Gates granted audience with Latham

Microsoft supremo Bill Gates is hedging his bets on the outcome of the looming federal election and will try to win over the heart and mind of Labor leader Mark Latham in a face-to-face meeting when he's in Australia next week.

Well-placed sources close to the meeting have confirmed to Computerworld that Gates has been granted an unofficial audience with the Labor leader.

However, details of the Latham meeting are shrouded in intense secrecy, reportedly to placate the exceptional security requirements of Gates and his entourage that rival that of many heads of state. A press conference scheduled for June 28 in Sydney has strict, invitation-only guidelines for journalists to attend a "technology briefing" with optional attendance at the launch of the Microsoft Australia community assistance program Unlimited Potential, where Gates and Prime Minister John Howard will share the platform.

Microsoft, its lobby firm Government Relations Australia (GRA) and Latham's office have all failed to deny the meeting between the two will take place, preferring to stonewall all questions about it and flatly refusing to divulge any detail.

Asked to confirm or deny the meeting, a grumpy GRA wrangler handling the matter bluntly told Computerworld, "Why would I want to talk about that? I'm sorry, I've got things to do," before hanging up.

Microsoft also refused to confirm or deny any details of the Latham meeting, saying all of Gates' movements, apart from his Sydney meeting with the Prime Minister, are strictly off limits for public consumption or comment.

Microsoft Australia's manager of corporate communications Samantha Herron managed to elevate the secretive cult of Gates' personality to Maoist proportions, stating no discussion of any "private" aspects of the visit of "the chairman" would be entered into. Herron then refused to confirm, deny or elaborate about why the meeting with Latham was taking place.

The official line from Latham's office remains that any "private meetings" were not necessarily disclosed. Specific queries of Latham's diarised appointments on June 28 were greeted with long silence, followed by a uniform "I'll have to check".

Computerworld has also confirmed Howard and Gates will be flanked by outgoing Communications and IT Minister Daryl Williams at the Sydney function, with a spokesperson for Williams saying the meeting "is expected".

Labor is keeping its ICT policy cards close to its chest until the announcement of an election date, with a costed policy stance yet to emerge from Labor's IT shadow Kate Lundy and communications shadow Lindsay Tanner.

Lundy has repeatedly attacked the cost of proprietary operating systems, particularly Microsoft, within federal government agencies and advocated the necessity to consider open software standards to avoid vendor lock-ins.

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