Who needs elections when you’ve got the AWU?
Elections are an expensive business. The last federal poll cost $170 million. That’s a lot of school books and hospital supplies. But if the cost of elections troubles you, despair not as relief is at hand.
Who needs elections anyway when you’ve got the Australian Workers Union?
For the second time in six months this union is kindly offering to step in on behalf of the voters – or more accurately, instead of the voters – to take over the hiring and firing a democratically elected government leader.
Victoria goes to the polls tomorrow but in a lot of ways a bigger political story is unfolding in South Australia as Mike Rann fights for survival ahead of this weekend’s State Labor conference.
Rann’s current problems are largely of his own making. For most of his time in office, a sizeable majority of South Australian voters have supported Rann, who has presided over growth and investment after that long period of post-State Bank darkness.
But since defying expectations by winning a workable majority at this year’s March election, Rann has lost his mojo. The Budget which he and Treasurer Kevin Foley brought down has been denounced as offensive to traditional Labor values, with its cuts to public sector jobs and services and its erosion of worker entitlements.
Rann has yet to provide a convincing explanation as to the merits of the sister-state relationship with Puglia, where conveniently enough he owns his own Italian getaway. It is a pretty suss arrangement which looks like an exit strategy for a guy whom many believe has lost interest in doing the job he was elected to do.
But the key word here is “elected”. Mike Rann was elected Premier for a third time in March of this year. One bloke who has never been popularly elected is Wayne Hanson. Wayne is the state secretary of the Australian Workers Union. I don’t know anyone in Adelaide who voted for Wayne. Despite this Wayne has decided that Mike Rann, despite being re-elected just eights months ago for a fixed four-year term, should get out of politics next year, and that he should take Kevin Foley with him.
The Australian Workers Union has a motion listed for debate at this weekend’s convention calling for Rann and Foley to “effect generational leadership change prior to the 2011 state convention”.
Aside from showing that even the old shearers’ union now speaks in management jargon, this poorly-worded motion demonstrates an extraordinary level of impertinence by this union. It’s almost as if the AWU is professionally indifferent to the rights of voters, in its determination to influence or even decide the structure of Labor’s parliamentary party.
The amazing thing about the union’s conduct, especially in light of its controversial role in the Rudd-Gillard coup, is that it’s not even chastened or cautious about its behaviour. In contrast, these guys seem to get off on it.
The national secretary of the AWU is Paul Howes. He strikes me as a smart person in a policy sense – his straight talk on issues such as Afghanistan is admirable coming from someone broadly of the Left. He also has a pretty inspiring back story, spending much of his youth homeless and living on the streets of Sydney’s inner-west.
For all that there is something about the swaggering pathology of Howes, who has boasted in his new book about his role in knifing Rudd, which is offensive to anyone who believes that it’s ordinary voters who should hire and fire leaders.
Labor speechwriter and journalist Bob Ellis wrote a piece on the ABC website The Drum this week about the recent spat between Howes and Mark Latham. In the piece Ellis revealed that he often corresponded with Howes and that, in July of this year, three weeks after Rudd had been removed as PM for Gillard, the AWU boss had this to say about Rudd:
“I’m trying to work out some way to keep his legacy and memory alive for years and decades to come as a constant reminder of how one slightly unhinged, vindictive geek from semi-rural Queensland almost destroyed the soul of our great movement and why we should never let his ilk stain the party again.”
It’s a pretty extraordinary level of abuse to direct at someone who by then was politically dead anyway. Indeed the extent of Howes’ venom suggests that he should be wary about labelling other people unhinged vindictive geeks.
Meanwhile, back in Adelaide, AWU secretary Wayne Hanson will happily tell anyone who will listen that he believes (despite what an absolutely majority of South Australians decided eight months ago) that Mike Rann must go as soon as possible.
“We are saying to the leadership, you have had your place in the sun,” he told The Advertiser’s Greg Kelton this month.
So just a few months after Rudd was punted, triggering an almost unmanageable chain of political events which almost cost Labor power, this same outfit is trying it again in SA.
The local arm of the AWU should reflect on the national debate which followed Rudd’s knifing and the August 21 election cliff-hanger.
Voters had their chance to turf Rann a few months ago and chose not to do so. Some of them may now be ruing their decision given his recent performance. But it doesn’t follow that they’re hoping a bloke called Wayne Hanson, who they wouldn’t know from a cold pastie, should step in and get rid of Rann for them.
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