The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

2 March 2012

Interview with Sara Lane

ABC Radio, AM Program

SUBJECTS: Inequality and vested interests; Cabinet appointments

Eastsley:

The Federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, has taken pen to paper to claim the rising power of vested interests is undermining Australia's egalitarian society and threatening democracy.

In the article published in the latest Monthly magazine, Mr Swan argues a small portion of Australia's rich list are using their considerable wealth to oppose good public policy. He says people like Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Twiggy Forrest are being aided by biased editorial policy and shock-jock ranting. Mr Swan is in Brisbane this morning and he's spoken to our chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.

Treasurer:

Well, I wrote the essay because I think the fair go that we all cherish, the fair go that we nurture, is at grave risk today because vested interests are on the march and we've seen this just not through our debate on resource taxation, we've seen it through carbon pricing and we've seen it through the debate about plain packaging of tobacco.

And I'm raising the point – and I hope we do have a very significant national conversation about this – that we can't afford to let the vested interests in our society prevent more Australians from sharing in the tremendous opportunities of the Asian century, not just a fortunate few.

Lane:

You say Australia's success has never been more in jeopardy right now because of the rising power of vested interests and that it's a poison infecting Australia's politics and seeping into the economy. How exactly is it doing that?

Treasurer:

Well Sabra, the reason I got in politics was because I am a member of the Labor Party and I thought that hard working people ought to have a say in politics. I think we've got a great democracy. There's social mobility and there's political equality.

But I think when a few individuals decide to try and monopolise the public debate, to deploy their vast resources, to employ an army of lobbyists, to engage in corporate manoeuvring, what they seek to do is to distort public policy. And what I'm saying is as a country we ought to have a debate about the type of society we want to be and about the nature of political power in this country.

Lane:

Aren't you admitting that vested interests have too much power over government and isn't that your problem?

Treasurer:

Well, I think we are hearing from a few who have enormous resources and that seeps right through the media. We've seen some people in the media skiting about their power in the media, their capacity to deploy shock jocks and so on, against government policy.

What I'm saying is the voices of ordinary Australians do need to be heard. I believe they are heard but we ought to have a discussion about the nature of political and economic power in Australia.

Lane:

What are you going to do to stop it?

Treasurer:

Well, I'm going to have this conversation with the Australian people. That's why I wrote this essay. I urge people to read it.

We've got a fantastic country here. We're a young, optimistic nation. We've got high social mobility. We've got a great degree of economic equality compared to other developed nations, but I think a lot of that is at risk if vested interests take control of the policy process. You can see it in the way in which they are controlling the Liberal Party right now. I mean you've got the Liberal Party opposing resource rent taxation.

Lane:

The Greens would say, given your views, why did you capitulate on the original super profits tax?

Treasurer:

Well, what we did is we worked with the industry to come up with I believe a very, very important reform of the tax system and that is as it should be. But of course that initiative, that revenue source is supported by the responsible elements of the mining industry.

But what you have out there are other elements of the mining industry with vast resources who are still opposing resource rent taxation and trying to sink the legislation and controlling the Liberal Party.

Lane:

You mention Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart in your article. Haven't they got the right to express their views? And there’s no denying they employ a lot of people, people who depend on them for their livelihoods.

Treasurer:

Yes certainly they do and 99 per cent of business people do the right thing by the country, but not everybody seeks to exert political power like some of those individuals that you've just talked about. They are openly seeking to exert an inordinate degree of political power and I am highlighting that fact.

Lane:

Opposition frontbencher, Christopher Pyne, says your essay is just class warfare and the pure politics of envy.

Treasurer:

That's just laughable. What I'm on about is opportunity. It's not about envy. It's about opportunity and ensuring that Australia remains the country of a fair go, that we are a beacon to other developed economies in the world that don't have the degree of equality that we have. We want to keep the fair go and that's why I've written the essay.

Lane:

If this is the way you feel, why isn't the Government taking stronger action to be more transparent in the lobbyists who can come to Canberra to talk with politicians about their interests?

More than 4,000 lobbyists will remain free from parliamentary scrutiny now because Labor and the Coalition yesterday rejected a call for regulations to be tightened.

Treasurer:

Well, we have as a Government put in place the first big reforms in this country's history when it comes to lobbyists. That's what we've done and I'm pretty proud of our record.

Lane:

Should the Prime Minister have been more careful on Wednesday in describing an article about Bob Carr being approached to join politics as completely wrong?

Treasurer:

I just reject the characterisation of those events and the story that was in The Australian. I think the Prime Minister was accurate in her description of that story.

hat particular newspaper is conducting a particular campaign against the Government. It's been doing it for a long time and it'll keep doing it. That's their right. It's a free country with a free media.

Lane:

There were some incorrect details in that article but the fact that the Prime Minister had talked to Bob Carr is true and now she's admitted that in Parliament.

Treasurer:

This is ridiculous. Mr Carr made a statement that backed up what the Prime Minister said.

Lane:

Is it a missed opportunity getting Bob Carr into federal politics?

Treasurer:

The Prime Minister will be outlining the ministry, I think, in the not too distant future and I'll leave those matters to her.

Lane:

Would he have made a better foreign minister than Stephen Smith?

Treasurer:

Well, as I said I'll leave the matters to the announcement of the ministry to the Prime Minister.