Washed Up: With Nothing To Offer, Wayne Swan Should Quit

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.

Swan vs Palmer? My Money’s On The Magnate

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?