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

1 August 2012

Interview with Fran Kelly

ABC Radio National

SUBJECTS: Tonight's John Button Lecture, the values behind Springsteen's music, the importance of a fairer public debate, avoiding class conflicts prevalent in other economies, Australia's strong economic growth since the GFC

KELLY:

Tonight the Treasurer draws on his musical hero in the annual John Button Lecture as his inspiration for all his years in the Labor Party working for the downtrodden. The Treasurer will also use the speech to reinforce his attacks on the mining magnates, Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest and Clive Palmer for in his words, using their wealth to manipulate democracy and dominate the national conversation. I spoke to the Treasurer a short time ago.

TREASURER:

Good morning Fran.

KELLY:

Tonight's speech is a tribute to The Boss and the inspiration you've gained from Bruce Springsteen's music and lyrics. What's that inspiration?

TREASURER:

First of all, great music, like Bruce Springsteen plays, really fires our passion, it speaks to our values. There's no one better than The Boss when it comes to talking about the values that I hold and the sort of society we want to see.

The fact that in his country there's been a massive explosion of inequality, whole communities dramatically impacted by economic change and where governments have not got stuck in and put in place the sort of policies that we need to have social mobility and opportunity.

KELLY:

So when you say don't let Australia become a Down Under version of New Jersey with a view that ordinary people are drowned out and only those with the most expensive megaphones get a say. Is that the way we're headed under your government? Is that what you're saying?

TREASURER:

No what I'm saying is that we've done really well. This is a really optimistic speech as was the essay in The Monthly in March this year. I think Australia's got a fantastic future, we've got enormous possibilities growing from the Asian Century so I'm very optimistic about the future of our economy. I'm optimistic about the future of our society.

But there are warning signals if you like, particularly when you look to the United States, that if you don't have a degree of social mobility, you have a shrinking middle-class and you have all of the division that comes from growing inequality. What I'm saying here in our domestic debate, we've seen over the course of this year, last year and the year before, some people with some very deep pockets who are trying to have a disproportionate say in a national debate and a disproportionate share of our national prosperity.

KELLY:

So you're about optimism. I'm not sure you could say the same about many of Bruce Springsteen lyrics; the Wrecking Ball, (inaudible). Not a particularly optimistic view, is it?

TREASURER:

I actually called the speech, 'Land of Hopes and Dreams'. If you actually listen to that song, it's actually a song about hope, and it's a song about faith that we'll get there in the end. I'm very optimistic and I draw that optimism from people like Springsteen, but he's operating in a very difficult environment in a society that he's singing about.

But the values, the values of fairness, the importance of social mobility, respecting the dignity of work that people that go to work, that come home, cook the tea, get up and do it again the next day and all they want is a fair go, they're the values I stand for and they're the values that we've prosecuted in government.

For example one of the things that I'm proudest of is what we were able to do here during the Global Financial Crisis and the global recession. We protected our people. We protected our own.

KELLY:

It's ironic isn't it? America would say it's values, it's the American way – social mobility, the dignity of work, the importance of being able to make their way forward to the very top through work?

TREASURER:

That's right. What Springsteen particularly sings about on 'Wrecking Ball' is the growing gap between the reality and the American Dream. What I say in my speech is, let's not let that happen here. Let's not let the people with the deepest pockets have a disproportionate say in the debate and a disproportionate say in economic outcomes.

KELLY:

Some of those people with the deepest pockets, and you've made a speech before, and you name them in this speech again - mining magnates Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest. Andrew Forrest would say that he worked his way, he's the embodiment of a Bruce Springsteen song?

TREASURER:

I absolutely celebrate people who have done well and we have a lot of people in this country that have worked very hard. They've accumulated vast wealth. But not everyone one of them, like our three billionaires are seeking to have a disproportionate say in the public debate. Not every one of those people is out there are opposing the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

So I'm not prosecuting class warfare, quite the opposite. My purpose is to make sure we don't get the great inequalities in our society so we can avoid the type of class conflict that we're beginning to see now in the United States and the discord that comes with that.

KELLY:

In an open and functioning democracy, a fair go is the ethos. Everyone's allowed to have a say aren't they?

TREASURER:

Sure. Of course they are but you've got Gina Rinehart who wants to take over Fairfax and rejects the independent charter for a journalistic code of conduct. You've got Andrew Forrest who's in the High Court opposing the mining tax. We've got Clive Palmer purchasing the Liberal and National Party in Queensland. I think they're trying to have a disproportionate say in the public debate and they're trying to influence the economic outcomes against working people.

KELLY:

Let's look at that. This disproportionate say, you say they're trying to have a go at because we live in a democracy, at the centre of it, the notion of a free and fair judiciary and Parliament. Why shouldn't Clive Palmer or any Australian want to run for Parliament? Why shouldn't Andrew Forrest or any Australian take their beef to the High Court, isn't that what these institutions are for?

TREASURER:

They can do all those things, but..

KELLY:

You're critical of them. You say they try to manipulate our democracy.

TREASURER:

Well they are. Of course I'm critical of them because they're using their wealth to have a disproportionate say. What I'm doing is highlighting their role in our political system and mounting my political case for very progressive policies which will add to our future prosperity and spread opportunity – like the Mining Resource Rent Tax

KELLY:

You actually say in your speech that you've got no regrets for your attacks on these mining magnates. In fact you wish you criticised them harder. But there has been criticism of you for, for instance attacking Andrew Forrest for wanting to go to the High Court or Clive Palmer for wanting to run for Parliament. You could argue it's a positive, a very rich Australian wanting to give up making money for a while to contribute through being an MP?

TREASURER:

In the case of Mr Palmer, he is the biggest donor to the LNP in Queensland. He is speaking out of disproportionate influence in our political system and you think it's his right in a democracy to make money. You can argue though about the terms and conditions.

But both my right as Treasurer of this country, as a Member of Parliament, as a Minister to actually highlight what I think they're trying to do to our democracy and what the impact of their policies will be. Particularly when they've been adopted 'holus-bolus' by Tony Abbott.

KELLY:

Back to Bruce Springsteen, working-class hero. First not so many working-class hero's in Labor these days, most MPs are university educated. They're ground for political office and jobs in unions or politicians offices, not knocking around in flannelette shirts on the factory floor?

TREASURER:

We have a society that has changed dramatically and the fact is that we've become a much more prosperous nation in recent times. There's still plenty of people active in the Labor Party and in Parliament that come from very humble backgrounds.

The difference is that policies and opportunities in terms of what we've done in tertiary education has meant that a lot of people from working-class backgrounds have a good education. It's one of the reasons why this Government is so committed to reform of education, from early childhood all the way through to tertiary education.

KELLY:

In the speech you praise Australia's economic growth since the GFC. In a survey out today from the Economists Intelligence Unit says Australia is ranked second to last on the table for productivity growth – 49TH out of 50 countries.

TREASURER:

I haven't looked at it in great detail Fran, but I'd like to make a couple of points. First of all productivity levels in this country are very high on international standards, in the top dozen around the world. But

SPRINGSTEEN:

Nobody wins, unless everybody wins.