Australia's highest profile unionist, Paul Howes, says his next job will not be as an MP in federal parliament, but he has left the door open to a future career in public life.
The 32-year-old Mr Howes is the Australian Workers Union's national secretary and has been widely tipped to enter federal politics as the ALP renews itself following the 2013 election loss.
But Mr Howes missed out on a casual senate vacancy created by the retirement of Bob Carr last September and NSW Labor sources have told Fairfax Media the union leader was "furious" at being snubbed by his own Right faction, who instead backed former MP Deb O'Neill to take the spot.
Mr Howes confirmed he had sought the Senate vacancy but played down his failure to secure the seat on Monday in his decision to quit the labour movement.
“When it became clear to me that it would be a bruising and messy battle, I said I didn’t want to be cause of that sort of conflict and division,’’ he told Sky News.
“The party has had too much internal conflict in the last six years.”
Mr Howes was re-elected as the union's national secretary only last year and his bid to replace the former senator Mr Carr was met with a hostile reaction from some Labor MPs.
It also led to him falling out with his key factional ally, former NSW Labor secretary and now senator Sam Dastyari, with the pair having barely spoken for six months.
Mr Dastyari, current NSW Labor Party secretary Jamie Clement and Shop, Distributive and Allied (SDA) workers union national secretary Joe de Bruyn threw their support behind former lower house MP Deb O'Neill, who re-emerged to take the Senate seat.
Mr Howes' relationship with now Labor leader Bill Shorten also soured after Mr Shorten switched support to Mr Rudd before the 2013 federal poll.
Though Mr Howes and Mr Shorten were said to have patched up their differences, the union leader enraged many in the union movement in February when he called for a ''grand compact'' between unions and business in a speech that blindsided Mr Shorten and created a political headache for the opposition leader.
Mr Howes, a high profile unionist who has worked for the AWU since he was 17, said he would seek new challenges that could include study, work in the corporate sector or a philanthropic role.
He told the AWU’s national executive of his intention to quit in a meeting in Perth on Monday.
“I know there has been lots of speculation today about what my motives are. I’m used to that speculation … but I’ve never had the opportunity to study, I’ve never had an opportunity to work outside the movement, I’m not ruling anything out or in but I know I want to do something different for a while,’’ he said.
Mr Howes said he was not eliminating the possibility of a career in federal politics, but insisted he was ‘‘not stepping down from this role to pursue a career in parliament”.
“I am not one of those who subscribe to this notion that being a trade union leader or spending your working life fighting for the rights of working people and trying to make this country a better place is somehow a bad thing if you want to go into representational politics. I think it well qualifies you.”’
Mr Howes' personal life has also attracted controversy because of his high profile relationship with Qantas executive Olivia Wirth. The pair will marry in April this year.
Since announcing their relationship, Mr Howes has been unwilling to comment on issues relating to the airline – in which his union has hundreds of members.
In a statement, Mr Shorten paid tribute to Mr Howes' service to the AWU.
''It was my privilege to work with Paul at the AWU. When I left, I knew I was leaving the delegates and members in good hands when I supported Paul to replace me,'' he said.
''The strong working conditions, relatively high wages and benefits like penalty rates we enjoy in Australia can never be taken for granted, especially with a government led by someone like Tony Abbott in Canberra. Paul has helped build these conditions and has fought hard to protect them.''
Mr de Bruyn also paid tribute to Mr Howes’ work with the union but said the decision to go could dent his future political ambitions.
''I regard him as a person of enormous potential and I told him that while he obviously commented on political affairs, if he stayed in the trade union movement he would go a long way,'' he said.
''It makes it much harder for him to get into the political arena because he will no longer have a union base to launch his career in politics.
''There has been speculation around for a while [that he could quit] but it does come as a big surprise to me.''
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne on Monday singled out Mr Howes for his policy ideas, saying he would be welcome in the nation's parliament.
''He certainly has a lot more ideas about the future of Australia and what needs to be done about policy than the current crop of people who represent the Labor Party in Canberra,'' Mr Pyne told reporters. ''He would be very welcome here, but that is a matter for the Labor Party.''
Mr Howes has led the union since 2007 when Mr Shorten entered Parliament and is expected to be replaced by assistant national secretary Scott McDine.
He leaves the union movement as the Abbott government launches a royal commission into union corruption.
Often touted as a ''faceless man'', his support for former prime minister Julia Gillard was instrumental in her toppling of Kevin Rudd in June 2010. He stayed loyal to Australia's first female PM in her leadership battles with Mr Rudd.
In November 2010, Mr Howes wrote Confessions of a Faceless Man: Inside Campaign 2010, an autobiographical analysis of the election and 18 months in Australian politics.
Apart from his AWU role, Mr Howes is deputy chairman of Australia's largest industry super fund, AustralianSuper, a member of the Labor Party's national executive, vice-president of the ACTU, director of the Chifley Research Centre and the McKell Institute and represents the Asia Pacific Region on the executive committee of the IndustriALL Global Union.
He is expected to resign from all of his political duties.
The story No plans to enter federal parliament: Paul Howes confirms he is quitting as AWU boss first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.