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AWU has switched allegiance to Gillard -

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AWU has switched allegiance to Gillard

Broadcast: 23/06/2010

Reporter: Tony Jones

Australian Workers Union National Secretary Paul Howes joins Lateline.

Transcript

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: One of the key moments of tonight's extraordinary developments was the
announcement that the Australian Workers Union had lost confidence in Kevin Rudd and was backing a
move to Julia Gillard.

Well the national secretary of the AWU is Paul Howes. He joins us in the studio.

Why did you do that?

PAUL HOWES, NATIONAL SECRETARY, AUSTRALIAN WORKERS' UNION: Well we've been looking at what's in the
best interests of the members of our union. We know that if Tony Abbott is elected as a prime
minister of Australia, Work Choices will be back, the legislation which ripped away fairness from
our workplaces will be reinstituted on our members, reimposed on our members, and we know that
Labor's message had been lost for the last few weeks, and in fact months, under the Prime
Minister's leadership.

We have to look at what's in the best interests of our members of our union to ensure fairness
remains in our member workplaces and we think that Julia Gillard is the best option to lead Labor
to victory at the upcoming election.

TONY JONES: And it would be fair to say that you've never really liked Kevin Rudd, you don't
consider him to be a figure of the Labor Party, he's some sort of hybrid politician who's been
grafted on. Is that the way you look at it?

PAUL HOWES: No, that's, that's ridiculous. I mean he's the leader of the Labor Party, he's been
working for the Labor Party as a member of Parliament for many years, he's been in Labor for a long
time. That's nothing to do with what tonight's events are about.

Tonight's events are about ensuring that Labor gets its message through, that we're able to talk
about the accomplishments of this Government, they're able to talk about the case of why an Abbott
prime ministership would be bad for the environment, would be bad for health, would be bad for
working people and why we need to ensure that we continue on the mission that we started three
years ago to restore fairness for our workplaces, to keep our economy strong, to have a fair
redistribution of the massive wealth that's being generated through the mining industry and
unfortunately, unfortunately that message has been lost over the last couple of months as the
ongoing instability about the Prime Minister's leadership has clouded out all the issues that Labor
needs to talk about in this election.

TONY JONES: Tell us what happened behind the scenes in this move against Kevin Rudd, because you
have been talking to all the major players over the past 24 hours, spell out for us because people
are going to be writing political PhDs on this subject.

PAUL HOWES: Well I don't know about that but I mean, I, I, I had a normal day at work today. I met
with the leadership of my union and we talked about where this election's going. We talked about
how difficult it's been to get the message through, about why we need to ensure that Work Choices,
whatever the name, never comes back again.

The leadership of our union took the decision this afternoon that we should throw our support
behind Julia Gillard for the leadership of the Party. That's not an easy decision for us to make
and, you know, we're not members of Caucus, we don't tell members of Caucus how to vote.

TONY JONES: But you talk to members of Caucus and members of the factions and you've known all
along what's been going on during the course of the day, can you give us some insight?

PAUL HOWES: Well I talk to members of the Caucus all the time. What's happened today has been
outlined and will be outlined in weeks to come. I mean I'm not sure of all the machinations,
obviously. The Deputy Prime Minister has been in a meeting with the Prime Minister for a long
period of time, we heard the outcome of that in the Prime Minister's press conference just before
this program went to air.

What's important for our union, and what's important for our movement is that Labor gets its
message back on track. That we recognise the fact that Tony Abbott is a major risk, a major risk to
fairness in our workplaces. That if we lose the next election it will be like losing the 2007
election because it will demonstrate that that party can bring back Work Choices.

TONY JONES: Right, do you believe Julia Gillard actually has the numbers tomorrow as an awful lot
of commentators now believe?

PAUL HOWES: Well I don't know, I mean that's, that's a question for the parliamentary party and,
you know, it's obviously happened in a very short period of time and there will be a caucus at 9:30
tomorrow morning so there won't be that long to wait to find out what the outcome is.

What's important for us is that the party, the party becomes reunified behind a strong leader.
Julia Gillard is a strong leader. She's a person who managed to kill Work Choices, put in the fair
work legislation, she has enormous popularity in the electorate. She's led the education revolution
and she's been a good, loyal deputy to the Prime Minister.

Sad, and to a very good Prime Minister, but sadly the Prime Minister's message has not been able to
get through to the electorate over the last months and weeks and that's why change is needed.

TONY JONES: Have you spoken to Julia Gillard this evening?

PAUL HOWES: I've spoken to many members of the Parliament over tonight explaining what our union's
view is and we don't, we don't...

TONY JONES: Did you only a very short time ago take a call from Julia Gillard?

PAUL HOWES: I spoke to Julia very briefly to tell her that the union, the union's position is that
we're supporting her leadership.

TONY JONES: And what did she say to you?

PAUL HOWES: It was very, very brief conversation. I just wanted to make sure that she heard that
from us rather than from you, Tony.

TONY JONES: Did you have any sense that she believes she has the numbers to become the first female
prime minister of Australia?

PAUL HOWES: I didn't ask her that question and she didn't give me that answer. It was a very brief
conversation as it was with many other people in the Party tonight to tell them what the union's
position is. Which is not unlike the position of the Health Services Union. I've seen that Michael
Williamson, who's also the national president of the Party has also endorsed Julia Gillard's
leadership.

The union always form a position on the leadership of the party whenever there is leadership
changes. We don't tell people how to vote, but we have been affiliated with the ALP since 1891 and
that's why it's important that we put that...

TONY JONES: Has your union ever withdrawn its support, in this manner, from a sitting prime
minister?

PAUL HOWES: Well, you know, it's been a long time since something like that's happened. I can't
look through the annals of the history of the union. We were formed in 1886. But this is pretty
unprecedented and the situation we're in is pretty dire.

This is a good Government with a good record and we can't get that message out. We can't get that
message out because there is a dark cloud over the Labor leadership and there has been for the last
few weeks and months.

It's important we put that behind us, we have a strong, solid message about what Labor stands for.
It stands for fairness in our workplace, it stands for a strong health and hospitals network, it
stands for a fair redistribution of wealth out of the mining industry and if we can't get that
message out under the current Prime Minister that's why it's time for a change.

TONY JONES: How significant was it that the right wing factions appear to have been behind this
move, appear to have been organising for some time?

PAUL HOWES: Well, you know, that's a question for leaders of the right wing factions in Parliament.
I mean...

TONY JONES: Well it's also a question for someone who knows the answers and I believe you do.

PAUL HOWES: Well look, I think it's significant that a large, broad section of the Party from
various factional backgrounds, from various States, from various professional backgrounds, see that
Julia Gillard is the best option for Labor in the upcoming federal election.

That is important because it shows that she has broad base support within the parliamentary party,
she has it within the Labor movement, she has it within the organisational wing and she has it in
the electorate, and the electorate is what matters.

We need to get the message out to the electorate about what we can achieve, what we can do. The
fact that Australia has remained out of recession is solely because of this Government but we can't
get that message through at the moment. That's why we need to put this behind us and move onwards.

TONY JONES: Do you track Kevin Rudd's demise, in the eyes of his Labor colleagues, all the way back
to his back-flip on the Emissions Trading Scheme as many others do?

PAUL HOWES: Well, that's an interesting question and I'm not sure what the answer is. You know I
think that certainly things got very hard for the Prime Minister after Copenhagen and I think blind
faith that Copenhagen would come out with a result was probably wrong with the benefit of
hindsight.

It's important that we have strong action on climate change, and this is one of the unfortunate
issues with the Prime Minister's leadership at the moment that, we can't get the message out that
Labor is in fact the best option for saving the environment.

Labor is the only party that has a long term plan to put a price on carbon and that is important
and it's important that we get those messages out there that if you want a safe and secure
environment for generations to come you need a Labor government. If you want fairness in our
workplaces you need a Labor government.

TONY JONES: What do you make of Kevin Rudd's statement, a short time ago, that he was elected by
the people of Australia, stressed that, the people of Australia. That he was, up until a very short
time ago, perhaps the most popular prime minister in Australia's history? How could you desert a
Labor leader under those circumstances because of a couple of months of bad polls?

PAUL HOWES: The Australian people elected the Labor Party to the Government of this country with
Kevin Rudd as its leader. It is not unusual for governments to change leaders within the term of a
parliament and, and, and...

TONY JONES: Well you just said this is unprecedented.

PAUL HOWES: ... for their first term, but it is important to recognise that there is going to be an
election soon. There is going to be an election soon and if Julia Gillard is elected as the leader
of the Labor Party tomorrow and as our next prime minister the electorate will be able to test that
in months to come at the general election.

TONY JONES: Why was it so important to bring this on so quickly?

PAUL HOWES: Well, I think that, unfortunately, having staffers going out and canvassing support for
the Prime Minister, insinuating that there has been some type of challenge mounted by the Deputy
Prime Minister in the last couple of days.

TONY JONES: You're talking about the Prime Minister's chief of star Alistair Jordan?

PAUL HOWES: Well yeah and I think that that was a grave mistake. You know, the Deputy Prime
Minister had previously, um..., without any caveats, given her full support to the Prime Minister.

Now there were many people in the party, I've gotta confess that I was one of them, wondering
whether, whether there should be a change. Now obviously that was within the organisational party
and it filtered through into the parliamentary party.

But to go out there and to start canvassing support is wrong, that is the role of MPs. MPs elect
the leader of the parliamentary Labor Party and it should always remain that way and to undermine
that strong leadership team, I think, was a fundamental mistake.

TONY JONES: It's a suggestion that the chief of staff of the Prime Minister was acting disloyally
to the Deputy Prime Minister. Is that right?

PAUL HOWES: Well I think it had been clear from all of Julia's comments, up until the last couple
of days, every time the Deputy Prime Minister was asked this question, every time she was asked
about her loyalty to the Prime Minister she made it clear what her position was and I hadn't heard
any whisperings within the union movement, within the parliamentary party of any differences in
that statement.

To go out there and start to test the numbers was to make out that she was somehow being disloyal.
That was wrong, that was a mistake.

TONY JONES: Is that the straw that broke the camel's back?

PAUL HOWES: Possibly. I mean, you know, Tony, that's, that's, I'm not in Canberra tonight, I don't
know what's going on, I'm not a member of the Parliamentary Labor Party. I'm not sure what's going
on in Caucus meetings and so on. But I'm sure many, one of, many of the reasons why people have
become increasingly dissatisfied has been that; which I think was a pretty duplicitous action.

TONY JONES: Well one thing we know for sure is the former head of your union, Bill Shorten,who is
obviously quite close to you, has been one of the key figures canvassing support. I mean you must
have spoken to him about what's been going on?

PAUL HOWES: Well I speak to Bill all the time, but Bill, in November 2007, ceased to be the
national secretary of the AWU and became the Federal Member for Maribyrnong. Look, you know...

TONY JONES: Was he telling you that this act by Alistair Jordan was one of the key things that led
him to start organising numbers against the Prime Minister?

PAUL HOWES: No, Bill hasn't said that to me. I mean, what Bill has talked about is the need to get
the message back out, the need to refocus on the issues; the need to move away from this constant
media speculation about the leadership of the Labor Party and talk about the key issues that matter
to the Australian people. We can't get that message out at the moment.

The party can't get that message out at the moment and that's why we need to put this period behind
us and get back on message because it scares me, it scares me, Tony, to think that in a couple of
months, Tony Abbott could be sitting in the Lodge. That Tony Abbott, who was too much of a right
ring zealot for even Howard to control, will become the next prime minister of this country.

That's a scary thing for our hospitals, it's a scary thing for our schools and environment and a
scary thing for our workplaces.

TONY JONES: Are you aware of the internal party polling that suggests that's exactly what will
happen if there's an election?

PAUL HOWES: Well, you can see Newspoll, you can see AC Neilsen, you can see Essential Research and
you can see some internal research and research that the unions have done that clearly says at the
moment if we had an election today it's more likely than not that Tony Abbott would become the next
prime minister and that's why, you know, it is not with any particular joy, it's not with any
particular happiness that our union changed our position because we want to ensure that Labor
continues to govern in the interests of all Australians and that working people get a fair go and
we can only do that if Labor's re-elected at the next election.

TONY JONES: A final quick question, because one of the things that's given Tony Abbott a bit of a
boost recently has been the mining super profits tax. Would you expect Julia Gillard to start
reversing policies like that if she becomes Prime Minister?

PAUL HOWES: Well I think the super profits tax is a great example of about how we haven't been able
to get our message out there. This is a great piece of taxation reform which would do a lot to
institute a fair redistribution of the wealth in this country, ensuring that we boost our
superannuation savings, having appropriate investment in infrastructure.

TONY JONES: Ok, ok so you don't expect any change there. Tell me this, what sort of prime minister
do you believe Julia Gillard would be?

PAUL HOWES: Well, I think she'll be one of the best prime ministers this country has ever seen.
She's demonstrated in the last two and a half years that she's been able to rip away Work Choices
and reinstitute fairness in our workplaces. She's instituted an education revolution. She's a
deeply impressive and thoughtful woman that I think will lead Labor, not just into the next
election victorious, but in many elections to come.

TONY JONES: And finally, is internal research, including your own union research, suggesting that
she has a better chance of winning the election than Kevin Rudd?

PAUL HOWES: I think the important thing to focus on is that by putting this instability and this
lack of, an over micro-attention on the leadership of the Labor Party aside and re-focussing on
issues that matter...

TONY JONES: Well there's going to be an awful lot of attention on the leadership of the Labor Party
now that you're getting rid of the leader and replacing him with another one if that's what
happens.

PAUL HOWES: And Labor will be able to move on quickly. Labor will be able to move on quickly and do
the work that matters to the Australian people, that is, ensuring that our economy remains strong
and fair, our workplaces remain fair, our education goes through the revolution that it needs and
we reform and overhaul our hospitals and health network.

TONY JONES: Paul Howes we'll have to leave you there. We thank you very much for coming in to join
us on what is a very interesting, perhaps even momentous, night. Thank you.

PAUL HOWES: Thanks Tony.