You know something that really bugs me? The whole faceless men thing: part chic, part j’accuse. It comes from long ago. In 1963 the ALP held a special conference to figure out some policy regarding the US-Australia relationship (the US bases that are badged joint military facilities). At that conference Calwell and Whitlam had to stand outside while the conference decided matters. In those days the Parliamentary members weren’t elected to the conference because the conference was for the members of the party rather than its representatives.
Journalist and legendary troublemaker Alan Reid wrote than ALP policy was being written by 36 faceless men (see below, although this is not the actual photo but a cropped version used for election pamphlets in the 1963 Federal Election, the pamphlet is lifted from the National Library Collection). The then PM Robert Gordon Menzies made good mileage out of this line and pretty much scuppered Calwell’s second tilt at the Prime Ministership, though there were other factors including Calwell’s complete lack of charisma.
These days ALP decision making is always attributed to faceless men. It bugs me because actually the faceless men are us. When I sit in some highfalutin committee, transcribing the perceptions of the big end of town, no one ever asks about the worker bees. No-one asks about the faceless men of the business we’re in, whichever business that might be. No one asks about the photocopy boy or the mailroom woman, or the policy wonk, or the person who knows photoshop or SQL database maintenance. No one even asks about the rising stars or the bright young things. No-one, as far as I can recall, has ever asked about the people at all. Nope, not once.
And while the ALP is not actually what we might call a grassroots participation based organization it does at least offer a rhetorical lean toward those who might have some difficulty and need some amelioration of that hardship. The ALP is for faceless men, it’s for women who aren’t even faceless. They’re meant to have a voice, they’re people, they’re citizens, for fuck’s sake.
I can’t for the life of me understand why the ALP shouldn’t ask the faceless men and women of Australia (little nod to Gough there) for their input into the party platform: as we all know, these days, consultation is a process not an actual conversation. The faceless ones are us, the ordinary worker bees who pay union dues and don’t expect to be asked for input into this year’s round of business planning or strategic compass pointing exercises (which always seem to happen close to both beaches and wineries). So if the faceless ones get to decide matters for the ALP all I can say is enjoy it. It might be the only thing.