07 November 2010

Eyes without a face

I always thought it was funny that a guy who's never worked a day in his life got to be head of the Australian Workers' Union, but not only is this so but he got to be a published author too.

Just like Chopper Read.

But at least Chopper Read can string together a grammatical sentence. And apply a metaphor so that it makes sense. Because if you can't write a blurb, and if the blurb you do write casts a pall over your book, what the hell are you doing to AWU members and how can we work together so that your political career goes no further than it has.
THE implosion of the Rudd government has been something of an elephant in the room
An implosion is not an elephant. It is nothing of an elephant whatsoever.

The rivalry between John Howard and Peter Costello for the leadership of the Liberal Party was much talked about but little came of it in terms of policy outcomes. The rivalry between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard is much the same really.
But as the Gillard government settles into power, and gets on with the business of governing - passing legislation, working with the independents and providing stable leadership ...
Is that all there is to governing? Really? No policy issues to for Labor people to die in a ditch over, no pressing issues crying out for a response greater than the transactional politics described above?
... it's time to start looking at what went wrong during the period of the last government.
Why? Many in the journosphere are still hunting out their elusive Walkleys by looking for signs of awkwardness in the Rudd-Gillard relationship. What on earth can be gained, in policy terms, from Howes piling on? So he's got a book to sell, who hasn't? John Howard has a book to sell and he has some opinions on the Rudd government too.
And no one's going to forget 2010 in a hurry.
Great: no need to rake over it, is there? We were and are all there, not much left to say really.
If the saying, "A week is a long time in politics" is true, you can safely say this year seemed like an eternity.
If it's just a cliche for adrenaline junkies who can't handle big, enduring and substantive issues, then there's not much left to say and no reason to buy your book.
It's a year in politics that will be dissected, studied and written about for decades to come.

It will probably become a seminal turning point in the history of Australian Labor and domestic politics, alongside 1975 and 1955.
More like 1991, the last time the Labor Party rolled a PM who looked set to lead them to defeat. There were big issues in play in 1975 and 1955, the problems of 2010 were that the big issues kept getting shunted off the table by clowns like Arbib and your own self, Paul Howes.
And for those of us who identify with Labor ideas and values, the result of the 2010 election has been a gigantic wake-up call.
So the entire labour movement had governed the nation, and you had scribbled your diary, while being asleep?
Tomorrow, my first book will be launched ... it's my personal diary of the recent election campaign.
As opposed to someone else's personal diary, or a dollop of self-serving bullshit on par with John Hyde Page?
I wrote it because I wanted to document what I thought had gone right and gone wrong with Labor's campaign during the election ...
But you were asleep, Paul. Everyone was asleep, apparently. Someone who's awake enough to keep a diary does not need a wake-up call. Someone who's keeping a diary hasn't got time for quotidian representation of the interests of Australian Workers.
... I believe it's important for the Labor Party and the wider labour movement to be more open to different ideas and opinions.
You didn't get where you are by being Mr Different Ideas And Opinions. If Bill Ludwig found out you had Ideas, you'd be sweeping out shearing sheds out the back of Bob Katter's electorate faster than you could say boo, not lounging on a divan dictating your memoirs. Unvarnished and honest? Yeah, right. Brutal? Possibly, but not for the reasons you'd think.

The essential dilemma of Australian Labor was exposed by Doug Cameron a few weeks ago, for free. Cameron rejoiced that the Labor caucus was full of union officials, similar to himself and Paul Howes. Cameron then went on to say that the Labor caucus was full of zombies who wouldn't challenge Rudd, and Paul Howes says much the same thing (another reason not to buy his book). These two descriptions are linked. Union officials these days are as careerist as the most soulless corporate drone. They are not the tough, independently-minded and self-educated tinsmiths, French polishers and train drivers who built the ALP. They - you - are punished if they deviate from the Set Line, however stupid, and rewarded to the extent that the line is toed. Labor is not for the toey.
Ministers were not encouraged to debate ideas and Cabinet became a rubber-stamping committee. Those who did try to talk to the prime minister about the problems facing the government were so brutalised by their experiences that many never tried it again.
Awww, diddums. These people were happy to toe the line all the way up through the labour movement: Bill Ludwig, Kim Carr, Graham Richardson, Joe de Bruyn, all demanded loyalty and got it. Somehow, these battle-hardened professionals went up against Kevin from Nambour, Beijing and Brissy, and they collapsed in a heap. I sure wouldn't trust these delicate flowers with, say, the interests of Australian Workers.
I want real loyalty. I want someone who will kiss my ass in Macy's window, and say it smells like roses.

- Lyndon B. Johnson
If you think that a week is a long time in politics and that 2010 is some sort of epoch, then I should point out that Johnson was President of the United States during the 1960s and that Macy's refers to a department store in New York.

Rudd demanded power and got it. What he did with it is another question, and because your book is all about you then I doubt you'll be big enough to go into those issues. Never mind being smart after he event, did you agree with Rudd's decision to drop/defer the ETS? Did you, at the time, Paul Howes? No, I won't buy the book and chances are someone will serialise it anyway; hopefully you'll be big enough to outline your own position and what you did to make yourself heard, or confirm when someone else does it for you.
Some Cabinet ministers couldn't get a meeting with Rudd at all.
And this affected Australian Workers how?
As readers of this column know, I have something of a bee in my bonnet on the issue of refugees' rights.

It's not a popular stance, and I know this.

But back in 2009, when I spoke out, yet again, on the refugee issue, Rudd slapped me down in a very public way.

During Question Time, no less.

His message was very clear - he would not tolerate dissent in any way.

I was embarrassed.

Actually, I was mortified.
If it's nothing more than a bee in your bonnet, or more correctly a pose, no wonder Rudd slapped you down. If you're going to go public on an issue of public policy, isn't it going to be a public issue? Would you prefer to be plied with port and cigars in a quiet room, and then ignored? Would it be better if the nominal head of the Australian Workers' Union could waft in and waft out unseen, and leave no trace other than having his bonnet-bees enacted to the letter? If so, say so. You're no better than Rudd then, but at least it will be true.
And it became clear to me why others were not similarly taking Rudd on: nobody would dare.

That is not how democracy works.

The party became increasingly closed, and those within the wider labour movement who spoke out or disagreed on policy issues were marginalised and shut up.
Do you think the wider labour movement wanted deregulations, privatisations, tariff reductions etc.? No, it bloody didn't, and there wasn't time to consult them and win them all over. There was, however, time to cut the number of unions, restrict the staff thereon to clowns like yourself, and have them do what it took to put the policies in train. That culture has reinforced itself to the point where, regardless of the issue at hand (and it is regardless) no serious observer gives a monkey's what the wider labour movement thinks. Therefore, we are now at a point where there is no labour movement wider than Paul Howes and people not significantly or sufficiently different to him. And that, for all his protestations, is how Paul Howes likes it, and needs it to be.
That culture needed to end.
That's not a paragraph. Neither is this, really. The writing is. Appalling. Like a man who thinks that writing a book is like an extended press release. With ungrammatical sentences. That fail to add drama or gravitas where none were present. Brutal on the language. Annoying to the reader.

Besides, the culture you describe got rid of John Howard and got job upgrades for many labour movement zombies, including yourself Paul Howes.
I believe that, as Prime Minister, Gillard is keen to ensure that Labor returns to being a party of ideas and debate.

And I'm pleased to see that already many Labor ministers, MPs and supporters outside Parliament are working to ensure that debate is had and ideas are generated.
Give me one example, Paul. One example where Gillard is leading a public debate, and allowing the sorts of random inputs that drive press secs (people more similar to Paul Howes than your standard AWU member) crazy.

I'll give you two:
  • the Minister for Sport supports gay marriage, the Prime Minister doesn't. For the government, it's end-of-story unless the Minister for Sport wants to make something of it, which he probably doesn't. To regard this as an issue at all, you have to widen the debate to consider those affected by such a decision; people like Paul Howes get where they are by narrowing debates, not widening them.
  • Since Gillard became PM Howes has not uttered a word on refugees. Presumably the bee in his bonnet has been pacified in some other way, because the issues affecting the people themselves is pretty much the same, and while they won't forget 2010 either they could be forgiven for not knowing who you are. What could be more mortifying than that?
Do Australian Workers have opinions on gay marriage, refugees, or the rights of unions to prosecute employers - if so, what are they? Don't tell me that they don't care: the SDA reckon that their members are all up-in-arms about abortion and euthanasia, one would assume the AWU is similarly engaged on the issues with Mr Democracy at the helm.
But it does mean that supporters of the party should be able to make their voices heard without the fear of appearing disloyal.

After all, that's democracy.
Another example: recently, the Premier of New South Wales attempted to change an agreement so that people like Paul Howes would benefit. The Prime Minister insisted that the original agreement was good enough for people like Paul Howes. The Prime Minister criticised the Premier in public, during Question Time and elsewhere, the full Paul Howes nightmare. The silence of people like Paul Howes was deafening: they didn't support the Premier or the Prime Minister.

When it comes to loyal criticism of a federal Labor government, if a Labor Premier of New South Wales can't etc., etc., and oh what's the use.
And many people felt very angry that the Labor Party had treated a prime minister (seemingly) so badly.
They are the very sorts of people who used to feel part of the Labor Party until people like Paul Howes took over. Paul Howes got to where he is by ignoring such people.
It seems to me that because the election had to be held so soon after the change of leadership, there was no opportunity to properly explain to the Australian people what exactly had gone wrong with the Rudd government.
At the previous election, you were quite happy to say what was wrong with the Howard government, so why not? Election campaigns are all about communication, and as the campaign was run by people like Paul Howes they didn't want to explain ("never complain, never explain, never resign" - right Paul?). We're all moving forward.
Kevin Rudd is an able man, and will be a competent Foreign Minister.
How would you know? You couldn't get a meeting with him. On what basis to you judge a Foreign Minister anyway? How collegiate do you think H V Evatt or Gareth Evans were? How collegiate was the last Queenslander to be Foreign Minister, Bill Hayden?

The challenge for the government is not to go over old ground or even sell some books. The challenge is to get some debates happening and decisions made. In 1992, Paul Keating was not going on about how Bob Hawke was so totally crushing his dreams - he was introducing the sorts of policy ideas that Hawke wasn't introducing, vindicating by default those who'd backed him and forcing those who didn't to either change their minds or leave. This is precisely what Gillard isn't doing, or not doing enough, and what she should be doing.

The challenge facing Gillard is not the challenge facing Paul Howes, and long may this continue to be so.


  1. A few quibbles, if I may.
    1. If you are going to criticise a guy for bad grammer, &/or inelegant sentence construction, proof-read your own stuff first before you publish. It helps to make your point more salient.
    2. A companion piece about the utter gormlessness of the pronouncements made by some of the Coalition mouthpieces, &/or their camp followwers, would be appreciated. As you are probably well aware, some of them are just as full of their own self-worth as young Mr Howes, and as ungainly and inelegant with the written and spoken word.
    3. I can't wait to spread this missive around my next ALP FEC meeting, in order to see the reactions of the various ALP worthies therein who think that Paul is the future; when, in fact, as the smart money within the party knows, the ALP should be running a mile from his kind, and searching for whip-smart, aggressive intellectuals that pay lip service to the Union movement as a concept, but are not of it. Instead focussing the party on societal progression through egalitarian meritocracy. In contrast to the Conservatives' economic elitism.
    Simple really.

  2. 1. I have the choice of sentence construction through wide reading, Howes is trapped in a bad writing vortex through apparently reading only the yellow press.
    2. Have you read this blog? Lacking in gorm is the least of their troubles. I'm the original Tony Abbott Skeptic.
    3. I think that Howes would regard himself as the sort of person you're yearning for: he's more like that than he is your typical AWU member.

  3. Dunno that Paul Howes is either whip-smart or an intellectual, Andrew (although I realise that's not your main point).

    I would've characterised him as smug, rather full of himself, and not as clever as he thinks he is. And I haven't even read his book!

  4. David, how a man perceives himself and how others perceive him are not necessarily the same thing (though I agree with your perspective).

  5. Paul Howes is indicative of the demise of values of the ALP. Bereft of anything other than a need to rule the ALP is a shallow,meaningless bunch of power hungry grubs who have defecated on the guiding principles of a once great political party. Gillard is as shallow as a puddle and has nil intestinal fortitude, hence her backdown every time the pig squeals.
    And the alternative is???

    Gaia help us all.

  6. An implosion can't be an elephant but it can be an elephant in the room -- that's what idioms and metaphors are for. But it is certainly a clumsy and lazy choice (imploding elephants anyone?) And authors don't write their own blurbs; editors (like me) do. I enjoyed this piece though and agree with its basic argument.

  7. Idioms, metaphors etc. that detract from the meaning of the piece are counterproductive, and editors should know that. Read George Orwell's essay 'Politics and the English Language' (available online) and you should be cured of any urge to toss your readers into a tangle of metaphors.

  8. You're an idiot, Andrew. The editor writes the blurb, you blithering fool. Howes quite clearly didn't. How embarrassing for you.

    And how many book deals have you been offered, just for the record?

    Oh, that's be none, right?

    I feel really sorry for you. Life didn't work out as you planned, huh? The world not recognising your brilliance, right? So, with your petty, spiteful, mean little blog, you bash out your fury to the world.

    Call a Waaahmbulance for this loser, someone.

  9. Anna,

    The piece is under Paul Howes' name - not the editor's, not yours or anyone else's (unless the editor is also named "Paul Howes"). The article is under Howes' name, therefore Howes takes responsibility for the article; it's that simple.

    A book deal is not a sign of success in itself, particularly when you've never sought to get one. People who don't read as many books as I do may be in slack-jawed awe of the book deal in itself, but there's no reason why I should be. In this instance a well-written, reflective and perceptive book on matters of importance is the standard against which Howes is judged, and found wanting.

    I don't care how you feel, you and Howes need to grow thicker skins. If your skins were as thick as mine you'd be better off.