The enigma that is Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan is an enigma. He has now delivered five national budgets and was last year named as Finance Minister of the Year by Euromoney magazine. Not bad for an unrepentant socialist who remains steadfastly committed to the forcible redistribution of wealth across Australian society. Interesting also that the other Australian to be named Euromoney’s world’s best treasurer was Paul Keating in 1984 who held similar socialist inclinations to Swan although with a very rich man’s penchant for the finest things in life.

Swan displays a similar duality, exhorting class warfare on behalf of the downtrodden from the privileged security of a general’s command post at the furthest possible remove from the trenches. With an army of public servants to satisfy his every command and his every need met by a plethora of perks, he is cosseted from the vagaries of normal existence.  This essential contradiction suggests his tirades against supposed class enemies are a tad trite

Swan exhibits a Greens-like zeal to change society how he thinks best regardless of how little endorsement he can secure from the rest of us. And, let’s face it, his recipe for fixing economic problems is to cultivate ferocious envy of those who are well-off while dispensing handouts to the less privileged and racking-up debt like there will be no tomorrow. No wonder Euromoney endorsed him: this is exactly the kind of voodoo economics that has landed Europe in such a dreadful mess. Just another of the many contrasting components that make up Wayne Swan.

It is passing strange that Swan does present, in image terms, better than some of Australia’s billionaires, especially Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart. Swan is a fit-looking, dapper man who could readily be mistaken for a captain of industry as he strides the Canberra corridors of power. He handles the power and privilege of his position as one who was born to it. In fact, with the same easy assurance that characterises other local billionaires like Twiggy Forrest and Frank Lowy. Not bad for a boy from Nambour.

Why then, if he is so comfortable as part of the nation’s elite power clique, does he rail against those he claims have earned their wealth too easily? How can he reasonably express a fierce desire to be the great leveller of wealth and privilege in Australian society? Very enigmatic. The fact is that Swan is as guilty as anyone of the same ‘sins’ he denounces.

In a recent tirade against power and privilege in an essay he denounced politicians who seek to exploit divisions by promoting fear but says we have a choice “between standing up for workers and kneeling down at the feet of the Gina Rineharts and Clive Palmers”. And he can’t see that as exploiting division by promoting fear? Breathtaking hypocrisy. Another element of the Swan enigma.

The greatest enigma, though, is that here is a man who has enjoyed the very best perks and privileges available in Australian society (as a federal parliamentarian) for decades. With a brief two-year interruption during which he remained sucking on the teat of government with excellent remuneration, Swan has enjoyed the highest levels of government benefits for around twenty years. He is most unlikely to be impoverished. While that remains very much a matter between he and the Tax Office, it remains compellingly pertinent to his espoused denigration of the rich and powerful, of which peer group he is so clearly a member.

It is just as pertinent that the man who wishes to ensure the rich subsidise the poor is also a man who is entitled to a very substantial pension for the remainder of his life in addition to a wealth of other financial privileges. In any but the most exceptional of circumstances he need never worry about where his next meal is coming from. Not so difficult to arbitrate for equality when your own exceptionally unequal benefits are written into law.