Wayne Swan warns of rise of business ‘oligarchs’ in new book the Good Fight
‘Bloody-minded vested interests’ are trying to run the country, says former treasurer in new book due out next week
Vested business interests helped destroy the former Labor government and are now trying to run the country, according to the former Labor treasurer Wayne Swan.
Quotes from Swan’s book, The Good Fight, have been published in the Australian Financial Review, ahead of its release next week.
The paper quoted Swan as saying a small but growing group of “oligarchs” were trying to run the country, and that this was clear from some of the policies in the Coalition’s budget.
“Vested interests, backed by the current government, have prevailed, much to the detriment of our people and our nation’s future,” he said.
“In their world, a high-quality universal education and health services are a drain on the budget, not a platform for a fairer and more prosperous economy.”
“At the time of writing, the very people I have discussed … are now running the Abbott government. You can see their influence in the Business Council of Australia/Institute of Public Affairs control of the audit commission, and inevitably you will see it also in changes to industrial relations and universal health and education.”
He claims Labor’s election in 2007 on a platform of abolishing the Howard government’s WorkChoices industrial relations policy motivated the anti-Labor stance of some in the business community.
The anti-Labor campaign was run by “a set of bloody-minded vested interests more akin to what you find in countries such as Russia or on the right wing of the US Republican party”, he said.
“It had its origins in the unwillingness of parts of the business community to recognise the democratic mandate the people had given us to repeal WorkChoices,” he said.
“This unwillingness to surrender WorkChoices left toxins in the veins of many corporates that would never be cleansed, but most especially in the mining sector, which was emboldened by its anger to take a stance against carbon pricing and the minerals resources rent tax.”
Swan concedes Labor’s internal leadership tension and destabilisation contributed to its woes.
“Worst of all, and what made me sick in the stomach, was that our party’s disunity emboldened, encouraged and in part legitimised these attacks,” he said.
“Add to this the vulnerability of being in minority government, the ruthless negativity of the opposition, and a disgracefully biased News Ltd, and it’s easy to see how the whole political debate became increasingly ugly and vicious.
“Over time, this poisonous chemical stew developed into a narrative about illegitimate government, intent on destroying the economy, and the nation.”
He also concedes Labor contributed to the demise of its own mining tax proposal.
“Our difficulties came about for two reasons; we were too ambitious, and we were unprepared for the backlash coming our way from the vested interests, both domestic and international, who wanted to kill the tax off.
“Our lack of preparation was due to our own international procrastination; prime minister Rudd only made the final decision on the tax two weeks before the package was released. The resource super profits tax was the right policy reform, but we didn’t spend enough time building a case for it.”
Swan was critical of the Business Council of Australia under its former president Tony Shepherd, who also headed the Coalition’s commission of audit.
The Good Fight: Six Years, Two Prime Ministers and Staring Down the Great Recession, will be launched by the deputy leader of the Labor party, Tanya Plibersek, in Canberra on Monday.
Swan was the treasurer from 2007 to June 2013, when Kevin Rudd returned to the prime ministership just before the federal election. He was the deputy prime minister to Julia Gillard from 2010 to 2013.
As the treasurer, he oversaw the former government’s stimulus packages in response to the global financial crisis, as well as the introduction of the original mining tax, and its modification after a sustained attack and multimillion-dollar advertising campaign by the mining industry.
He previously wrote of the rising power of “vested interests” in an essay published in the Monthly magazine in 2012.
In it he argued: “To be blunt, the rising power of vested interests is undermining our equality and threatening our democracy. We see this most obviously in the ferocious and highly misleading campaigns waged in recent years against resource taxation reforms and the pricing of carbon pollution.
“The infamous billionaires’ protest against the mining tax would have been laughed out of town in the Australia I grew up in, and yet it received a wide and favourable reception two years ago.
“A handful of vested interests that have pocketed a disproportionate share of the nation’s economic success now feel they have a right to shape Australia’s future to satisfy their own self-interest.”