “patronising, condescending” touch, and called reports of an aggressive confrontation “nonsense”.

“I didn’t swear at her, I didn’t raise my voice,” he said.

“The physicality of it was all on her side, and you know, she gave me an answer that was true to form, a non-answer.”

The hiring of Mr Latham as a guest reporter was also frowned on by the Nine Network’s veteran political correspondent Laurie Oakes, who called the meeting “ugly”.

Mr Latham said the network’s apology would both placate the Labor Party and boost ratings ahead of 60 Minutes.

Meanwhile he said Oakes had declined his request for an interview for the 60 Minutes story.

Mr Latham said he didn’t anticipate a long stint for 60 Minutes. “I reckon the clock is ticking on me,” he laughed.

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