Union kingpin Paul Howes has made no secret of his heroic past organising for Trotskyite youth agitators Resistance during the 1990s. But, according to new pictorial evidence obtained by Crikey, one incident in particular might require a bit of historical revision.

Crikey readers may recall that last year in the middle of a Tory scare campaign over Lee Rhiannon’s socialism before her ascension to the Senate, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph quoted Howes rubbishing Rhiannon’s claim that he had occupied the NSW Treasury during a 1997 protest over a Bob Carr law-and-order crackdown.

The campaign was a reprisal of a tete-a-tete waged 12 months earlier in the lead-up to the 2010 election, when Howes accused the Senator in waiting of being a Stalinist “watermelon” in his regular Sunday Telegraph column.

Rhiannon responded that Howes himself was far from a shrinking violet:

“He was part of a protest that occupied the NSW Treasury concerning increased police powers brought in by the Carr government … when members of various groups in 1997 set up the Youth Tent Embassy in the Domain for one week Howes to his credit was an active member.”

But the AWU sound-bite master was furious at the implication, telling the Tele he had unequivocally “never occupied Treasury. I was involved in occupations (as a protester) and I’m not ashamed of that. But not Treasury. I don’t even know where Treasury is.”

In a letter sent by Howes to Rhiannon, obtained by The Australian and posted on Andrew Bolt’s blog, he was even blunter. “I’m not quite sure where Treasury is and maybe I protested outside it, but I’m certain I never occupied it,” he railed, calling the allegation “plain wrong”.

So it was amusing to stumble across this 1997 photo of the then-15-year-old firebrand this morning holding court at the protest in question …

The rabid defender of Aussie jobs confirmed the photo this morning, but told Crikey he had “no memory of that …when you’re a young teenage Trot you do end up going to a lot of protests”.

“The difference is I’m not a Communist now, but she still is,” he spat at Rhiannon.

The Greens MP was busy in Senate estimates this morning and did not return calls. But some Googling reveals the 1997 occupation in question was an outgrowth of the Youth Tent Embassy erected to condemn the ratcheting up of curfews to deal with feral youngsters.  As the redoubtable Green Left Weekly reported at the time:

“On April 24, an attempt to give about 500 letters and 1000 signatures to Premier Bob Carr ended in an occupation of the Treasury Department.”

Howes then, as now, was right in the thick of it.

Peter Fray

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