As an aside to the shenanigans in Canberra this week, billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer has said he wishes to stand against Treasurer Wayne Swan in his electorate, presumably to get even; Swan says Palmer has never been closer to the electorate than flying into Brisbane Airport.
And so the game (and it is a game), in the words of Sherlock Holmes, is afoot.
Palmer, like millions of other enrolled voters, has an axe to grind; he detests the soon to be introduced carbon and mining taxes, and he ferociously believes that Swan, Gillard and their colleagues are trashing Australia’s economy and sovereign reputation, and leading the country down the path to ruin.
But unlike most other voters, Palmer stands to lose a lot of money, directly, as a result of those Gillard government initiatives so enthusiastically presided over by Swan, and so on one level it’s unsurprising that he should feel so strongly about these issues.
After all, Palmer is on the record as describing Wayne Swan as an “intellectual pygmy,” castigating the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister for a perceived complete lack of understanding of economics, industry, and good governance.
So far, I can only say that I agree with the analysis.
Certainly, Swan’s attempts today to claim full credit for the 50-basis point cut in official interest rates by the Reserve Bank is both nauseating and crass.
If Swan wants to take credit for the rate cut, perhaps he can also take credit for the Reserve keeping rates too high for too long in an attempt to choke the life out of inflation which, instead, has almost choked the life out of the economy at large.
Swan didn’t have anything to do with the Reserve maintaining higher rates than were required any more than he has any credit to claim from those rates being lowered, but we can overlook that for a minute.
What we won’t overlook is his crowing about “ten interest rate rises in a row” in the final years of the Howard government; that had no more to do with Peter Costello than more recent movements in interest rates have to do with Swan himself.
But I digress (although the example neatly proves Palmer’s point that Swan is an ignoramus of some description, at least).
So let’s have a look at the two men in question.
Wayne Swan — following a brief career in academia — went straight into service in the 1970s as an ALP apparatchik; after many years as an academic and party hack, he entered federal Parliament in 1993 in the vacant ALP seat of Lilley in Brisbane, lost it in the 1996 landslide, won it back in 1998, and has held it, marginally, ever since.
His main claim to fame as Treasurer was the shovelling of billions of dollars of borrowed money around the electorate in the form of $900 “stimulus” cheques; a man who gives every indication of being obsessed with his own perceived self-importance (if not with the sound of his own voice), the major banks find a way to make a complete fool of Swan every time interest rates move.
If rates rise, the banks tack on more; if they fall, the banks hold back a portion of the cut, all in the name of covering “funding costs,” and the stern, sharp public lectures delivered by Swan in the direction of those banks are completely ignored.
It’s a problem unique to Wayne Swan; no other federal Treasurer has ever had to face down such insolence from the nation’s financial institutions, but then again, most of Swan’s predecessors — Liberal and Labor alike — were taken an awful lot more seriously than he is.
Palmer, on the other hand, is the archetypal self-made man; having initially made a fortune out of the real estate boom on the Gold Coast in the 1980s, his primary business interests now cover the minerals and energy sector. Palmer is a man used to running things his way, doing what he wants, and getting what he wants in the process.
And on one level — looking at him as a businessman — quite rightly so.
Where this all gets interesting is when the two stellar opposites — Swan and Palmer — are pitched against each other in electoral battle.
There are rumours floating around that Wayne Swan does not intend to contest Lilley at the next election anyway; sitting on a margin of just 3.2% and faced with another huge swing against Labor in Queensland, it is said by Canberra insiders (who usually know) that Swan has written the seat off as an LNP gain and simply won’t stand.
I’m curious to see if he does so, should Palmer emerge as the LNP candidate; after the hot air Swan has fired off at Palmer as being unsuitable to represent the electorate, it would be somewhat hypocritical of him to then refuse to face off with him at the ballot box.
Then again, hypocrisy isn’t a word that would generally be excluded from analyses of Swan.
Even so, Palmer does arrive as a potential candidate for preselection in Lilley with some drawbacks of his own.
Never mind his plan — announced concurrently with his bid for a seat in Parliament — to build a replica of the Titanic, and to sail it from Southampton to New York along the route of the doomed original’s maiden voyage 100 years ago; I actually think such a grand — and niche — project by a hobbyist is to be commended.
What is not to be commended in any way, shape or form is Palmer’s invitation to the Chinese Navy to escort the Titanic II from England to the USA; for fairly obvious reasons, such an action potentially has “World War III” written all over it.
I would query, too, whether Palmer — a man who has made close to $6 billion through his own endeavours, and who runs things on a gigantic scale — would have much patience with the finer nuances of election campaigning: doorknocking, standing on train stations at 7am and 6pm, handing out leaflets, and making idle small-talk and banter with people he doesn’t know and probably doesn’t really want to know.
One wonders how Palmer would cope as a backbencher in a Coalition government; I would suspect he would be bored brainless by the process and the snail’s pace at which Parliament operates.
Still — assuming Swan has the balls to even stand at the next election, rather than wimping it and running away — I believe that anyone endorsed by the LNP to stand against him in Lilley would easily defeat Swan (with the rider, of course, that the vetting committee has performed the usual background checks on such a candidate).
If the candidate Swan ends up facing is indeed Clive Palmer, an ugly defeat will be made a hell of a lot worse.
You see, irrespective of any potential drawbacks Palmer may have as a candidate (or as a parliamentarian if elected), Swan personally is now so reviled in the electorate — including in his own electorate — that he is now a drain on the ALP vote, not an asset to it.
People around the country are itching to see the back of Swan just as much as they want to see the back of Gillard and the Labor government generally.
Give the voters in Lilley the option of a man who creates wealth, jobs, knows about enterprise and hard work and making things happen — all things Swan despises, as evidenced by his “class war” rhetoric — and they will vote for him in droves.
OK, this article is a bit of a departure from the more serious side of politics for a change, and I’m sure there are plenty around who can use a smirk at the idea of the Pygmy facing off against the Magnate.
But in all seriousness, if the contest ever eventuates, my money will be on Clive Palmer…and Swan, if he has the nerve to fight, will be crushed.
What do you think?