Please, no more “faceless men”

A small plea to Kevin Rudd and everyone else in the country: can we restrict the term “faceless men” to people who are actually unknown?

Today I see a reference to “Crean and other faceless men”. For pity’s sake, Simon Crean has been in public life since 1979 and in Parliament since 1990. He has spent years as a minister. He served two years as Opposition Leader. He’s been photographed, televised, caricatured. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a bronze of him somewhere.

Faceless? Really? This is what you get for two decades of public service?

Simon Crean’s about as much a faceless man as the PM.

For that matter, “faceless men” like Senator Don Farrell have web pages and are fairly well known to a lot of people in Adelaide. Farrell has been elected to Parliament; you can go in and watch him at work most sitting days in Canberra.

Faceless? Really?

The term “faceless men” was also applied back in 2010 to AWU head Paul Howes – one of Australia’s best-known union officials – in the wake of Rudd’s original ousting. Bizarrely, the term “faceless” seems to have been applied as a result of Howes’ appearance on Lateline. And yes, Lateline showed his face. They do that all the time. It’s a television program.

Faceless? Really?

Robert Menzies invented the term “faceless men” in 1963 as a reference to the 36-member all-male ALP executive of the day, most of them genuinely unknown outside ALP and union circles. The story is well told by Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Bolt in The Australian. Menzies went on to describe the ALP executive as men “whose qualifications are unknown, who have no elected responsibility to you”.

In 1963, “faceless men” was hard politics, but legitimate politics. It was also a great phrase. But its day is long gone. Today it’s not mere cliché – it’s idiocy.

Post-challenge update: Elsewhere on Troppo, Derrida Derider argues – and I think he’s right – that the 2012 challenge has been remarkable for the fact that factional warriors were less important than ever before:

“In fact the trouble with the 2012 [challenge] is that, far from being an unaccountable process by unknown factional warriors, it was all too open. Both opposition and support for Rudd cut right across all factional lines. Quite simply there were no backroom deals here …”

About David Walker

David Walker runs editorial consultancy Shorewalker DMS (, editing and advising business and government on reports and other editorial content. David has previously edited Acuity magazine and the award-winning INTHEBLACK business magazine, been chief operating officer of online publisher WorkDay Media, held policy and communications roles at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and the Business Council of Australia and run the website for online finance start-up eChoice. He has qualifications in law and corporate finance. He has written on economics, business and public policy from Melbourne, Adelaide and the Canberra Press Gallery.
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39 Responses to Please, no more “faceless men”

  1. Tel says:

    Sadly, it is still necessary to accept that most Australians get their entire worldview from half an hour of TV news each night and perhaps the occasional chat with a taxi driver.

    If Simon Crean can’t get onto the TV at least once a month, then he’s off the radar and doesn’t even exist.

    No doubt that new NBN thingy will change all this :-)

  2. Patrick says:

    I would suggest that the term ‘faceless men’ actually works quite well, even if infelicitiously applied from time to time.

    I don’t think very many people have difficulty understanding it!

  3. Leinad says:

    better known =/ more accountable

  4. Geoff Honnor says:

    I don’t think he was necessarily referring to Crean as a faceless man. His phrasing was along the lines of …Minister Crean and other – faceless – men. And the fact that Howes and Farrell et al are ‘known’ isn’t the issue in terms of application.

    The terminolgy is cliche but it’s a pretty standard – and well understood – reference to the factional control and delivery of caucus bloc votes and of course pre-selections within the ALP. Factional leaders aren’t publicly identified by the party and have no formal role within the party organisational structure, hence the term. It ain’t exactly

  5. Dan says:

    (Did Geoff know too much…?)

  6. observa says:

    Well one thing we do know now is there have been a lot of faceless men and women running about the corridors of power counting numbers. We certainly suspected as much with Kevin07 grinning facelessly for months over how happy he was being a good little Foreign Minister while other faceless faces were frowning in corridors increasingly about how Julia was on the nose with the punters, largely because she would stand there shamelessly and lie through her faceless face or the real face or the unreal face as the case may be. Perhaps grinning Kev’s faceless face was only topped by Tony Bourke’s grinning faceless face with Chris Uhlman tonight.

    Well now it’s time to show their real faces to each other because it’s obvious what’s on the faces of the Working Families out there, which is what the facing off is all about now. The carbon tax and anything but Abbott’s face which creates Hobson’s Choice for all the sudden anxious faceless faces thrust onto our living room screens now. Go with loathable Kev and the carbon tax ditchers and save some faces or stick with amenable Julia, the tax and oblivion. The question is will a third faceless face emerge that can ditch the tax and see off Abbott’s ugly puss? Get in the popcorn.

  7. observa says:

    Faces aside, from a conservative viewpoint a split decision with Julia getting over the line would be the best outcome from a longer term perspective and a leadership vote will definitely happen. I can’t see either party withdrawing. The actual numbers now are irrelevant. Easy to make statements of support when it doesn’t matter but enter the voting arena and there is only Hobson’s choice. Which least worst candidate can hold off Abbott the best?

    My hunch is it’s essentially all about the carbon tax and 2 opposing views about that. The Gillard camp firmly believe Rudd suffered from ditching that agenda along with impotence on a leftist agenda generally. All talk and no action and that’s why they are ignoring the polls and pushing on in a knife edge Parliament. Essentially they’ll tie Abbott’s hands with the tax/compensation as well as other agenda items like a mining tax, NBN, National Curriculum, etc as well as building the evil empire with their support base. At best they hope the carbon tax and compensation will not be as bad as the electorate thinks and that will blow over.

    OTOH the Rudd camp consists largely of those who think the carbon tax is electoral suicide and want to reverse it. Kevin is their only hope given the static polls. He can easily put it on the backburner well into the future by saying now is not the time and Oz needs to wait for the RoW to come to the party. That cuts off Abbott’s main trump card and then the debate is back on more popular ground like the NBN and mining tax and on the latter Rudd has some old scores to settle with the miners.

    As Kevin has clearly stated this is about who is best to take on Tony Abbott and that means ditching the carbon tax stinker, or so the backbenchers are fervently telling Rudd via their electorate feedback. This is all about policy and whether or not to reverse direction to save the Party from electoral oblivion. That’s what makes the voting on the day so unpredicatable and volatile. Under those circumstances it’s still possible that should the Gillard camp feel they’re losing the day, a third compromise candidate could emerge with their support but I think it unlikely. That candidate would still be stuck with choosing on the carbon tax. Carbon tax or no, that is the question now.

  8. JB Cairns says:


    A faceless man back in 1963 was as David said one of 36 men making the policy decisions for the ALP whom the public did not know.

    They didn’t have a public face. The public did not know them or recognize them hence they were faceless.

    you are now somewhat bizarrely attempting to say people who ended do have a face are faceless.

    In these days of TV and the Internet there are very few ,if any, faceless men.

  9. observa says:

    In these days of TV and the Internet there are very few ,if any, faceless men.

    So, are you telling me with all that TV and Internet the average punter can discern what’s going on behind Kev and Julia’s faces?
    I’m just another mug punter suggesting it’s all about a shift to the right and ditching the carbon tax, yet you haven’t heard a word about that from any of their faces and if Julia gets up in the vote you won’t. If Kev gets up you will. Welcome to the new consultative Kev who has listened to the people and also the RoW in his travels as FM and now is not a good time to be bailing out GMH, ALCOA,Onesteel,etc OTOH and then carbon taxing working families’ jobs off to China OTO. Yeah for consultative Kev go the punters, not to mention a sigh of relief from all the faceless union men and women backing him right now. We’ll see.

  10. JB Cairns says:


    all the people involved at present are very well known and all have faces people recognise, just as happened last time

  11. observa says:

    Or to put it another way. Do you really think this is all about replacing Julia’s two faced puss with another? ie Kev who ditched the great moral imperative after the writing was on the wall at Copenhagen would as returning PM then announce it’s all back on again just like Julia? If he did Abbott would have a field day with him and his new consultative Kev facade. Even I don’t think the faceless men and women at present behind the scenes in the ALP are that stupid, but what the Hell, you never know with this bunch of L-Platers at present.

  12. derrida derider says:

    Gee, Observa, since you have strong principles/prejudices**** that mean you’d never vote Labor in a pink fit anyway don’t you think it a bit rich describing yourself as “the average punter”?

    The only thing you share in common with the silent majority is their willingness to make facile judgements. I must confess I sometimes wish you’d share their silence.

    ****It’s the old conjugation: “I am principled, you are prejudiced, he is a bloody minded fool”.

  13. observa says:

    Gee, Observa, since you have strong principles/prejudices**** that mean you’d never vote Labor in a pink fit anyway don’t you think it a bit rich describing yourself as “the average punter”?

    When the Hawke/Keating Govt had the most competent people to run this country I handed out how to vote cards for them and have handed out how to vote cards for the Howard/Costello mob likewise. What about yourself there Derrida?

    As a fairly rusted on Labor mate said to me recently. How dumb am I O? I actually voted for these drongos twice. He’s not alone except that most of them keep very quiet about it nowadays.

  14. observa says:

    Kevin Rudd has confirmed two things – that the faceless men are running the Labor Party and that the instability at the top of this government is damaging our country.

    Kevin Rudd’s statement tonight confirms that this government is unworthy to continue in office.

    Only the Coalition can provide the strong and stable government that will address the issues facing our country and restore hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians.

    Hon Tony Abbott MHR
    Leader of the Opposition

    Apart from that media release quoting the considered assessment of consultative Kev, Tone and Co are naturally staying shtum except to add their obvious conclusion. If Kev gets up as PM and given his timing and reasoning with his resignation as FM, he’ll know one thing walking out of the party room as a winner to greet the press throng. If he doesn’t announce ditching the carbon tax(actually deferral into the never never when the RoW gets its act together)then the first thing Tone will be asking when asked for his response to the new consultative Kev and new direction will be- What about the carbon tax Kev? Ipso facto Kev has to announce its ditching in his acceptance speech so look for it. If Julia gets up it’s all academic and ground hog day.

  15. observa says:

    Oh and when Bruce Hawker (Kev’s numbers man) was talking about Labor having lost its ‘narrative’ with a straight face, he was talking absolute BS. It’s all about policy, what works and what doesn’t and the political ability and competence to recognise and implement same. There’s a serious difference of opinion within Labor ranks over that at present and hence the Julia and Kev faceoff. It’s hard to see the room for a third candidate to resolve the difference of opinion, but it’s not out of the question, given the personality traits involved which complicates matters.

  16. Jason says:

    Heh, I wrote a similar thing last week — Faceless Men and Lazy Journalism — but mine was more annoyance at the fact that it’s now journalists who decide who “has a face” or not, and then journalists who turn around and use the word “faceless” in such a pejorative manner.

    Whether or not the ALP’s internal mechanisms are good, bad, right, wrong… well, they can still be covered, and journalists could hound the string pullers if they wanted. But it’s just too boring for them… until it isn’t.

    Maybe I’m being naïve.

  17. JB Cairns says:

    Observa ,

    you are either a complete idiot or simply unable to look at facts.

    this Government’s econ,mic performance is far superior to Hawke and Keating’s.
    you must have had a memory lapse because they only undertook economic reform After the problems with the $A.
    There was no labour reform until Keating’s EBA legislation.

    We have seen a very successful fiscal stimulus with an equally very successful fiscal consolidation. (the Two usually go hand in hand).

    We will have a tax on commodity super profit and an ETS. Now both could be improved on but so could have Hawke’s tax reform.

  18. observa says:

    you are either a complete idiot or simply unable to look at facts.

    It’s not about me but assuming that the Labor ranks are largely rational, albeit with some rusted on CO2 ideologues, but you recognise persevering with the carbon tax stinker hands power over its demise to Tone and Co, how would you vote when push comes to shove?

    Look at it from a Shorten or a Combet perspective and you’ll see the light. You reckon you have the nous and policies to lead glorious Labor one day and are biding your time. The punters have switched off completely to workplace amenable fibber Julia and the fertiliser tax. OTOH that megalo control freak represents a way out of electoral oblivion but you have to put up with him again. Well he reckons he’s changed his spots and let’s face it, if he tries that on again, it won’t be too hard to give him the flick again, whatever happens. OTOH if Julia doesn’t get a resounding tick of approval with all those whinging backbench waverers, it’s more of the same with nasty Abbott grinning from ear to ear, not to mention FWA having to do a fair days work for a fair days pay with Craigy boy and Gawdelpus those bloody polls again.

    Sorry Julia but you know how it is luv. Been great working with you in Cabinet if it’s any consolation.

  19. JB Cairns says:

    oh I see it isn’t the government is bad it is because they can’t sell anything.

    The funny thing is FWA hasn’t made any difference to wage outcomes as yet

  20. alex says:

    This is an incredibly ugly episode in Australian politics, and will probably ruin Labour’s chances of winning in 2013. For the record, I’m a Rudd supporter but I can’t help but think he is doing tremendous damage to his party.

  21. observa says:

    oh I see it isn’t the government is bad it is because they can’t sell anything

    No they’re going bad largely because of the carbon tax and trying to flog it when the RoW is backpeddling fast on the meme, whilst they try and argue carbon taxing will be good for Biz, whilst bailing out the GMHs, etc. If all they’re doing is deciding which leader’s puss is more popular in the longe rooms of working families watching all the layoffs and offshoring, then they’re completely delusional. I am assuming they aren’t(they are after all a union based party), but feel free to convince me otherwise.

    As for the risk that the Greens and independents will do anything but back their ultimate decision, they all have one maxim ring to bind them all. Only the impotent are pure, not to mention John Quiggin’s worst prediction nightmare. Wall to wall Conservative Oz ;)

  22. observa says:

    If it’s any comfort to you and JQ, I’ll confess that when the Coalition replaced Downer with Lazarus with the triple bypass, I thought like so many- Sweet Jesus! This rabble won’t have their bums back on the Treasury benches for 20 years!
    I’m a lot older and wiser about a week being a long time in politics nowadays.

  23. JB Cairns says:

    well we will see AFT July but given soooo many people believe the impact of the ETS will be greater than that of the GST I tend to think people wil be underwhelmed

  24. observa says:

    Mate reckoned Rudd has already made some policy statements but I haven’t heard it yet. Did he mention the carbon tax?

  25. observa says:

    Hey JB you can relax about the sky falling in if Rudd gets up and ditches the carbon tax because apparently it already has so not to worry :)

  26. alex says:

    Perhaps the best solution to this all would be to split the Labour party in half, Kevin can have one set of faceless men and Julia can have the other.

  27. Dan says:

    The following was brought to my attention by a friend today:

    Germane to the present conversation.

  28. observa says:

    I reckon Bolty has picked it too with-
    Rudd takes high ground, but policy pitch is weak

    In particular-

    What is interesting, though, is that in listing the achievements of both his government and Gillard’s, he mentions the mandatory renewable energy target to tackle global warming, but says absolutely nothing on the carbon tax.

    Does that imply a deferral?

    It could well do but as Gillard has already acknowledged Rudd is a formidable campaigner and as another noted the only Labor Leader to have won Govt in his own right in 17 yrs. You start to connect the dots with his missus and kids calling on every man and his dog to tweet, email and bail up their local Labor member and get in their ear. At first that seems somewhat trite but then you realize he’s going straight to Howard’s battlers but with what? A shot across the bows with the Green car fund for the factory workers(and a sop to the Green graduazzi) but what else? Deferral of the carbon tax to differentiate himself from Juliar and her mob and to pull the main rug out from under Tone who has been the direct action man all along on the AGW meme.

    Kev jets in to an expectant media scrum and has to be seen to consult among his colleagues for an appropriate time but then he’ll lay it on the line later tomorrow and let them all stew over it all weekend while Joe Public goes ballistic wanting Kev to save them from the wicked witch and her awful brew. Twitter Facebook and the emails and talkback all abuzz with support for Kev and what can the Gillard camp do to counter it? We want Kev! We want Kev! We…

  29. Victor Trumper says:

    You people really do not know how to pick leaders properly.

    In my country we simply go to a Gandhi. They have supernatural political skills.

  30. observa says:

    Well Victor, Ghandi knew how to mobilise the masses against the powers that be, but without any serious policy differentiation, this is just a personality pissing contest playing into the hands of the Opposition. I reckon Rudd already knows he can’t win over Caucus just on personality so it has to be on policy.

  31. Victor Trumper says:

    Actually I was more talking about latter times since independence

  32. Patrick says:

    Ghandi was SOOOO cool. I wish we were more like India. No, wait, I don’t.

    Why do some of you think Rudd will run on Monday? That seems very unlikely to me. He will let Julia have her hollow victory and wait another month or so.

  33. observa says:

    He will let Julia have her hollow victory and wait another month or so.

    So you reckon Kev made the OS grand flourish resignation to facilitate the grand entrance to Oz complete with some preliminary policy warmup statements with the twitter facebook campaign loaded and primed just to let Julia have a hollow victory to wait another month or so? This boy knows all about timing and stage management and there’s a grand finale here somewhere.

  34. Patrick says:

    yep, but not one that has him getting creamed in Monday’s vote.

  35. observa says:

    “Rightly or wrongly Julia has lost the trust of the Australian people and starting on Monday I want to start restoring that trust.

    “It wasn’t K Rudd who made a pre-selection commitment on a carbon tax. It wasn’t K Rudd who made a committment to Wilkie on poker machines … these were initiatives that were taken uniquely by the prime minister.

    “And I’m a bit tired and frustrated … saying it’s because of me.

    “You may remember last year I had a bit of heart surgery – I was off the scene for two months.

    “The government’s problems have been of their own making.

    Which raises the obvious question Kev. Are you saying Labor should never have ‘made a pre-selection commitment on a carbon tax?’ Can you clarify that statement for us mate?

  36. kelly liddle says:

    “Affiliation to the ALP is at the state level – state branches of the unions are affiliated to state branches of the ALP. Affiliated unions give financial support to the ALP, and have voting rights at State Conference, where they are represented by 50% of delegates to the conference.”

    For those who don’t want to call them faceless men could you please name who these people are. Victoria being one of the socialist states that wants to take money off the northern miners.

    Nobody sees a conflict of interest in the following “By affiliating to the ALP, trade unions make use of political action as well as industrial action to achieve outcomes for their members.” Or in other words will strike against the very government they support and the outcome is too many public servants on high wages.—unions/

    In the UK union members can decide if they want to donate to the Labour Party not by force like in this country.


  37. observa says:

    We can now safely say Myth Busted and there are definitely no faceless men and women left in the ALP. Special thanks to all the Labor Caucus for their tireless efforts and invaluable input in completely busting that myth over the last few days.

    Sadly there is a residual faceless apparition for Labor that can take on demonic proportions in the form of one Tony Abbott that point blank refuses to transmogrify into the pleasant pushover form of past Opposition Leaders- Howard, Peacock, Hewson, Downer, Nelson,Turnbull, Beasley, Crean, Latham, etc. Some would say that’s because Abbott is just doing his job as Opposition Leader superbly while others would argue he is bludging on the superlative efforts of others beneath him. One to watch closely in future, for the resolution of such a fierce intellectual debate no doubt.

    Which leads us to speculate on what tomorrow will bring. Perhaps the job of PM is too difficult for one persona anymore and like elite sports teams the captaincy needs to be share among several persona because it’s all too hard nowadays to find the likes of a Menzies, Hawke or Howard with the modern pace of the game. With recent shortcomings resonating with that sentiment I suggest a trimvirate of captains to take on the role for Labor from tomorrow. Julia Gillard to run Cabinet and the hurly burly of Parliament only, Kevin Rudd to be given his own private jet and taught to fly only to return for election campaigns and Stephen Smith to handle all promises, questions and general media interaction including Facebook and Twitter.

  38. Dan says:

    That was a three-paragraph mixed metaphor.

  39. observa says:

    Well I did say these are mixed up times and Labor prolly needs a mix of three.

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