SKY News Lunchtime Agenda

24 March 2014


SUBJECT/S: Paul Howes Retirement

LAURA JAYES: And joining me now in the studio for immediate reaction is Labor MP, Jim Chalmers, and fair to say a friend of Paul Howes. Now, it was pointed out in the interview Jim, that this is a time where Labor’s in Opposition, the Labor movement needs someone like Paul Howes. Is this really good timing for the Labor Party?

JIM CHALMERS: Well, the labour movement is overwhelmingly a force for good in Australia and Paul has really been a sort of “force multiplier” over the last seven years that he has been the national secretary of the AWU. It is a bit of a blow for the movement to see him leave, but what people forget because he is only thirty-two or so, is that he has been the national secretary of a big union for seven years. He’s been a big prominent player in all these sorts of debates and he’s indicated that he wants to go and do something else for a while and I think we should support that.

LAURA JAYES: Well he copped a bit of flack from his speech at the National Press Club where he criticised the Labor Party for pursuing a scare campaign over WorkChoices. Did that damage him?

JIM CHALMERS: Well look, with Paul, I’ve known him a long time and I do consider him a friend, as you said. I pursue the old “90-10” rule with Paul, I think – I agree with him ninety per cent of the time, disagree with him probably ten per cent of the time.

LAURA JAYES: But did it damage his standing inside the party? Perhaps not with you, because you’re a friend, but more broadly?

JIM CHALMERS: I think his standing in the party is as someone who often says the controversial thing. I mean you don’t have to agree with him all of the time to see him as a force for good. I have had stand-up brawls with him about various issues over the years but I think in total he has been one of those influential thinkers. He does the most important thing that we can all do which is to apply a modern mind to the challenge of creating good well-paid jobs. Sometimes he ruffles a few feathers, he’d say ‘so be it’.

LAURA JAYES: He faltered on his pursuit to get into parliament in that Senate vacancy in New South Wales, is it because he’s so controversial that he didn’t get that spot?

JIM CHALMERS: I think it was important that we pre-selected a woman senator for that position and Deb O’Neill is doing a tremendous job since she came back into that role. I think Paul did the right thing in pulling out – he wasn’t defeated in the end, he pulled out and I think that was a good outcome for the party. My personal opinion is I’d like to see him in the House of Representatives one day, he will go and do –

LAURA JAYES: That will happen?

JIM CHALMERS: I don’t know. I mean, I think he’ll go and do something else and work it out – I know he’s not leaving to do something like that. But I hope at some point in the future he reconsiders that.

LAURA JAYES: And he did play quite a prominent role in the downfall of Kevin Rudd, was it wrong for him to step into that – is that the role of a union leader?

JIM CHALMERS: I think a whole range of people were involved in all of those issues we’re not particularly proud of over the last few years. It would be wrong just to single Paul out. A lot of people said things on either side of that conversation that we’ve put behind us now. It’s really up to people to make their own decision about what involvement they have in those sorts of issues.

LAURA JAYES: And just finally, Paul Howes seemed to have been a bit ham-strung of late. He’s someone that we would have seen quite prominently in the media around the QANTAS debate. Obviously, he hasn’t been doing that for personal reasons and his partner being part of the QANTAS executive. Do you think that has played a part in his decision to step down from this role?

JIM CHALMERS: I wouldn’t have thought so. I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. I do think we’ve got to be careful about attributing some sort of personal motivation to things. Paul’s been very outspoken on a whole range of industrial and economic issues over a long period, so you’d have to ask him specifically about that. I think all of us who have high-achieving partners know that people run their own lives, their own agendas, their own work. And I think we should see what Liv does and what Paul does as two separate things.

LAURA JAYES: Jim Chalmers thanks so much for that immediate reaction, and, as I said, a friend of Paul Howes as well. We’ll speak to you shortly.

JIM CHALMERS: Thanks Laura.