14 November 2010

Deriding Paul Howes

Paul Howes has shown in this piece that he can call for a debate, but he can't add a lot of value once it's on.

There are three parts to this. First, there's the Tripodi boo-hoo-life's-so-unfair bit, and secondly there's the question of "anonymous bloggers". In both cases, Howes' basic premise is that no criticism of him or any of his friends at any time is ever legitimate, even when their actions involve questions of public policy and democracy. Third, there's Howes' disdain for the public beyond the politico-media complex, and wider considerations of democracy from someone who clearly aspires to political office.

The slings and arrows

SO, it’s vale Joe Tripodi from NSW politics. And it seems that not many people are going to miss him. Joe is a friend of mine, and he’s a good man.

He really is. This will be almost impossible for some to believe, since he has been painted almost as the Antichrist by some sections of the media.

But Joe Tripodi is a nice and fiercely intelligent man, in real life. He loves his family and he loves public policy. He’s been described by another paper as ‘the smartest man’ in NSW politics.

But he had to go. And, to do the right thing by the party, as he’s always tried to do, Joe went.

What do you like about him, Paul? Did you advise him not to stack his mates onto the public payroll, or are you okay with that? If he's such a great guy, why does he have to go?

It isn't enough to shriek that he's your friend. You have to look at his record and understand if there are any legitimate grounds to criticise Tripodi's performance in public life. Indeed, look no further than your own union: Andy Gillespie was uncannily prescient when he said:
Mr Gillespie said Mr Tripodi and other Labor Party right-faction figures like former Wollongong City [Councillor] ... Joe Scimone had damaged the party's standing in the region.

"Labor politicians aren't held in the same regard by people in the region as they used to be," Mr Gillespie said.

"Comments like that from Tripodi show how ignorant he is. I'm surprised he knows where the Illawarra is.

"He should pull his head in and look after his own job and a government which could be on the line at the next election."

Strangely, Gillespie's future as a defender of AWU member's rights were curtailed. No doubt, he had to go. The AWU very kindly hired Richard Tripodi, Joe's brother, as an 'organiser' and Howes is unclear about what quid-pro-quo was forthcoming for that. That sort of thing is why there's no much cynicism toward Tripodi, Paul, and if you could bear to face up to it you'd explain that incidents like that - and so, so many others - was why Tripodi should have gone from public life long, long ago.

If you start to challenge Paul Howes on stuff like that, he'll start to realise that public life in Australia involves being accountable. He may or may not decide to push his political career further than it has gone already. Hopefully he'll be traumatised by watching his dear friend Tripodi go down, and will be so permanently scarred by being roused at by Kevin Rudd (grr!) that he'll realise that politics is far too difficult for someone with his modest powers of observation, and abilities to link concepts or assess competing ideas.

Anonymous bloggers

I'm not an anonymous blogger. My real name is Andrew Elder, I use that name on Twitter and elsewhere.

I make a point of following blogs and tweets put up by real people - like, for example, ABC journalist Leigh Sales:
Good column by @howespaul about gutless, nasty trolls on sites like twitter who don't use their real names. http://bit.ly/cFKPZE

Howes was referring to News Ltd sites where people made hurtful comments about his dear friend Joe, and it isn't clear why Sales couldn't go after News Ltd's slack comment-vetting policy as former News Ltd blogger Tim Dunlop did. Dunlop, Drag0nista and others point out that News Ltd publish anonymous trolls for the same reason that talkback radio broadcasts anonymous callers ("Bob from Greystaines" is just as anonymous as, say, beNzo3568). Howes should use his insider status to go after slack moderation at News Ltd: he could even parachute one of Joe Tripodi's soon-to-be-unemployed relatives in there. Howes didn't get where he is by challenging the status quo at big organisations, though, and no journalist will call him on it either. When Howes was going after Rudd on Lateline in his final night as Prime Minister (Rudd's, that is), I wanted Tony Jones to say: who the fuck are you anyway, and why does someone like you get to weigh in on significant issues like this? Isn't the presence of Paul Howes proof positive that Labor is run by, and for, pissants?

Sales was clearly motivated by some level of emotion beyond concern for the easily-wounded little petal that we call Paul Howes when she lashed out at "gutless, nasty trolls ... who don't use their real names". The journosphere interpretation of 'anonymous' here is: "I'm sorry, have we met? I haven't seen you standing outside in the cold hoping for a statement from a junior minister, or even a colourful backbencher. If you haven't been to an Andrew Olle dinner you can't possibly know anything about journalism, so bugger off and read my essay reprinted from something in The Guardian last week, or maybe a bit of speculation that everyone is running but which has no basis in fact or importance whatsoever!!!".

If that's what it means to be anonymous - someone who will never appear on Q and A as a panellist or audience member, nor even as a viewer of an entire episode - well then, I'm anonymous and glad to be so.
In my recent book ... I dish out plenty of criticisms against lots of people. But I put my name to it.

But you don't make any sense when you do. Since when was sweetness and light a prerequisite for leadership of the ALP? If you wanted that, why didn't you stick with Kim Beazley?

The big issues: jobs, jobs and jobs

It isn't just Howes and Gillespie, though. The AWU has taken on one of the major debates of our time, the Murray-Darling, and come off second-best:
“Do we want to see Mildura turned from an oasis to a desert? Do we want to import more and more food every year? The answer to both those questions is ‘no’.

Nice bit of straw-man work there, boys: pity that such a historically significant organisation is making such a pissant contribution. The poor suffering members of the AWU are supporting two hundred (!) staff, including Howes and the Tripodi boy and the clown who wrote that. You'd hope that a journalist would ask Howes who's minding the AWU while he's off flogging his booky-wook, but not so far.

Elect a new people

Howes: you wanted a robust debate, and when you get one you shriek that people are so mean. Get over yourself, get some new and better friends, and start engaging in debates that carry people with you on the issues that matter. As Tim Dunlop says:
... don't use the existence of trolls as evidence of some particular failure with "new media" or, as Paul Howes goes dangerously close to suggesting, with the general public.

Howes is demonstrating his disdain for those of us outside the politico-media complex: those who can't be smarmed or heavied by Bill Ludwig and others responsible for putting Howes into his sinecure.
It’s clear we don’t have much respect for politicians whatsoever - or for public service, come to that.

The highest-rated professions in Australia are public servants: teachers, nurses, ambulance paramedics. There is a very high respect for altruism in public service, including NGOs. There is no respect for union officials who want to sell books or knock off Prime Ministers whom we have elected, however hard they might want to insinuate their activities with "public service".
Simply put, we don’t much like people who think they’re better than us, and we don’t much like politicians, because we think they think they’re better than us.

They think they can tell us what to do. They think they can swan around with big pensions and big salaries, and we think most of them wouldn’t know hard work if they fell over it.

They're not better than us. The ones who earn popular contempt are those who use taxes and other resources given for the common weal to do things that are irrelevant our counter to our best interests. Does that sound like you, Pauly boy?
It’s not true, of course. Most parliamentarians, on both sides, work hard, gruelling hours. They do things that normal people wouldn’t dream of doing like flying to Perth, landing at 6am, going to a full day of meetings, then flying straight home again.

Yeah, they work hard, but at what? What 'meetings', with whom, for what purpose? How much of this is busywork? Why is it that so much activity can take place to set something in motion (a piece of legislation, a grant, whatever action by government may be involved) only to have someone like Paul Howes waddle in at 3am and spike it, or trade it off for something else? That's contemptible, that's antidemocratic - and Paul Howes wouldn't have it any other way.
Since I became National Secretary of the AWU, the most seemingly vicious insult that anyone can fling at me is that I’m simply out trying to win myself preselection for a seat in the federal parliament. As though my current job, which I love, is a mere stepping-stone to a political career.

For your predecessor, the Hon. Bill Shorten MP, it was exactly that - and you aren't exactly playing Cliffie Dolan to his Hawke, are you? So too was your brother-from-another-mother, Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig. It's not unreasonable, which may explain why you're seeking to inject some emotion to deflect the logic.

Speculation may or may not be accurate, but what makes it "vicious"? Why an "insult"? Why the emotive language in what should be a matter-of-fact discussion?
Ask yourself this: would you want your wife to read in the paper that you are “trash”, “an absolute disgrace”, and “utterly incompetent”? Would you want your children to read that? Would you want your elderly mother to read 200+ comments highlighting what a worthless waste of space you really are?

I'd hate it, but I would recognise that it was part of public life. Jeanette Howard faced that almost every day of her adult life, from people like Tripodi and yourself. So did Hazel Hawke and Annita Keating, whose marriages each broke under that strain. Margie Abbott and Tim Mathieson are also copping it, but they've clearly decided it's part of the deal.

Suck it up, and stop playing us for mugs.

I'd want to have some way of completing this sentence - "I'm not a worthless waste of space because ...". As Andrew Elder, I'm able to do that; were I Paul Howes, I would find it a struggle. As Paul Howes, I'd find it hard to tie the book tour back to Australian Workers and their interests (including cogent contributions to major national debates like who should be Prime Minister and the fate of the Murray-Darling river system).
... we’ll eventually end up with pollie-bots who have no real personality of their own, or absolute dimwits who never rock the boat.

We're already there. Start with these losers who let Kevin Rudd choreograph ALP conferences. Did you miss that whole debate about "zombies"? If Bill Ludwig or Joe Tripodi are faced with a choice between a candidate they already own, and someone who's a bit of a livewire, what makes you think they're going to pick the livewire? The ALP Caucus are such dummies that they need someone like you to go on Lateline to tell them how to vote, and now that there's fewer of them you're going to tell them again.
And that, more than anything, will guarantee us a parliament full of “gutless muppets”. And because of that, we’ll be the muppets, in the end.

Another alternative is that muppeteers like yourself and your mates Tripodi and Bitar are pushed aside in favour of candidates - from outside the ALP, as appears necessary - who have better choice of friends and don't make logical leaps that serves their own interests or those of their silly friends.

There's no issue with the idea that we need good people to represent us, Paul Howes. The question is whether you, your friends in the Labor movement, and your defenders in the media, are capable of recognising (let alone providing) effective representation. I've read what you've written and heard what you've said; you're unpersuasive in public debates yet mysteriously persuasive when it comes to key debates within the ALP. Let us either have your absence from those internal debates - be they in Perth or anywhere else hidden from scrutiny - or else, let us be governed by people better than you, your mates, and the current ALP.


  1. Great article.

    It was like reading something I would say, but more comprehensively and articulately written.

    Paul Howes, the man of nonsense who would be Prime Minister maker and breaker.

  2. That was excellent commentary Andrew Elder *rapturous applause*

  3. Great points Andrew. I think the real issue is that Paul Howes is able to spruik his book and build his image without really being challenged by journalists on what exactly qualifies him to be a "faceless man".

    Paul Howes personifies everything that is wrong with Australian political reporting, the union movement and the state of both major parties.

    It's a shame people like Leigh Sales and Tony Jones are treating these characters, on both sides of politics, as if they have something useful to contribute.

  4. Kick those empty suits where it hurts. Who was it who said "not a chin or an honest bob among the lot of them"?.

    And it is one helluva lot easier to not be an "anonymous coward" when you have a well-resourced organisation behind you to protect you against the invidious defamation laws in this country. If Leigh Sales or Paul Howes loses a case, they won't have sell up their houses. Throwing accusations or cowardice while hiding behind the skirts of the AWU or the ABC is, frankly, cowardice of the basest sort.

  5. Thank you all. It's a mystery to me why Paul Howes is such a media darling.

  6. aminorirony15/11/10 7:46 pm

    The article was brillant.

    Thanks for pointing out the smoke and mirrors that attempt to make Paul Howes presentable. He is a piece of work.

  7. I notice Paul Howes said on Twitter you got your facts wrong in this article. Did you accidentally delete the comment he surely left here correcting you?

  8. What comment, David? :) The guy expects to be taken on face value. Sad really.

  9. Andrew,

    You've built an utterly fallacious argument here, and you've also missed quite a few points.

    For example, you ask why "use emotive language in what should be a matter of fact discussion?" but then go on to use emotive language like "losers", "muppeteers","silly", "shriek" and "worthless waste of space".

    Not much emoting going on there, is there? #hypocritefail

    Then you acknowledge that you'd 'hate' your wife to read such things about yourself, but you think politicians should 'suck it up' even if their marriages break 'under the strain".

    Yo do realise that you've just presented a self-defeating argument, right? Another #debatingfail.

    You also claim that "we" (is this the royal we?) elected Kevin Rudd. No, 'we' did not. We live in a parliamentary democracy. We don't elect leaders of political parties, we elect members of parties who then elect their leader.

    Truly, why do you find this so hard to understand? #politicalunderstandingfail.

    You then go on to further criticise Howes for not 'engaging' in the debate. Well, it's a fact that Howes is one of the most prolific public figures using new media like Twitter, and is also the man who started THIS whole debate about new media.

    How can you possibly come to the conclusion, then, that Howes doesn't engage in debate? #comprehesionfail

    I could go on, but, Andrew, it appears to me that you're an angry man. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that perhaps you're angry because life hasn't turned out as you'd like it. Perhaps the world hasn't adequately acknowledged your brilliance. Perhaps you're jealous of other people who can better tap into the 'political-media complex" (oh, how I laugh!).

    Perhaps, as you're not an anonymous blogger or commenter, you might like to stop to consider that the article written by Paul Howes wasn't all about you, you worthless, sick, angry waste of space.

    Anna Guide

  10. Paul Howes would sell his grandmother if he thought it would further his ambition. He's just as bad as the Liberals in his dog whistling. In fact, he probably looked at both parties and decided that Labor would be easier via the union to get where he wants as his values and beliefs depend on which way the wind is blowing.

  11. Anonymous bloggers? Is that what his wife thinks she is on Australia's biggest parenting forum?

  12. Anna,

    You have raised six issues ("quite a few" I suppose), so let's deal with those.

    1. The matter-of-fact discussion I referred to regards Paul Howes' perceived ambitions to enter parliament. Howes is attempting to deflect scrutiny from his political activities. Political activities are a legitimate topic for examination and discussion, but Howes deflects this with emotion as though a career in politics is as personal and private as, say, a medical or family issue.

    2. You don't use hashtags in blogs unless you're quoting from tweets in which hashtags are used. I'm glad that you apparently believe I've failed to be a hypocrite.

    3. I certainly don't believe that all marriages involving politicians fail as a direct result of public criticism. Marriages fail for many reasons. It isn't your place to speculate on my marriage, or Howes'. It is fair to say that a marriage where one or both parties is in public life must allow for public criticism as a normal part of that life. Howes creates the impression that he is entitled to a career in which he makes significant inputs into public affairs far beyond those of normal citizens, or even most ALP members, without any public scrutiny (except warm support, perhaps, as Chas Licciardello has pointed out). It's not fair or sensible to expect a career in the public eye without such scrutiny, of which criticism is an inevitable part.

    If I had chosen a life in politics, my family and I would have to develop coping strategies for criticism, even at times verging on intemperate. I learnt long before I was Paul Howes' age that this is part of the territory of public life. Paul Howes must do this (i.e. "suck it up") instead of complaining that he is being subject to unfair treatment. He is wrong to imply that others in his position don't suffer all that he has and much worse. To fail to develop coping strategies is to set yourself, and your family, up for failure; I gave examples of public figures who paid a grave price for such failure, whatever they might have achieved in public life. Howes is wrong to imply that any and all criticism of his actions and omissions is vicious and unwarranted, as he does.

    4. I'll stack my understanding of the Westminster system as it applies in Australia against yourself, Paul Howes or almost anyone, and I defy you to find a place within it for Paul Howes - especially a place where any and all scrutiny and criticism is regarded as "abuse", unfair, or results in ad hominem attacks against those who dare to voice their opinions.

  13. 5. Howes is chewing up a lot of airtime across different media, but I raised a number of issues where he boasted of the reach of his influence, yet he failed to consider important aspects of the issues over which he had so much influence. This shows that he is someone whose thought processes are not robust enough to be able to make responsible decisions over matters of importance. Add to that the pressure of public life, which affects some more than others, and in Paul Howes we have someone who is unsuited to the kind of high office he already holds - never mind any ambitions he might have (or that others might have for him).

    The idea that Paul Howes is uniquely, solely or initially concerned with civility in the realms of new technologies is false. He never gave it a moment's thought until it happened to him. These are debates that have been going on for many years and will go on long after Paul Howes has moved on. Howes is not even adding much to these debates other than inserting his own self - he's just a sook, and so are you.

    6. This blog gives you no insight to my personal life, it's all about my attitudes toward politics and journalism. Everyone who needs to recognise such brilliance as I have has done so: this is just something I do in my spare time.

    Such disappointments as I have are usually small and fleeting. The ones that pop up here mainly centre on sloppy public policy and poor reporting of same. I'm usually quite specific about what upsets me, the better to cauterise it from my life and address it with such means as are available to me. I'm angry about cant and humbug, and in the case of Paul Howes I'm angry that such an inadequate person is seeking power without responsibility over the way this country is run. I'm angry that people who should be more skeptical are giving him a rails run in terms of extensive and uncritical publicity. So is everybody else who's commented on this blog and on twitter, except Howes and yourself.

    To show how inadequate your assumption is, understand that my only experience of you is your comments on this blog. Read your piece again, then understand that all I can do is recommend that you seek professional help urgently and hope that you get well soon! I lead a happy and fulfilling life already and hope that you will too, with the right treatment and support.

  14. Andrew, you make valid points, but they bear no relation to the article you were criticising.
    Although I don't necessarily agree with Paul Howes' politics, I do agree with some of his comments around trolls, and the ignorant, vicious, cowardly remarks made behind the mask of anonymity. The challenge is not to ingore them, or "harden the fuck up", it's to counter them with facts and rational discussion, with information that will be read by the same people reading the trolls. It's a necessary fight that needs to be continued.

    What I also find interesting (and very funny) is just how precious the response has been from the bloggers on the fringe, just as precious as that "old" media you love disparaging so much. The (deliberate?) misunderstanding of what the original article was about has been as bad as when Greg Jericho was "outed", just from the other side. The hypocrisy is quite ironic, and also fatally weakens any position you may take using this approach.

    And your pathetic responses to Anna's comment did not address a single one of her points, you were just insulting and patronising. How do you expect any opinion, no matter how well thought through and articulately put, to have any impact when you cannot even effectively respond to rational criticism, let alone trolling. Lucky you aren't a politician...

  15. Mhoran,

    Yes, there are comments that truly are ignorant, vicious and cowardly, and nobody defends these. The trouble is, Howes regards any and all criticism of him as ignorant, vicious and cowardly, which bodes ill for his political career.

    I countered Anna with facts and rational discussion where her outburst warranted that, and I'm sorry you disagree. The reality is that criticism, whether well-mannered or not, is part of the territory of public life. Regardless of how you feel about it, it's true.

    If you walk down the street and tread in dogshit, you don't carry on about how unfair life is or condemn all streets and dogs - you wipe the shit off your shoe and get on with it.