Sunday, January 30, 2011



Paul Howes has come a long way in trade union politics in a relatively short time, from his teen years in the Democratic Socialist Party to National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, succeeding Bill Shorten after he went into Federal Parliament. In that time Paul’s politics have moved from the Far Left to the NSW Right, or at least one part of the NSW Right, and now the Victorian/ National Right.

Paul has become a national figure through his outspokenness on issues like more tolerance of refugees, and the rights of workers in the workplace, but it was his role in helping roll Kevin Rudd from the Prime Ministership and his assistance in installing Julia Gillard in the job that is the subject of Confessions of a Faceless Man. This book which Paul was Adlerised into writing by Louise Adler of Melbourne University Press, is a racy account of the 2010 Federal Election and the events immediately preceding the election. At times it has elements of a political thriller, though thankfully no one dies, not literally, but perhaps there are some political “deaths”. You may not like Paul’s right wing politics, and I don’t, but it is a witty account of the machinations behind the scene in that election, although I doubt that he tells us everything. Along the way he educates the reader on the role of the National Secretary of the AWU in national ALP politics and his union. He unashamedly advocates the role of the union in national politics, not forgetting its important work in protecting its members. At a time when there is so much union bashing, Paul’s honest advocacy on behalf of unions is a breath of fresh air.

Paul makes no secret of his dislike for Kevin Rudd and his style of government. He offers the reader his unvarnished and unapologetic explanation for being part of the coup against Rudd. He is frank with the reader about Rudd’s apparent role in the Federal Election although even he comes to respect some of Rudd’s actions in supporting the election of the Labor team over and above his personal hurt. Paul spares no words in his assessment of Mark Latham and his role in the Federal Election and records an amusing but scary conversation with Chris Minns, ALP National Assistant Secretary, about Latham “Mate”, Chris Minns says, “it wouldn’t surprise me if that guy is out there murdering backpackers on the weekend –he is completely unhinged.”

But it is his assessment of Tony Abbott that is spot on, and Paul, unlike many journalists during the campaign, reports full and frankly on his view of Tony Abbott. Paul draws out Abbott’s inconsistencies, his hypocrisies, and his conservative weirdness, several times questioning Abbott’s ability to be leader of a party, much less leader of the country, and his excitement and relief when Abbott is not given the support that he needs to take government by the Independents is palpable. Paul writes “And the thought of Abbott representing Australia overseas, accompanied by his joke of a Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious....Social policy, the environment, a republic, reconciliation, equality – all would take a back seat as an Abbott led government slowly but surely reshaped the country in the man’s own 1950s, white, monarchist image.” That’s about as close as Paul gets to setting out what he thinks should be the agenda for the Gillard Government, but if it is the agenda now, then they are not selling it all that well.

Paul is a young man in a hurry at the senior levels of the trade union movement. He writes a good read. I look forward to future accounts of his political life as it proceeds. I think there is a lot in his book that could be used to educate the current younger generation who are interested in labor politics and political science in this country.

Jenny Haines

Monday, January 17, 2011


As placed on a Crikey Blog, 17.1.11, by Jenny Haines.

As someone who was at the last State Conference of the Labor Party where delegates overwhelmingly voted against the privatisation of the State’s electricity assets based on the proposals that were then before the government, I am interested that there has been so little comment from the party and the trade unions on the sale process that has proceeded. It may be that they think this is the better option, as a least the power stations stay in State hands, and their employees remain State employees, at least for the first few years. But the Liberal National Coalition are a bunch of opportunists. Despite their position in opposition, Blind Freddy and his dog know that in government they would privatise the lot and deregulate the conditions of electricity system workers. I am constantly amazed that journalists and commentators let the Liberal National Coalition get away without being questioned closely on what they would do if they were in government. I disagree with the sale process that has happened. I think it is a mistake and one that we will live to regret. But the elelphant in the room needs addressing. The Liberal National Coalition are ideologically and practically committed to privatisation of everything not nailed down in NSW and if that means that workers get hurt, that is collateral damage for them. Voters in the coming State Election beware!

Thursday, January 06, 2011


SMH, 6.1.11.

So many acute needs, not enough time

I am a registered nurse working in a state hospital.

Carmel Tebbutt's comments that using a nurse-to-patient ratio as a staffing tool would lack ''the flexibility that is often needed to staff a modern hospital'' made my blood boil (''Nurses shut hospital beds in last-ditch attempt to reinstate talks on staffing ratios'', January 5).

I have worked in many hospitals, private and public, over the years and experienced many different staffing tools. Any tool that states ''flexibility'' is one that can be manipulated to suit the management and is a great excuse for not recruiting new staff or increasing casual numbers at busy times of the year.

Many of my colleagues are suffering depression and anyone who works in a hospital knows the stresses are increasing. There used to be a cycle in the year where it was relatively quiet over the warm months and holidays and busier during winter months, so at least there were some easier times in the working year. This cycle seems to have gone and the acuity remains high all year round.

Nursing has always been a challenging job. It is not easy trying to decide a priority for your time some days when there are so many acute needs and there are increasing problems with patient aggression as mental health, drug and alcohol issues grow.

In my experience over 34 years, the only staffing tool that addresses the variable environment of the ward areas is a set ratio and the ''one-to-four" is the only acceptable way to meet increasing patient needs.

I feel guilty because my daughter has followed me into nursing and I would encourage her to look at a different career. She is already experiencing the frustrations of being short staffed. Many of our young nurses are leaving as it is just too hard.

Nurses are largely driven by their caring nature. It is becoming a common cry that we wish someone would care for us.

Catherine Butler Macmasters Beach



Experience at issue, Letter published SMH today, 8.1.11.

The outcome of the inquiries into the fatal stabbing of a nurse at Bloomfield Hospital will be interesting reading (''Three inquiries into fatal hospital stabbing,'' January 7).

Of note here is that the deceased was an experienced nurse coming to the rescue of a new graduate. I wonder how much the new graduate knew about searching new patients? I wonder how much orientation she was given to the unit and its OH&S policies? I wonder what the staffing levels were like in the unit? With three inquiries under way, hopefully we will get some answers to these questions, because I suspect that these factors contributed to the situation.

Mental health nursing requires specialist knowledge. It is not something anyone can do. Shortages of qualified mental health nurses in recent years have left units reliant on younger and more inexperienced staff. In these circumstances there is a greater duty of care on the employer to ensure that these staff members are safe. It is not just a matter of covering the numbers on management staffing sheets. It is about people, and standards of care, and quality and safety, for patients and staff.

Jenny Haines Newtown

Yahoo 7 News, 6.1.11.

A nurse has died after an alleged stabbing at a hospital in central west NSW.

Police were called to the unit in Orange yesterday afternoon, where they found a 62-year-old male nurse with wounds to his chest and arms.

He was rushed to Orange Base Hospital in a critical but stable condition. He died this morning.

A 20-year-old female nurse was treated at the scene for lacerations to her hands and taken to Orange Base Hospital in a stable condition.

Police arrested a 33-year-old man at the scene and he is assisting officers with their investigation.

It is understood the incident happened at Bloomfield Hospital in Orange.

Sunday, January 02, 2011


How I'd fix up our state

02 January 2011

AWU National Secretary Paul Howes' opinion piece written for The Sunday Telegraph on 02 January 2011

I am a big fan of Kristina Keneally. Always have been.

I liked her long before she became NSW Premier. I've always thought she has the attributes required for good leadership.

However, I'll admit that lately it's become difficult to be much enthused about the NSW Labor government.

And while I'm a strong proponent of the notion that the worst Labor government will always be better than the best Liberal government, my partisanship has taken a beating in recent times.

For even its most loyal supporters (such as myself) it's hard to say exactly what NSW Labor has going for it right now.

The party has accomplished much in the past, which is probably why the people of NSW have put State Labor into power for 52 of the past 70 years.

However, for the past couple of years NSW Labor's stocks have been low and the handling of the Gentrader electricity privatisation hasn't helped one bit. But, if the Government is serious about at least trying to be re-elected, it's time the Premier began outlining and, more importantly, implementing plans to improve NSW. And there's a lot left to do.

So if I were to compile a wish list of things that I'd like to see a Labor government do in the event of it being re-elected, it might look something like this:

1 Build a rapid public transport system for Sydney.

The city's present heavy rail system dates back to around 1850, before which carrier pigeons were still the best way to send a message across town.

So although it has served the community well, it's time for it to join the 21st century or, if that's too ambitious, time it at least caught up with the 20th century.

Labor did have ill-conceived plans for a metro system which was rightly scrapped, but it can still begin planning a proper, well-designed, rapid mass-transit system.

After all, a metro doesn't mean abandoning our current CityRail network; it can complement and enhance existing links. It needn't take forever. The Shanghai Metro was opened in 1995and now has 273 stations and moves more than seven million people daily.

2 Build the M4 East to link the M4 with the City West link.

This must be the most obvious thing for a Labor government to do.

Sydney would have to be one of the only international cities where there is no motorway linking its two major business centres (the CBD and Parramatta in Sydney).

Not only would this make sense, but it would also be a great piece of infrastructure servicing the city's western suburbs.

3 Link the F3 Freeway with the Gore Hill Freeway.

Surely it's about time we were able to drive from Newcastle and the Central Coast to the Sydney CBD on a motorway.

Having to hop off the F3 at Hornsby and struggle along the Pacific Highway to the Gore Hill Freeway provides yet another reminder of the many black holes in Sydney's infrastructure.

4 Build more light rail.

I've never been able to understand the hostility to light rail. It's cheap, effective, popular and quick.

You can literally build a light rail line in a matter of months.

Thankfully, Labor has begun extending the existing light rail network to Dulwich Hill from Lilyfield, but it should go further.

A line from Central up Anzac Parade to UNSW or even Maroubra would alleviate huge pressures on the roads in the eastern suburbs.

It could also go from Central to Circular Quay and even right up the middle of Parramatta Rd from Central to the Parramatta CBD.

A similar system has been achieved in Adelaide, so why not in Sydney?

5 Amalgamate the councils.

It amazes me that we still have micro-governments making major planning decisions which, if the outcome is wrong, can take decades to rectify.

Most other states have managed to reform their local government structures to create sustainable, well-resourced, professional councils that are able to engage in long-term decision-making. NSW is crying out for this type of reform.

6 Create an independent infrastructure authority to achieve growth in regional NSW.

Living in Sydney, it's easy to forget that NSW is a big place and that NSW doesn't stand for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong.

But if we're going to take full advantage of the potential of regional NSW, we need to do more to encourage growth in the State's regions, much like Victoria has.

An independent planning body, similar to Infrastructure Australia and working in tandem with properly amalgamated councils, could see regional NSW really prosper.

7 Allow an inquiry into the sale of the electricity assets.

Several weeks ago, I wrote that I was unhappy with the way in which the State's electricity assets were being privatised.

Since then, my concerns have only increased. But if the Government has nothing to hide, and I'm sure it doesn't, there is nothing to stop it allowing the Upper House to investigate the sale. Of course, all this may well be too little, too late.

But with three months of this term of government still left to run, it may be time to show people what Labor can really do. After all, what has NSW Labor got left to lose?