REVIEW OF CONFESSIONS OF A FACELESS MAN BY PAUL HOWES, MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2010.
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.