Faceless men

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Faceless men is a term from Australian politics. The term is generally used to refer to men and women who exert political influence and are not elected representatives to state, territory or federal legislative bodies, yet are elected representatives to bodies that determine political party policies.[1] However, the political tactic of elected representatives canvassing party members for support on policies varies widely amongst Australian political parties.[2]

Use of term[edit]

Referring to the Australian Labor Party[edit]

The term was first used in 1963 by Alan Reid, a journalist working for Sir Frank Packer's conservative Sydney Daily Telegraph, to refer to the 36 members of the Australian Labor Party's Federal Conference, which at that time decided elements of the party's election policy. In the run-up to the campaign for the 1963 federal election, Reid commissioned a photograph of Labor Leader Arthur Calwell and his Deputy Leader Gough Whitlam standing outside the Kingston Hotel in Canberra, where the Conference was meeting, waiting to be told on what policy they were to fight the election. Neither Calwell or Whitlam were delegates to the Conference, which then consisted of six delegates from each of the six states. Reid commented that the ALP was ruled by "36 faceless men". In fact, there was a woman, Phyllis Benjamin of Tasmania, among the delegates at the Conference at the time.[1]

By Robert Menzies[edit]

The line was used effectively by the Liberal Party and its leader, Prime Minister Robert Menzies. The Liberal Party produced a leaflet headed: "Mr Calwell and the Faceless Men". The leaflet described Conference delegates as "36 unknown men, not elected to Parliament nor responsible to the people."[3] This tactic helped Menzies win the election with an increased majority, and led directly to Whitlam's campaign to reform the Labor Party's structure when he succeeded Calwell as party leader in 1967.[4]

The term "faceless men" henceforth became a permanent part of Australia's political lexicon, nearly always being used in a pejorative sense when making reference to the Labor Party.[5]

During 2010 and subsequent use[edit]

The term was revived in 2010 when a group of Labor factional leaders, including Bill Shorten, David Feeney, Mark Arbib and Don Farrell, with the support of the union leader Paul Howes, arranged for the Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to be removed as party leader and replaced by deputy leader Julia Gillard.[6][7][8] Howes later published a book called Confessions of a Faceless Man.[9] The expression was also used to refer to the figures in the NSW branch of the Labor Party, such as Karl Bitar and Arbib who brought about the successive removals of Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees as Premier of New South Wales.[10][11][12]

The term returned to prominence in February 2012, when Rudd resigned as Minister for Foreign Affairs and announced he would challenge Gillard in an attempt to regain the Labor leadership. Rudd stated:[13]

"In recent days, Minister Crean and a number of other faceless men have publicly attacked my integrity and therefore my fitness to serve as a minister in the government.... I deeply believe that if the Australian Labor Party, a party of which I have been a proud member for more than 30 years, is to have the best future for our nation, then it must change fundamentally its culture and to end the power of faceless men. Australia must be governed by the people, not by the factions.

— Kevin Rudd: Transcript of resignation speech, 2012.

Rudd later stated that "..reform of the Labor Party itself, so that our party is equipped for the tasks of the 21st century. And that means a party which is not governed by the faceless men."[14] A prominent Rudd supporter, Senator Doug Cameron, said that "Labor's faceless men" had forced Rudd's resignation as Foreign Minister.[15] In response, Labor MP Michael Danby, a Gillard supporter, said that Rudd had his own "faceless men", notably the lobbyist Bruce Hawker.[16] Hawker replied: "I don't want to be a faceless man. I actually want to address issues."[17] Opposition leader at the time, Tony Abbott, attempted to use Rudd's comments to highlight instability in Labor and its preference deals with The Greens.[18][19]

James Mahoney, a senior lecturer in public relations at the University of Canberra, wrote of this revival of the "faceless men" epithet:[20]

"The greatest curiosity of the Labor leadership brawl is Kevin Rudd's 'faceless men' line, which seems to refer to prominent parliamentary colleagues with very recognisable faces. But there is method in the way he is using it. When Robert Menzies described the then Labor national executive as 'faceless men' he was stating the obvious: the 36 people who ran the party were all men who were barely known publicly, and who took decisions in secret... In a strategic communication sense, Kevin Rudd’s use of 'faceless men' in recent days is a tactical message designed to support his long-standing argument against the faction leaders who now run the party. He is suggesting that faction leaders do their work well out of public view, including organising numbers for pre-selections, and leadership challenges."

The term continued to be used throughout the duration of the Rudd – Gillard – Rudd governments.[21][22]

In late 2017 it was reported that four unnamed union officials were faceless men who would control the Victorian branch of the Labor Party – and through it, influence on the party's national executive.[23]

Referring to the Greens[edit]

During 2014 and 2016 respectively, motions were put to the State Delegate Councils of Greens New South Wales and Tasmanian Greens to empower non-parliamentary elected representatives, or "faceless men and women", to direct NSW Greens MLCs and MPs and Tasmanian MPs how to vote when their respective partyrooms were unable reach consensus.[24][25]

Referring to the Liberal Party of Australia[edit]

When referring to the Liberal Party, the members and benefactors of the Institute of Public Affairs have been referred to as faceless men;[26] as has former NSW Liberal MP and lobbyist, Michael Photios;[27][28][29] and various members of the Abbott government and Ministry.[30]


  1. ^ a b Fitzgerald, Ross (5 January 2013). "Long-ago night of faceless men still Labor's albatross". The Australian. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  2. ^ Cassin, Ray (28 July 2012). "The feckless in pursuit of the faceless". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  3. ^ "Digital Collections - Books - Item 1: Mr. Calwell and the Faceless Men". National Library of Australia. Australian Government. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  4. ^ Holt, Stephen (9 June 2010). Alan Reid and the thirty-six faceless men (Speech). Sydney Institute: Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  5. ^ "Tracking the Red Fox". Media Report; ABC Radio National. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
  6. ^ "The call that rolled Rudd". The Age. Melbourne. 27 November 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  7. ^ Canning, Simon (16 August 2010). "Liberal ad targets Labor's faceless men". The Australian. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  8. ^ Massola, James (18 June 2011). "The rise and fall of PM's 'faceless men'". The Australian.
  9. ^ "Labor's faceless man reveals Rudd 'expulsion' fantasy". The Sydney Morning Herald. 11 November 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  10. ^ Taylor, Lenore (19 July 2010). "Karl Bitar: Labor Campaign Director". The Herald. Newcastle. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  11. ^ Jackman, Christine (23 August 2010). "Labor members bag party's 'faceless men'". The Australian. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  12. ^ Wightman, Rohan (16 September 2010). "Into the underbelly of the beast" (Book review: Betrayal: The Underbelly of Australian Labor by Simon Benson). Overland. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  13. ^ "Transcript of Kevin Rudd's resignation speech". news.com.au. AAP. 22 February 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  14. ^ "Kevin said. . . . . .and what it means". The Age. Melbourne. 24 February 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  15. ^ "Labor's 'faceless men' forced Rudd's resignation, says Senator Doug Cameron". The Daily Telegraph. 22 February 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  16. ^ "Labor Leadership - Danby on Skynews 24.2.2012". YouTube. 26 October 2011. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  17. ^ Maiden, Samantha (12 February 2012). "Meet the mastermind behind the push for Kevin Rudd to resume the Labor leadership". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  18. ^ "'Faceless men' ready to challenge Prime Minister, says Tony Abbott". news.com.au. AAP. 7 July 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  19. ^ "NSW Labor right fires up Greens". The Examiner. Hobart. 7 July 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  20. ^ Mahoney, James (February 2012). "Kevin Rudd's 'faceless men' line isn't accurate, but it is effective". The Conversation. The Conversation Media Group. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  21. ^ Lelliott, Joff (9 July 2013). "Labor's faceless men replaced by people power". The Drum; ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  22. ^ Leslie, Tim (14 November 2013). "The rise and fall of Kevin Rudd". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  23. ^ Tingle, Laura (21 December 2017). "Four faceless men to rule Victorian Labor". Financial Review. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  24. ^ "Greens warned 'faceless men and women' seeking to control NSW MPs". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 December 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  25. ^ Bolger, Rosemary (10 September 2016). "Tasmanian Greens leader resisting party policy change on power-sharing". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  26. ^ Seccombe, Mike (31 May 2014). "Abbott's faceless men of the IPA". The Saturday Paper. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  27. ^ Bolt, Andrew (20 September 2013). "Abbott moves against the Liberals' faceless men". The Herald-Sun. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  28. ^ "Top lobbyists entrench Liberal power in defiance of party ban". The Australian. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  29. ^ Clennell, Andrew (14 March 2011). "Come in faceless Liberal men to power". The Daily Telegraph. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  30. ^ Coorey, Phillip; Tingle, Laura (18 September 2015). "Liberal leadership: the faceless men who stalked Abbott and made Turnbull king". Financial Review. Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2018.