World’s Best Finance Minister? Wayne Swan, What A Joke!

European finance magazine Euromoney has today done something truly cringeworthy and totally lacking in credibility: it has named Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan as its Finance Minister of the Year.

Excuse me whilst I locate, and use, the sick bag.

Before we get onto the merits or otherwise of Wayne Swan, let’s have a look at this award.

The magazine is reputable enough, although its list of winners in the last 30 years is difficult to digest.

In seven of those years it didn’t even award a winner, and the years it did feature luminaries from such noted economic powerhouses as Serbia, Nigeria, the Philipines, and Pakistan.

And of course, “our” Paul Keating in 1984.

It’s very interesting that a European money magazine is making pronouncements about who might be (in our jargon) the best Treasurer in the world.

After all, half of Europe is bankrupt, and the other half is being pulled into the abyss along with the basket cases.

And once the German public becomes resolute in its desire to reinstate its Deutschemark and send the Euro into history, rather than bailing the rest of the continent out, the whole disastrous European monetary, social and federal project will also take its place in the dustbin of history.

I note Euromoney has never named a German as “World’s Best Finance Minister.”

Even so…Wayne Swan. How does he stack up?

The unfair comment first is that the guy is as boring as hell; he gives no hint that he believes anything he has to say; he inspires economic pessimism so well that he ought to start an industry to manufacture it; and speaking politically, he has no credibility in the eyes of the voting public whatsoever.

And that’s just presentation.

As Treasurer, he has presided over the greatest deterioration in the financial position of this country in its history.

And to quote shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey today — who said the award was hard to take seriously: “Mr Swan has racked up $154 billion of deficits, he’s yet to deliver a budget surplus and has turned $45 billion in the bank into a $110-billion-dollar credit card bill.”

Well, quite.

Never mind the so-called Global Financial Crisis.

This is a man who presided over fiascos such as the “Building the Education Revolution” program; Pink Batts; Green Loans; the Solar Rebate Scheme; and the hare-brained, ham-fisted, half-baked scheme to buy everyone off with a cheque for $900 under the auspices of looking after them in a crisis.

So much of the money under those programs was wasted, misappropriated or otherwise rorted owing to loose guidelines around its expenditure that it’s difficult to see how the responsible Minister could ever be commended.

And given virtually all of the money thrown around under those schemes was borrowed abroad, it’s impossible to say they were remotely responsible economically.

I say “virtually all” of the money, because the first $45 billion of it came either from the budget surplus the Howard government had built over long years, or from cash reserves Howard and his Treasurer, Peter Costello, had secured in sovereign investments to hold in trust and allocate interest from as a residual extra source of recurrent funding.

No, this Treasurer is the agent of bankruptcy, not the instrument of responsibility.

As a result of today’s award, Swan will no doubt slither around the world and start lecturing other countries about his brilliance and worthiness, in much the same way Kevin Rudd racks up hundreds of thousands of travel dollars per year to lecture other countries and to make a fool of himself internationally — and of Australia — in the process.

There’s an unconfirmed report that Paul Keating — the winner of this award in 1984 — responded that he “didn’t give a f***!” when approached for comment about Swan’s award today.

Irrespective of whether Keating said that or not, however, the response is justified.

Australia is now sitting on $200 billion in debt, with negligible reserves and a sizeable structural budget deficit — all developments that occurred on Swan’s watch.

And again, don’t bore me with the GFC — if we were in real trouble, Wayne Swan is the last man I’d want in charge of the Treasury.

More on that in a bit.

This country’s current financial position is far better than that of most of the rest of the developed world, I’ll grant you.

But the massive increases in debt and deficit in the past four years are just the thin edge of the wedge: no Labor government since the second World War has ever proven adept at managing public finances, and the longer this regime remains in office, the more evident will be the painful reminder of that fact.

Yet for the Australian economy to even be in the shape it is — and to be able to withstand to some extent Labor’s best efforts to push it into the red zone — is a credit to Swan’s Liberal predecessors, and not to him in any way.

The Euromoney award may only be made to public officials who currently serve; and this rules out former Treasurer Peter Costello and the Finance ministers who served under him (John Fahey and Nick Minchin).

Those three gentlemen deserve the award Swan received today; Wayne Swan does not.

If, indeed, Euromoney‘s award is even worth having.

I’d like to nominate my own award for “Best Finance Minister” for 2011 — George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer for the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

The Conservative government that came to office in Britain last year in coalition with the Liberal Democrats was faced with a public debt bill of £1,200 billion ($1,800 billion); the end result of 13 years of Labour mismanagement, waste, reckless borrowing and profligate spending.

Osborne is doing something about it: tax rises, spending cuts, rationalisations and efficiencies; slowly moving Britain back onto a more sustainable financial footing, and ensuring the country does not default on its debts and that it can pay its way in the world.

It’s not popular and I’m told it isn’t pleasant. But it will work.

And this brings me back to my earlier point: if this country really were in serious monetary trouble, with its back to the wall, at risk of going belly-up, and with the vultures from its creditor nations circling, would anyone have any faith whatsoever in the ability of Wayne Swan to manage Australia’s way out of it?

I didn’t think so.

The Euromoney award is an absolute joke.

And so is Wayne Swan, and any claim he might make to competence as Treasurer.

What a joke. What a fraud. And what a disgrace!