Faceless men

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Faceless men is a term from Australian politics. 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 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 what policy they were to fight the election on. Neither was a delegate 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 actual fact, there was a woman, Phyllis Benjamin of Tasmania, among the delegates at the Conference at the time.

Use of term by Robert Menzies[edit]

The line was used effectively by 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."[1] 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.

The term "faceless men" then became a permanent part of Australia's political lexicon, nearly always used in a sense hostile to the Labor Party.[2]

Use of term within the ALP[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.[3][4] Howes later published a book called Confessions of a Faceless Man.[5] The expression has also been used to refer to the figures in the New South Wales state Labor Party, such as Karl Bitar and (again) Mark Arbib who brought about the successive removals of Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees as Premier of New South Wales.

Use of term by Kevin Rudd[edit]

The term returned to prominence in February 2012, when Rudd resigned as Foreign Minister and announced he would challenge Gillard in an attempt to regain the Labor leadership. Rudd called for "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."[6] A prominent Rudd supporter, Senator Doug Cameron, said that "Labor's faceless men" had forced Rudd's resignation as Foreign Minister.[7] In response, Labor MP Michael Danby, a Gillard supporter, said that Rudd had his own "faceless men", notably the lobbyist Bruce Hawker.[8] Hawker replied: "I don't want to be a faceless man. I actually want to address issues."[9]

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

"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." [10]

Mahoney repeats here the common error that Alan Reid and Menzies referred to the ALP Federal Executive as "faceless men". As noted above it was the Federal Conference.


  1. ^ "Digital Collections - Books - Item 1: Mr. Calwell and the Faceless Men". Nla.gov.au. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  2. ^ "Tracking the Red Fox". Media Report. ABC Radio National. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 3 November 2010. 
  3. ^ "The call that rolled Rudd". Melbourne: Theage.com.au. 2010-11-27. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  4. ^ Massola, James (2011-06-18). "The rise and fall of PM's 'faceless men'". The Australian. 
  5. ^ "Labor's faceless man reveals Rudd 'expulsion' fantasy". Smh.com.au. 2010-11-11. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  6. ^ "Kevin said. . . . . .and what it means". Melbourne: Theage.com.au. 2012-02-24. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  7. ^ "Labor's 'faceless men' forced Rudd's resignation, says Senator Doug Cameron | thetelegraph.com.au". Dailytelegraph.com.au. 2012-02-22. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  8. ^ "Labor Leadership - Danby on Skynews 24.2.2012". YouTube. 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  9. ^ Maiden, Samantha (2012-02-12). "Meet the mastermind behind the push for Kevin Rudd to resume the Labor leadership | thetelegraph.com.au". Dailytelegraph.com.au. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  10. ^ Mahoney, James. "Kevin Rudd's 'faceless men' line isn't accurate, but it is effective (Feb 2012)". The Conversation. The Conversation Media Group. Retrieved 7 July 2014.