Skip to Content

Australia Leading article Australia

Good work, Penny

29 September 2012

9:00 AM

29 September 2012

9:00 AM

It’s not unusual for political or business leaders to hog the limelight and take credit for the work done by those who toil away beneath them. So it was pleasing to see Wayne Swan, the World’s Greatest Finance Minister according to Euromoney magazine, congratulate Penny Wong on a job well done. The Finance Minister got her numbers nearly spot on and, like a clever clogs being summoned to stand in front of the class, she beamed with justifiable pride at the praise bestowed upon her in front of the TV cameras by the Great Man Himself: ‘Good work, Penny.’

The casual listener tuning in to the evening news, one eye on the kids and the other staring in horror at the latest electricity bill, might well in the back of their mind have asked themselves precisely what it was the Senator had achieved. Reduced unemployment, perhaps? Increased productivity? Cut waste? Made small businesses more competitive? Lowered taxes? Er, no. None of the above. According to Mr Swan, Penny’s great work was to produce ‘the smallest variation between the budget estimate and the final outcome for a decade’.

In other words, Ms Wong’s triumph  was similar to that of the last person to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar after everybody else has had a go and got it wrong. The original forecast in May last year was  for a $22.6 billion deficit in 2011-2012. Then it was changed to $37 billion before Christmas, then more recently it was adjusted to $44 billion and now — hey presto — it has come in at $43.7 billion. Almost double where it was originally supposed to be, but hey, who’s counting?

To coincide with Ms Wong’s good work, Mr Swan took it upon himself to launch  a bizarre attack upon the ‘cranks and crazies’ within the US Republican Party. No, not the gun-totin’, beer-swillin’ anti-abortion mob. The Treasurer’s beef is with those members of Congress who believe a $16 trillion debt is not necessarily in their country’s — or indeed the world’s — best interests, and are determined to see it reduced. In the ‘magic pudding’ world of Swanomics, where all you have to do is scoop up the money falling out of mining moguls’ pockets, such concerns have no basis. Instead, to paraphrase the deputy PM’s mentor and intellectual guru, baby, we were born to run up as much debt as we possibly can.

Rather than patting themselves on the back, Labor ministers might do better to heed the words of David Murray, the former head of the Future Fund, who argues — as has this magazine, repeatedly — that Australia risks ‘catching the eurovirus’ by emulating the very policies that have contributed to financial collapses in Europe and elsewhere. As Mr Murray says, Labor’s pursuit of ‘systems that limit freedoms, overcommit public finances and/or are unsupportive of market capitalism’ can only end in tears. No wonder Euromoney is such a fan of Mr Swan’s. Much like the finance minister, European financial ministers have always been experts at putting a precise number on their ever-ballooning levels of debt.

Dysfunctional? Says who?

As our unelected Foreign Minister and our Prime Minister gad about New York doling out tens of millions of tax dollars to African nations, gender-equality programs and other such ‘foreign aid’ worthies in the forlorn hope of fulfilling Kevin Rudd’s fantasy of winning a pointless stint on the UN Security Council, back at home Lindsay Tanner has delivered a bombshell.

Mr Tanner has come uncomfortably close to accusing Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Paul Howes, Bill Shorten, Nicola Roxon and others of a coup d’etat in 2010 — the definition of which is ‘the sudden, illegal deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment’.

Ms Gillard’s explanation for the removal by caucus of a sitting Prime Minister mid-way through his first term was that ‘a good government was losing its way’. Mr Tanner — of similar status to both Ms Gillard and Mr Swan within Mr Rudd’s leadership team, the ‘Gang of Four’ — now denies this. ‘The Rudd government wasn’t dysfunctional,’ Mr Tanner writes in his new book, admitting Ms Gillard’s explanation was ‘a figleaf to cover concerns about opinion poll results’. In other words, the reason for the removal of the Prime Minister given to the Australian people — the shareholders of our democracy — was a lie. The coup was legal, but if Mr Tanner is correct it was neither moral nor ethical.

Too bad Mr Tanner didn’t have the strength of character to make this admission prior to the 2010 election. He claims he was keen ‘to avoid damaging the interests of the Labor party, to whom I owe so much’. One might have hoped that his first duty would have been to the interests of the Australian electorate, to whom he and all high-flying politicians owe everything.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

See also

Show comments


The Spectator Comment Policy

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.