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Lunch with Richo and the Faceless Man: launching Labor’s progressive manifesto

Is there any finer way of spending an afternoon than sucking on a lobster leg, gargling chardonnay and listening to top-quality political gossip?

Following yesterday’s lunch at the Golden Century restaurant in Sussex Street, held after Paul Howes’ book launch, I resolved to eat Chinese food only in the company of the NSW Right. After Richo tucked his linen napkin into his shirtfront, muttering “just bring the usual”, a mountain of crustaceans and barramundi appeared, accompanied by gallons of the white infuriator. This may explain why Sam Dastyari is the only lean and hungry member of this faction, I thought idly, popping another spring roll into my mouth.

The book, called Confessions of a Faceless Man, Inside Campaign 2010, came about when Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler was watching Lateline on the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ against Kevin Rudd. On the program, Howes, the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, was declaring his support for Gillard. The next day Adler contacted him, asking him to keep a detailed diary which could be published straight after the election.

For us politicial tragics, this is a great book. Like all melodramas, it has its villains (Rudd and Mark Latham) a hero (our author) and a rolling cast of pygmies and capering dwarves (politicians). In this era of sanitised pollyspeak, it’s wonderful to read true class hatred on the page, punctuated by the odd bout of head-kicking. The entry for day one of the campaign ends with Howes saying: “When we win, I say Rudd should be the first against the wall.” Followed by a heartfelt prayer: “Tony Abbott. Please God, don’t let us f-ck this one up.”

I particularly liked the domestic touches — Howes has three small children, one of whom is a newborn baby — including the story of him spending a whole morning trying to put a Lego plane together, saying it would have been easier to have rung one of the AWU members at Boeing.

That the book is well-written is extraordinary considering Howes, still only 29, left home and school at 14 after being bullied by his stepfather. He ends up in the bosom of the Trotskyites and travels to Cuba before joining the AWU when he was 17, succeeding Bill Shorten as national secretary in 2007.

Howes is at his best arguing that Labor has lost its way and needs to formulate and effectively communicate firm policies on progressive issues like refugees and climate change. Talking up these issues in the first two years of the government, and then summarily dumping them, was Rudd’s downfall, he says, leading the public to doubt what he stood for.

The union boss says he is heavily invested in the climate change debate because “over 80% of AWU members work in emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries, on which an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax would have a significant impact”. Ultimately the AWU supported the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the dropping of which was “concrete proof of what Abbott had been saying about Rudd, that he was all spin and no substance. Prior to the CPRS decision, that line of attack got very little support from the wider public, but now it was almost a gospel truth.”

He has some very progressive views on population, saying that discouraging immigration and relying on a falling birth rate will lead to crippling labor shortages and a massive burden on future generations. Labor’s failure to have a real debate on this issue is “shameful”.

Howes also weighs into the gay marriage issue, saying he hopes the PM will allow a conscience vote because he thinks most of caucus would support gay marriage, as would the majority of the population. “Besides,” he writes, “it’s the role of politicians to lead, not just follow opinion polls.”

On Lateline last night, the union leader was repeating his statements in the book that Labor needs to start creating substantial policy:

“I think that the reality is that Labor has gone through a period since 2007 where it’s hard to know what we stand for. It’s hard to know what we’re trying to achieve. What is the great, next, big step for a social democratic progressive party in this country?”

Richo, in his introduction at the launch, was more succinct.

Labor ran the worst campaign in history. No doubt about that. You didn’t read that [in the book]. It is nonetheless a fact. When Julia Gillard said this was the real Julia, no, this wasn’t a slip of the tongue. It was planned; it was thought to be clever. It wasn’t. It was just plain dumb.”

We got plenty more of that topic over lunch, along with the chardonnay vat, so of course I can’t remember anything. Maaate, it was fun.

26
  • 1
    John
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Pay attention to Paul Howes, Julia.
    What he says about gay marriage is correct.

  • 2
    Meski
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Richo would be a better campaign director than the losers they used. On both sides.

  • 3
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    In answer to your first line Margot, no, surely there’s nothing better. I’ve never been thus indulged but wonks can dream…

    On the eve of Rudd’s culling I was angry with Howes following his Lateline interview. However, facts have come to light since then and Howes is now back on my short list as preferred future PM. He’s smart, gutsy and a straight-talker.

  • 4
    Jenny Haines
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I hope the factional powerbrokers heed Paul’s call for real debate inside the ALP on all sorts of issues and that there is no comeback on those who do open their mouths. That has been the problem - members of the party can speak up but they may lose preselection or never get preselection . Parties or unions or any community groups where all members sit and furiously agree with each other will die, slowly and painfully, from boredom, lack of ideas, lack of initiative, lack of creativity, lack of action inspired by debate. There needs to be debate within the Labor Party on all sorts of issues, climate change, carbon reduction, refugees , gay marriage, mental health, Afghanistan, human rights, constitutional change and the list goes on. We should not be afraid of a differing point of view.

  • 5
    David
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Worth repeating, “pay attention to Paul Howes Julia.” Only 6 words but packed with meaning.
    I was as faithful supporter of Kevin Rudd as there could be, that came crashing down when he gave the CPRS the big flick. There is no comfort in knowing I was not alone.

    Zut I share your opinion of Howes, he’s smart, gutsy and a straight-talker. Time for the caucus to follow his lead, before it is too late.

  • 6
    Harvey Tarvydas
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Well with the importance of trivia and the trivia of importance there’s chardonnay and the lovely Margot Saville, lunch, Richo, face or less, a mess, Paul, books whatever but chardonnay that’s not chardonnay unless it’s French.
    I am developing an anthropological theory that beyond race, science, religion and culture there is a modern smart western world schism that is as simple as those that speak English and those that don’t.
    I have many scientific examples of how real and serious this is most of all because it is not perceived much less denied.
    The most important example that should prevail in this momentary intense friendship with Margot here is that of chardonnay.
    Decades ago as a young Dr with a lovely French girlfriend at that time (she was a good friend of Catherine Deneuve) with fashionable interest in wine, chardonnay was very in and quality Aussie wines made from chardonnay grapes were bottled dated that year and sold that year as chardonnay and were a popular fruity delightful very ‘chardonnay grape’ tasty yummy popular wine.
    The French did the same in France with French chardonnay grapes, labelled them ‘chardonnay’, dated them and the stored them for 5,6 or 7 years then sent them to market as chardonnay.
    When I did that with Aussie chardonnays I and my friends discovered the true chardonnay wine as a magnificent, smooth, palate caressing, demure, layered in profound unique tastes unlike any wine before and so different from the fresh Aussie chardonnay but to Europe that was what a chardonnay always was.

  • 7
    Observation
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Lets have a bit more of this straight shooting I say. But don’t they all sound like that before they get the responsibility of high office?

    Well maybe this one might be different or at least influence others to be more gutsy. I am just so sick of the wanting to be all things to all people by the Labor Party.

    Now and then they show some sort of push through but that always ends up in a mess with the appearance that nothing was thought through!

    Julia’s droning is starting to get me down, Wayne’s whining is so depressing I turn off before he opens his mouth. Its all so impotent!!!

    Its condom poitics……..Extremely safe but done with a lot less feeling.

  • 8
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Lest these pearls be lost for posterity, on 22nd August this year I happened to participate in an online chat session, facilitated by Simon Kearney of The Sunday Telegraph.

    Most of the conversation was election aftermath tittle tattle, but I raised a few other topics. I wonder if any of them made into into Paul’s book? I’d say the chances No 2 were discussed are very low. Howes came through to me as substantially less ‘liberal’ than Turnbull - in the sense Americans use the word. He seems like the sort of character who made it big in the USSR of the 1920s and 30s: a political hack with his eye on the main chance, disturbingly reverential towards unaccountable power. It’s frightening than in some respects (eg. gay marriage and internet censorship) he actually has more progressive views than the Rudd & Gillard teams. That says more about them, I think, than about Mr Howes.

    On the subject of gay marriage (which I did not raise in the chat) I see Liberal whip Warren Entsch is now calling for a conscience vote - smart politics and potentially another PR embarrassment for the Labor leadership, IMO; if Labor is seen as more conservative than Entsch it’s in dangerous waters.

    Excerpts from the Aug 22nd online chat follow….

    (1) INTERNET CENSORSHIP

    @Malcolm. Well done for opposing the filter. @ Paul - Labour lost power in the UK too when they were perceived as control freaks lacking respect for civil liberties. You need to learn the lesson here IMO.”

    Malcolm Turnbull:
    The internet filter was truly a crazy, bad policy. What were they thinking, Paul?

    Paul Howes: 
    In reply to Syd Walker: I certainly hope that Labor does dump the net filter - I have always opposed it, but I doubt it played any role in the loss of the seats in Queensland and Sydney.

    (2) DEBATE ON DEFENSE & ‘INTELLIGENCE’

    ”@ Paul Howes & Malcolm Turnbull. ASIO’s budget has increased approx 1,000% in ten years. There is very little public debate about this. There’s precious little public debate about military expenditure either that dwarves the NBN. The submarine program alone is some 36 billion when I last looked. Would you both support more open public debate - including Parliamentary debate - on these important issues? Would you also both support a Senate Inquiry into the Afghanistan War? It is, after all, nine years old and counting…”

    Malcolm Turnbull: 
    I think open debate on all important public issues is very important.

    Paul Howes: 
    @Syd Walker I think public debate is important but I also believe in a strong intelligence service to give the appropriate and informed advice to our leaders
    __________________

    (3) LEE RHIANNON (whose name was disparaged a few times before I could put in a word in her defense)

    Lee Rhiannon is a tough and effective politician and I have no doubt she’ll make a great contribution in the Federal Parliament. No wonder the cosy club are worried.”

    Paul Howes: 
    @Syd Walker - I think the only person worried about Lee Rhinannon entering the Senate is Bob Brown

    Malcolm Turnbull: 
    I think the only person worried about Lee Rhiannon is Bob Brown.

    Paul Howes: 
    Ahh great minds …

    Malcolm Turnbull: 
    Disturbing synchronicity

  • 9
    Socratease
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I’d want to have had every form of immunization available before sitting down with that mob, but especially Richardson.

  • 10
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Has Howes, like Alan Jones, ever had an ORIGINAL thought? Or like the lyre bird he faithfully reproduces every sound in the forest?

    I think you will find that like Abbott and Howard before him, that they all follow a script. Mix it up a bit but still a script for vested interests. So if and when they have real power in genuinely new circumstances, don’t be disappointed, because they will display poor judgement, as that part of their brain to do with independent analysis has atrophied.

    It’s not much more than theatrical identity theft. For instance Howes has got absolutely nothing on the science of sustainability. Nothing. Zero. Nil. Nada. Null and void. That’s a boy education in a man’s brain, veiled in ignorance, in denial of the issue of the century, when his own kids are old and grey. Will they be proud of him? I doubt it.

  • 11
    Barbara Boyle
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    not impressed, Paul.
    I mean, we can all jeer at former leaders or recognise terminal symptoms in a political party when we see them, but where has he demonstrated any ability to think clearly and constructively? Any indication of being driven by a power other than self-interest would be welcome if unusual.

  • 12
    freecountry
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Pay attention to Paul Howes, Julia. He wants your job and “please” is not his language.

  • 13
    Meski
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    @Free: Those that live by the sword… Meaning that Julia will probably lose PMship the same way she gained it.

  • 14
    Moira Smith
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    That the book is well-written is extraordinary considering Howes … left home and school at 14 ’ !

    Interesting comment …. education and a home life are necessary to make a good writer? In this case, clearly not. In many cases, methinks.

    (PS - IMHO, it’s READING, and something else that I can’t pin down at this time of night, that make a good writer.)

    Or maybe he just had a good editor.

  • 15
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    Interesting where poster’s concerns lie. One comment on the Murray/Darling issue which can result in major threats to our nation’s sources of food, but 14 on Richo eating Chinese Food.

    It’s becoming even harder to remain an optimist.

  • 16
    CML
    Posted Wednesday, 10 November 2010 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Well I intend to maintain the rage. Paul Howes and his ilk make me sick. Talk about re-writing history to suit his ambitions! It was Howes and his right wing collegues who handed down the edict from on high that a price on carbon would lose the ALP the election, so the party (read Kevin Rudd) should get rid of it. I have read/heard several people who should know, comment that Rudd did not want to do this, but was forced into this position and heavily leaned upon to do so by Gillard and Swan (but not Tanner - why do you all think that Lindsey Tanner got out of politics? He and Rudd have more integrity than these cowardly creatures will ever have.)
    Then the likes of Howe, Arbib, Shorten et al had to create this wonderful story about their best of intentions, while demonising Kevin Rudd in all kinds of ways, hoping he would just go away and leave politics. Well he didn’t, and these people, along with a host of so-called journalists, coalition members and fellow travellers are still at it.
    I believe that Rudd would have won the last election with a small majority, Gillard was/is a disaster, and the people who put her there know that. Therefore, we continue to get bombarded with what a nasty person Kevin is - just so this lot can justify their existence. If the Labor party disintergrates from here on, remember the men who started it. Forget their spin and get it right! Paul Howes is no match for Kevin Rudd intellectually, and that will become apparent over time.

  • 17
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 10 November 2010 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    When soul free apparatchiks like Howe & Wotever it Takes Richo talk about ‘the vision thing’ it is time to be afraid, very afraid.

  • 18
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Wednesday, 10 November 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    You may know more about Rudd than I do, VM, and be correct about his “integrity”; but I suspect he wasn’t quite perfect.

    He was, for example, the person who came up with the team of “new talent” in 2010 which imposed Belinda Neal on the Branch members of Robertson as ‘their’ ALP candidate — - whether they liked it or not. He was the Leader who pretended to be unaware of the widespread negative reactions in the electorate to her, and only belatedly consented to letting the normal NSWALP Rules apply, and allow local ALP Branch members have a say AFTER it became obvious he wasn’t going to be able to continue sweeping the Robertson problem under the carpet. Even then, on the day before Local Branch members were finally permitted to cast their votes on whether we wanted Belinda, Rudd came out with a press statement praising Ms Neal as a “good” local member. I’m not sure which aspect of “integrity” this illustrates?

    Had Rudd not the prospect of an internal rervolt forced Rudd to withdraw his protection of Ms Neal as our candidate, we’d have lost Robertson — - and guess who’d be Prime Minister?

  • 19
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 10 November 2010 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    CML,

    I believe there are plenty of people to blame in the ALP caucus, cabinet and other party heavies regarding the backdown on addressing climate change - and Rudd is amongst them.

    Barrie Cassidy has recently launched his book which reveals more about the behaviour of Rudd as PM (sorry, have forgotten its title). I’m no fan of Gillard but it’s clear Labor MPs were very unhappy with Rudd’s leadership style, he was unapproachable on this therefore a new leader was needed. If he had led the party to another federal election and somehow won I believe we would have had a leadership coup at some stage due to his unpopularity amongst colleagues.

  • 20
    freecountry
    Posted Wednesday, 10 November 2010 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    CML, you mention Tanner leaving politics. There’s a man who knew that a lot of what they were doing was wrong, but who expressed his dissent either in the mildest terms, or not at all.

    In Lenore Taylor’s and David Uren’s book “S**tstorm” Tanner seems to express a lot of doubts about many of the measures taken during the GFC, but it all seems to have happened a bit too fast for him. While he was still deciding how to broach the subject of his doubts on underwriting the banks or diverting even more investment capital into houses or building the education revolution, the decision would be made.

    It seems to me the other three just kept him around to give their decisions a stamp of respectability. This dignified, educated, thoughtful, professorial gentlemen was one of them, he was party to their decisions, so the decisions must be good ones. They didn’t listen to Tanner; they used him. People like him have no significant role to play in a party run by the likes of Howes and Shorten.

  • 21
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Wednesday, 10 November 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    A significant problem for the ALP, zut alors, is that increasingly fewer and fewer people are interested in politics for anything other than career paths. Combine with this the improved techniques of private polling used by ALL political leaderships, and the unwillingness of voters in general to make the effort to analyse issues or accept difficult solutions, and you can’t expect much to be done.

    The climate change debate was often between ‘sceptics’ on one side and naive ‘silver bullet’ merchants on the other. Even now, no one will succeed in gaining voter support by talking frankly about what sacrifices will need to be made if ANY serious efforts are made, especially since Australia’s efforts are irrelevant unless global co-operation [not very likely in the forseeable future?] can be reached.

    In the meantime, statemnts on this issue, whther they be made by Labor, Conservative, Green or independent’ organisations, will continue to be high on platitudes, low on analysis.

  • 22
    zut alors
    Posted Wednesday, 10 November 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    CML,

    The title of Cassidy’s book is ‘The Party Thieves’. I was maintaining the rage, too, until Cassidy’s book gave valuable insight into Rudd’s prime ministership.

  • 23
    botswana bob
    Posted Friday, 12 November 2010 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Far be it for me to go against revealed truth, but its looking like Julia Gillard isn’t exactly the vote harvester that the ALP political assassination bureau touted her to be when they wasted Mr Rudd, that awful terrible person who somehow managed to get them into government after a decade of Honest John. As we saw with the nonbitter Mr Bitar, the ALP is not exactly into reflective self-critical mode about its disastrous campaign which almost put the Mad Monk into The Lodge. This was reinforced by Boy Wonder Howes most recent LATELINE appearance; the campaign was an enormous success derailed by journo-come-lately Mark Latham and those leaks which of course must have come from the despised Rudd.
    Looking at this and Howes previous LATELINE appearance, which featured a non member of Parliament gleefully recounting his union’s role in removing the elected PM, its obvious what is wrong with Labor. The party has become an employment agency for union bosses and ministerial advisers, people with little experience of what people face in everyday life and obsessed with political intrigue. Its no wonder Labor is losing support to The Greens, as many conclude its the preserve of focus-groupies solely interested in clinging to office. As has been said by others, ALP now stands for Another Liberal Party.

  • 24
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Friday, 12 November 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Perhaps so, bob. On the other hand, many will remember Kevin as the man whose dream team of “new talent” (sic) imposed Belinda Neal on the ALP Robertson Local Branch members in 2007; planned to re-impose her in 2011; and, even after a revolt among local ALP Branch members broke out and forced him to let those local ALP members have the pre-selection vote the NSWALP Rules provide them, continued to support Ms Neal, actually coming out publicly on the evening of the pre-selection, praising her ‘good work’ (sic).

    Had Kevin’s “new talent” in Robertson been the Labor 2010 candidate, Abbot would now be Prime Minister. Not a happy thought?

  • 25
    Nadia David
    Posted Friday, 12 November 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Howes for PM, I say. What a gutsy, real, intelligent bloke. And I can’t put those damn model planes together either - worse than IKEA furniture!

  • 26
    Norman Hanscombe
    Posted Friday, 12 November 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Whatever your problem may be with putting model planes together, Nadia, it’s far exceeded by your problem of being unable to judge what’s needed in a P.M. I assume you are an Australian, not just a tourist hoping to undermine our country?

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