The Faceless Men At Work
I was working for The Canberra Times when I first met Alan Reid.
Alan, known as the "Red Fox", was a political correspondent for Sir Frank Packer's Daily Telegraph. It was a tabloid with broadsheet ethics and helped mould serious opinion. A half century later, under Murdoch, it is merely a reactionary shadow of its former self.
In those days we used Pitman's shorthand instead of phone recorders and bashed away on noisy mechanical typewriters with ever-sticking keys.
I recall the bent-over figure of chain smoking Alan. You would not dare interrupt his concentration as his two nicotine stained fingers danced furiously over his keys.
Alan Reid was the first to use the term, "the faceless men" and it stuck.
It was in the early hours of Friday, March 22, 1963 when Alan was reporting on the ALP's Federal Conference. It was held in the Canberra landmark, Kingston Hotel. Inside the hotel were 36 ALP delegates deciding what Labor Party policies the looming election was to be fought on.
Outside the hotel, waiting in the Canberran cold, stood the ALP leader Arthur Calwell and his deputy Gough Whitlam.
Neither were delegates to the Conference and could take no decisive part.
Alan, ever the astute reporter, awoke his photographer mate, Vladimir Paral, and that morning the iconic pics were blazened across the pages of the Tele.
The ALP didn't win that election. If they had won, the Calwell/Whitlam Labor Government would have followed the doctrine of 36 unelected, unknown unionists.
Little has changed since. You see, the Labor Party is the creation of unions and is jealously guarded as the political arm of power-brokers. Those who do well within the union structure are rewarded with one of many inner-suburban "safe" seats. Until recently a Labor Prime Minister was unable to even choose his Ministers.
The use of slush funds and branch stacking determines who wins pre-selection for every safe seat. Talent or executive ability is a secondary requirement once you have the union boss's nod.
[Currently, the most talentless, inarticulate moron in the Labor Party is the Federal Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig.
Joe is famed for his cattle export exploits. Joe is the son of AWU heavy "Big Bill" Ludwig and what "Big Bill" says goes.]
Anyway, back to the "Red Fox" and fast forward to 2007. Kevin Rudd, without factional union backing, had won the Federal election for Labor. There was reluctantly no other choice of Labor leader for that election but Kevin 07. Talent was pretty thin on the ground as is usual for Labor, because of unions' prioritising.
Kevin's days were always numbered. He got Labor its treasured government but his use-by date was looming fast. Without a faction to garner and nurture his support he was always a dead man walking. He really didn't know this.
Union power-brokers were casting their lots. Shorten and Abib's NSW right had attained Qld Bill Ludwig's blessing and the Socialist Left's Gillard was anointed.
When the time was right the plan was seamlessly enacted. The results of internal ALP polling were circulated by Gillard within Caucus while Kevin was overseas. The polling showed Kevin to be an electoral disaster. But those polls were purposefully skewed... subscribers to the poll were already known to be anti Kevin.
Caucus had been hoodwinked into believing Kevin's electoral support was lower than it was. Gillard was taking no chances, the numbers were now with her.
The scene was set, the challenge was on and Kevin tore back from overseas to muster what he thought were his numbers. Gillard had cunningly left him only the weekend to do so. But it was too late anyway. By Monday morning Kevin realised all was lost. He didn't even contest. Gillard's new-found faction had beaten him.
I remembered the "Red Fox" as Caucus members, including Ministers, filed out of Parliament House prior to that weekend. The Press had smelt the blood of Kevin and were desperate for comment. "Challenge? What challenge?"
"You blokes are unreal... it's just another of your beatups", a backbencher retorted. They really didn't know!
The ALP Members we elected to Parliament actually didn't know there was about to be a change in their leader and our Prime Minister. But the faceless men of the unions and the anointed Gillard knew long before.
Ensuing ALP jobs for unionists rained from heaven like manna.
But now there are restless and wounded men in Labor ranks and no-one hates like a dudded Labor man hates. The worm has turned and the time for the killer's killing is nigh.
Union factions are again shuffling their cards. A new game is on, the stakes are high and someone just upped the ante with a Gillard scandal.