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Paul Howes Quits AWU And Other Political Positions; Disavows Parliamentary Aspirations (For Now)

Paul Howes, the 32-year-old National Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, has announced his resignation and indicated he will also relinquish his other political positions in the labour movement and the ALP.


Howes has been a paid official of the AWU since he was 17. After Bill Shorten left the union in 2007 to enter federal parliament, Howes assumed its leadership. He has been a significant political influence in the ALP, supporting the removal of former prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2010 but falling out with his Right faction colleagues by refusing to support the overthrow of Julia Gillard last year.

In what he said would be his final interview, Howes, who was 14 when he left school, told David Speers on Sky News that he wanted to undertake formal studies. He said it was time “to do something different” and that he would be withdrawing from political commentary.

Howes is also deputy chairman of AustralianSuper, a member of the ALP’s National Executive and vice-president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It appears that he will relinquish these positions as well.

Howes denied that he was standing down to pursue a parliamentary career. Last year, the NSW Right faction passed him over for former Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s Senate position. Today, he left open the possibility of entering parliament at a later time.

Media reports say Howes is now free to advocate cutting the ALP’s formal links with trade unions.

  • Listen to David Speers interview Paul Howes on Sky News (27m)

Resignation statement by Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union.

This morning I advised the National Executive of my decision to step down as national secretary of our union in July.

It has been a tremendous privilege to serve in this role and I will be eternally grateful for the trust that has been placed in me.

I have spent half my life as an official in the trade union movement and the last seven years in this position.

I have always been aware that you never own this job; you only serve as custodian.

The Australian Workers Union is a remarkable organisation. Our strength and diversity reflects all that is good in our nation.

Right across this country you will find hard working, intelligent, engaged AWU members – from the oil rigs in the Timor Sea to salmon farms in south-west Tasmania. It’s hard to find a part of the nation that has not been touched by the AWU.

I have been proud to be a member of the same union as you all. And I will cherish my membership ticket to my last day.

I know my decision may come as a surprise. But I was elected to this role seven years ago, at 26 years of age. I left school at 14, and commenced full-time work in the union movement at 17.

I have always said that representing the AWU’s members is the highest honour I can imagine seeking. And so, despite what you may hear, I am not leaving this job to pursue a seat in Parliament.

For some time now I have been contemplating the next steps in my life. And as such I recognise the right thing to do is to step down.

Of course this has not been an easy decision to arrive at. But my primary consideration must be what is best for the organisation that has provided me with so much. And I truly believe this is the right move for me, and for our union.

I leave with a sense of immense pride in what we have achieved together.

For 127 years our union has led many of the nation’s most important debates and always worked to ensure that we remain the land of the fair go. I’m proud that during my seven years as national secretary we have maintained that legacy.

We have fought to ensure that our workplaces are safer, endured the anxiety of the Global Financial Crisis, achieved tremendous outcomes for our members under the Labor government and, more recently, seen the painful closure of many once proud manufacturing facilities across the land.

Together we have taken our place on the stage of the big national debates. We have never shied away from arguing our position with the honesty and forcefulness for which the AWU is legendary.

My warmest memories will always include standing with many of you during the big moments that have defined our union – toasting our wins, mourning our losses, and preparing for what lies ahead.

To those of you who have allowed me to share in those pivotal moments in your lives, I will always be grateful.

When I officially stand down from my role in July, I will be especially proud to be leaving our union in better shape than ever.

With a growing membership, a bright financial future, a strong and united leadership team and a talented and capable group of officials, we are rightly regarded as the most professional union in this country.

I know the future of this union is secure and robust.

I hope that you share that pride in what we have achieved together and what we have built as the current trustees of this magnificent 127-year-old institution.

If I don’t get the chance in person, I want to thank you now for the faith you have shown in me, and our team, for the past seven years.

While I am stepping down as an officer of the AWU, I want you all to know it will always be a part of me.

Thank you.

Paul Howes
National Secretary

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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