Friday, March 02, 2012

Bruce Hawker, faceless men, and flying pigs ...

(Above: click to enlarge).

Every so often, the pond feels a fit of the Gerard Hendersons coming on, as someone shows they don't have the first clue or folk memory about Australia's political history.

The Faceless men riff was first cranked up by Sir Frank Packer hack Alan Reid in 1963, and it referred to the thirty six members of the Australian Labor Party's federal conference, which determined election policy.

At the time, the parliamentary leader Arthur Calwell wasn't a delegate to the conference, and a photo caught him kicking his heels outside the conference. (No need to rabbit on anymore about it, there's a wiki faceless men. Is there now a wiki about everything?)

The key pitch to the leaflet that the Liberal party subsequently issued, with snap, and evocative wording like "Calwell with two of his masters, waiting for orders from the 36 faceless men", was:

This astonishing picture concerns you - because 36 unknown men, not elected to Parliament nor responsible to the people, were laying down policy and giving orders on critical questions of defence and foreign relations which could affect every man and woman in the country. Australia's security and your security are involved when national leadership on great affairs is surrendered to unknown outsiders bitterly fighting with one another about action on national survival.

Now by this definition, like or loathe him - and in any case he's now a feather duster - Mark Arbib has for years not been a faceless man. He was elected to Parliament and was responsible to the people, as for that matter was Bill Shorten, David Feeney and Don Farrell when it came to the deposing of former chairman Rudd.

Sure, some of them might be a part of that herd of unrepresentative swill known as the Senate, but by being elected to parliament they escape the early, historically based charge of being faceless men (lordy, if you want pedantry, just get the pond started on history).

In the context of the demolition of former chairman Rudd, Paul Howes - as an outsider running a union - could be considered the classic faceless man.

The point of course is not that he lacks a face, since Howes has long been up himself in the media, a strutting peacock full of self-promotion in such disreputable organs as the Daily and Sunday Terror, but the point is metaphorical, that he works behind closed doors, not as a member of parliament voted in by the people, and there's no way to vote the bugger out, unless you happen to be a member of the union. (Don't hold your breath trying comrades).

In the recent dust-up, the most obvious example of a faceless man was Bruce Hawker, and such is the size of Hawker's ego, that he sees no problem with him carrying on the business of being a faceless man.

Which again is not to say that he's faceless in a physical way. Recent photographic evidence suggests he's well-faced:

(found here, and a lovely snap it is too, kudos Alan Pryke)

The funniest thing? Hawker doesn't think of himself as one of the faceless men, because apparently they can only be unionists. In the version peddled in his profile in the Global Mail, he and Kevin Rudd

... share a distaste for the power of the factions in the Labor Party and for union influence, and a loathing of the so-called "faceless men" who run the factions. (here)

Yet Hawker himself sees no problem in carrying on like a chook on matters which might be deemed to be matters best handled by parliamentarians ... like who's going to lead them:

... I worked closely with Julia Gillard to convince the Independents to support a Labor government. So, no-one can seriously question my commitment to the ALP. My vocal support and active involvement in its debates will continue despite not being an elected representative. And, along the way, I intend ruffling a few feathers now and then, if I think that's going to improve our prospects of winning the next election.

Uh huh. Despite not being an elected representative ...

Alan Reid, where are you now you're needed again?

Now of course every faceless man thinks that a commitment to the ALP and an active involvement in its debates is sufficient grounds for running a campaign to toss out a leader. But does being a media guru with too much time on your hands get you off the faceless man label?

Hawker thinks it does, as he explains at tedious self-justifying length in Why I publicly supported Rudd for The Drum.

Over the last week a number of politicians have attacked me for my public support for Kevin Rudd.

Their main point seemed to be that it was none of my business to become involved in a caucus battle.

Well I beg to differ. First, I've been a member of the ALP since 1978. Second, I have worked on more than 30 state, territory and federal campaigns for the ALP - most of them successful. I believe it is every party member's business and every one of them should have their say.

Australia is one of the few leading democracies where our leaders are elected exclusively by the caucus - effectively allowing them to discount party members' views and public opinion.

Uh huh. So the very reaction to the successful faceless men routine way back in the sixties by the Labour pary - which was to empower elected parliamentarians and give them the right to elect their leader - should now be cast aside for every drover's dog that's handed out leaflets outside the local polling booth. There needs to be a referendum on who runs the Labor party, each and every time there's a leadership spill ...

Hawker's understanding of politics in other places - which he uses to justify his position - is somewhat elastic:

In Britain the Labour Party and the Conservatives give rank and file branch members a vote in leadership tussles.

Actually Conservative Party Leadership elections involve rank and file parliamentary members. And if you take a look at the Labour Party (UK)'s leadership election in 2010, you'll now that what Hawker wrote is the purest form of drivel, because the vote allocated to individual members of the party is tokenism of the purest Labor party kind, and as usual, the unions helped Ed Miliband over the line.

Next Hawker conflates the presidential races in France and Italy with parliamentary elections - as if the voting in of Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy constituted some kind of populist triumph - and holds up the current Republican presidential circus as something to emulate, as a kind of triumph of tea party power populism. Yes, let's get Rick Santorum to head the Labor party as the purest expression of people power ...

Oh wait, we've already had a sanctimonious Christian, in the form of church door stopper Rudd.

It turns out that Hawker is infatuated with the New Democratic Party in Canada, and peddles the notion that there's some kind of broad-based and vigorous election campaign involving every person who pays their membership dues going down. When you take a closer look, the labour movement holds up to one third of delegates (here), and all the current fracas seems to mean is that there's plenty of work for campaign volunteers, campaign managers and lobbyists of the Hawker kind (NDP Leadership).

Australia of course has had its own form of direct election, direct policy party. Out of the mists of time come fond memories of the Australian Democrats, and a balloting of members on leadership and policy issues which led to Cheryl Kernot, the GST, Meg Lees, Natasha Stott Despoja and electoral oblivion ...

Never mind, because in the end all Hawker's piece is doing is providing retrospective excuses for an idle millionaire getting involved in the Labor party, and doing what faceless men have done since time immemorial.

Naturally the hatchets were out pretty quick, as you can see if you read Vexnews, and Merchant of Menace: Rudd's faceless man millionaire lobbyist Bruce Hawker's world of sleaze exposed, which provoked a response, including a threat of legal action, and then a response from Vexnews, Go Ahead, Make Our Day: Bruce Hawker threatens to sue Vexnews for speaking truth to his power.

Well the pond merely links, and has no idea of the truth of the matters evoked by Vexnews, and we look forward to Mr. Hawker's legal action to clear his name, and the result will be faithfully reported here.

But in the meantime it is possible to suggest that there seems to be something of a gap between their assertions, and Hawker's brave assertions in The Drum that he acted as a faceless man for righteous people power reasons.

Perhaps he's more part of the problem than its solution? Because lordy both the Labor and Liberal parties need root and branch reform, but can millionaire faceless men root out the faceless men who are the cause of all the problems ...?

Of course there is an alternative. Hawker could stand for parliament.

What's that you say? You just saw a pig flying across the face of the moon?

(Below: calling all Pink Floyd fans, your pig was above the Battersea Power Station in 2011).


  1. Saints be praised, Shanahan's done it again! Who else could possibly have a column entitled "The foreign minister who never was" on the very day Carr gets the job? Gold. Thank you, Den - love your work so very much.

  2. Sorry to natter on, but I forgot to say this:

    You couldn't make it up.

  3. Yes, DP, as if further proof was needed, the anointing of Bob Carr sets in stone the rabid anti-clericalism of Gillard. Why, she could have selected any number of deserving Irish and/or Catholics, but Carr is agnostic, at best, and the name sounds Scottish. What about David Feeney for FM, or drafting in that odious creep from the Shoppies? A more suitable appointment would have secured 3% in the polls, no doubt.
    She is to be deposed at all costs, and I hope the Sunday sermons fuel the uprising.


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