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Nov 9, 2010

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? Margot Saville went to lunch with Richo and the Faceless Man to get the Labor Party gossip.

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.

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26 comments

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26 thoughts on “Lunch with Richo and the Faceless Man: launching Labor’s progressive manifesto

  1. John

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

  2. Meski

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

  3. zut alors

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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. Syd Walker

    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

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

  10. Tom McLoughlin

    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.