THE UNPLEASANT NEWS that useless, sanctimonious former Treasurer Wayne Swan will contest next year’s federal election adds nothing to the ALP’s case for a return to office; a divisive failure in the Rudd-Gillard years, Swan is largely responsible for the reprehensible mess Labor left the budget in, and revelled in fomenting hatred and class envy. He has nothing to offer and no value to Australian politics. He should quit Parliament.
It’s been some time now since this column has had to burden itself with talk of Wayne Swan, that emblematic embodiment of just about everything wrong with the legacy of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government; but just like the proverbial bad penny, it appears that Swan — quite literally — refuses to go away.
Lest it be lost in all the excitement over Labor’s stunning reinvention of the economic management practices of John Cain and Joan Kirner in Victoria, Brisbane’s Courier Mail is reporting that Swan is set to recontest his inner Brisbane electorate of Lilley once again at next year’s federal election, and it is difficult indeed to ascertain any positive benefit that might be reaped by either the people of Lilley, the Australian Labor Party, or the Commonwealth of Australia from the continued retention of Swan’s dubious services as a member of Parliament.
Swan — who will be 62 by the time the next election is held — has held his seat since 1998, having first won Lilley in 1993 before losing it to a Liberal in the Howard government landslide of 1996; having already served as deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer it seems inconceivable that he would return to a ministerial role were Labor to win office, and should the ALP remain in opposition would most likely stay on the backbench, selfishly denying a younger, fresher, and arguably more talented individual an opportunity in Parliament.
Any Treasurer who can promise on more than 600 separate occasions that he will deliver a budget surplus and, between 2009 and 2013, fail to make good on any of those assurances is either an incompetent, a liar, or both. Yet Swan, as Treasurer, boasts precisely that record.
I say he has a nerve even contemplating standing again next year, let alone pressing ahead with plans to do so.
We have talked an awful lot about Wayne Swan over the four years I have been publishing this column, and a small selection of Swan’s greatest hits can be accessed here, here and here. More can be accessed — for those so inclined — through the tag cloud at the right-hand side of this column.
But one of my favourite memories of Swan’s career to date was the revelation of himself as a man of music, and — happy to call things as they are — we got into the spirit.
And the highlight of political life in this country (for the past 30 years anyway) belonged to Swan as well, named International Finance Minister of the Year in 2011 in a crowning moment of glory that amounted to a one-fingered salute to Swan’s (many) critics both at home and abroad.
The reality, however, was more mundane than some jumped-up “look at me” award from an obscure European journal.
For Wayne Swan was, in fact, easily one of the worst federal Treasurers to ever hold the post in Australia; Labor sycophants point to his “record” of keeping Australia out of recession during the Global Financial Crisis, and they perhaps have a point.
But it is hardly an onerous undertaking to stimulate an economy into positive territory on paper when the ill-gotten booty of tens of billions of dollars of borrowed money is at hand; even then, the wastage that occurred on Swan’s watch was horrific, as cheques for $900 being posted to dead people and foreigners at overseas addresses became an early pointer to the utter incompetence Labor exhibited in matters of economic management.
Blame for the present structural ravine in the federal budget — perhaps permanently mired in deficit — and the accompanying mountain of government debt, presently totalling almost $400 billion and rising, can be sheeted home directly to Swan; as the one minister in Labor’s government who could have put a brake on profligate spending programs, he didn’t. As the one minister who could have imposed responsibility over Labor’s pre-election machinations and its grand plot to sabotage Australia’s finances and render them unmanageable by a Liberal government, he didn’t.
And when it came to the politics of old-fashioned class envy, jealously and hatred, Swan was and is a master of that execrable dark art, taking aim at the wealthy, the entrepreneurial and the successful in a jaundiced and belligerent campaign to tear them down to the level of anyone who couldn’t make it, couldn’t be bothered, or simply wanted to be content with their own modest lot in life and be left well enough alone.
With this sort of record, Labor can ill-afford any return by Swan to its frontbench. He is, put bluntly, an unmitigated political liability. Then again, with Labor “led” by its incumbent figurehead, this probably isn’t in itself a bar to Swan’s future prospects. But even so.
As a symbol and the architect of just about everything that Labor did wrong where economics were concerned during its last period in power, there is nothing to be gained from keeping Swan around the parliamentary ALP as any kind of mentor: the very notion is abhorrent, and Labor-inclined swinging voters would be right to take a dim view of Swan being used to provide guidance and development to the ALP’s next generation of MPs; whatever principles a career in Parliament might entail, systemised dynasties of failure and mismanagement are not among them.
Perhaps Swan simply wants to “enjoy being a local member,” a sentiment I have heard from other long-term MPs wishing to spend a final term in office simply attending to their constituents after lengthy frontbench careers.
But these would be far better individuals than Swan and in any case — where his electorate of Lilley is concerned — virtually anyone could service a base of constituents if astutely preselected; there is no particular reason it should be Swan, and with a track record like his as a minister, it most definitely shouldn’t be Swan at all.
Should he go through with his plan to seek re-election, it would surprise nobody if — even if a heavy overall swing to Labor were to appear at the next election — Lilley swung toward the Coalition, perhaps enough to cost Swan the seat.
At the end of the day Swan is a has been who never “actually was” in the first place: washed up, finished, of no meaningful use to the Australian public as a political servant, this pious, self-important bubble of smouldering self-delusion and festering prejudices against the competent has nothing further to contribute.
Wayne Swan has nothing to offer in Australian politics. There is no value in the continuation of his tenure in a parliamentary sinecure. And if he had any decency or self-awareness at all in the context of the spirit of public service and elected office, he would leave Parliament at the coming election, if not sooner.