Transcript - ABC Brisbane Breakfast




SUBJECT/S: Retirement at next election; Kevin Rudd; Global Financial Crisis; Media cycle; Adani mine; Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility; Susan Lamb.

CRAIG ZONCA: To a man who was in charge of the nation’s finances at the height of the Global Financial Crisis. But now he wants focus on life away from politics in many respects. Wayne Swan and his swan song, the former Treasurer, the Member for Lilley has announced he will bow out of politics at the next election. Wayne Swan, you’re back in Canberra today. Good morning to you. Why make the decision now?

WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Well, the Labor Party will be calling nominations sometime in the next few weeks so I thought I’d go out before they called those nominations and make it clear that I wouldn’t be a candidate

ZONCA: What will you miss most?

SWAN: Oh look it's a big decision; I've been very committed to politics. I really love the role of the local member. I really enjoy getting out and about but I'm getting basically to that stage in life where it's pretty hard to give 110% commitment to the local electorate and basically pursue some of my other passions. So I thought it was best to give the party an opportunity to select a new, fresh young candidate. And get cracking on making sure that we can earn the support of the people of Lilley at the next federal election to get Bill Shorten elected as Prime Minister.

ZONCA: Those other passions, what are they?

SWAN: Oh well there's plenty of them, and you mentioned some before. Music is one of them, what I really enjoyed doing a few months ago was I went to the Midnight Oil concert up at the Big Pineapple, and as you know I grew up on the Sunshine Coast, so the irony of going to the Big Pineapple to see a Midnight Oil concert was pretty good. The problem was we had one of those weather events. We stood there for four hours in blinding rain listening to the Oils.

ZONCA: Surely you would've had backstage passes given that you know Peter Garrett pretty well.

SWAN: I do, I do. But I didn't take up that opportunity so I had a bit of plastic over me with a few mates and was reliving my youth on the Sunshine Coast where I used to go see a lot of bands down at the Maroochydore Pub and the Alexandra Headland Surf Club. I’d want a bit more of that. But also, seriously, family life doesn't really exist for an MP – most of the time I'm away in Canberra – almost half the year. But when you're home, you're really out in the electorate all the time as well. You get home from Canberra, and you jump off the plane and go to a function. So, I've enjoyed that work but I just want more time with family and also keeping fit. I had an experience with prostate cancer some years ago, when I was 47. I recovered from that very well, but staying fit and healthy is also much more of a priority than it has been in recent years. Because politics is all-consuming, and you find it hard to have the time to either see your family to the extent that you can, and also find personal time.

ZONCA: Speaking of that and your decision to stay in the House after previous elections when Labor was thrown out of Government. Has your ongoing presence in the House made it more difficult, say, for your now party leader Bill Shorten to really distance himself from what were some pretty chaotic years of both the Rudd and Gillard Governments?

SWAN: I don't accept that characterisation. The policy record of the Rudd and Gillard Governments is a very good one when it comes to the economy, and where it comes to a series of social policies. I've been very welcomed in the caucus and I've been mentoring new Members of Parliament. I've been vigorously pursuing the issue of how we grow, and grow fairly and that strong economic growth can only come with a fairer society. That was at the core of many of the policies I put in place during the Global Financial Crisis. Indeed our response to the Great Recession, as it is known overseas, was world leading and it also provided a greater degree of equity in this country at a time when inequality and high unemployment was ravaging economies and societies around the world. So I've been talking not only in the caucus, but more widely in the community about the importance of what we term inclusive growth, which is avoiding the growing inequalities of wealth and income which not only poison our society, but are also very much destructive of democracy.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON: Wayne Swan will not be contesting the next Federal Election. His swan song, so to speak, will go on for the next couple of months no doubt, and locals will determine who will hold that seat next. Wayne Swan, is your response to the GFC – would you say that's your proudest moment in government?

SWAN: Oh absolutely, no question. It was an incredibly difficult time and it was a collective effort with Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and many other ministers, but it was a time where it was roller coaster. We were working around the clock day-in, day-out, month-in, month out really for well over a year when it was at its most intense, and for far longer. And it was a period where we had to take decisions in very difficult circumstances without the information and I think that we did produce, and this is what the international financial organisations and many people in the business community have concluded one of, if not the best, response in the Western world. I mean, we came through being one of only two advanced countries that didn't experience a recession.

LEVINGSTON: Wayne Swan, you're generous there saying it was a team effort and you mentioned Kevin Rudd. He's been fairly sour in some of the comments that he made of you. It's tough even for us to play this to you given that you're on your way out, you've made this contribution to public life. But I just want you to listen to this–

SWAN: No well you played it before and I heard it–

LEVINGSTON: Yeah, but, I want to play it and give you the opportunity to respond.


KEVIN RUDD (file audio): In his period as Treasurer, he did not live up to the expectations of his colleagues in terms of being across the portfolio and a competent exponent of the Government's policy, both in the House and in the broader community. I said that ultimately it was my responsibility because I appointed him to the position and I accepted full responsibility in the book.

PETER LLOYD (file audio): You knew that going in – that he was going to be a problem?

RUDD (file audio): No I didn't have that view at the time. I thought he would rise to the occasion, and he had the best tutors available, namely the Australian Treasury. Mr Swan desperately wanted the position; there was a risk of grave political instability within our newly elected government if he was not given the position.

ZONCA: Kevin Rudd speaking to the ABC's Peter Lloyd. That was just after his memoir was released last year. Wayne Swan, when was the last time you spoke to Kevin Rudd?

SWAN: Well I haven't spoken to Kevin Rudd in a long time, and I don't propose to go tit-for-tat with that piece of commentary from Kevin. I'd just make the point that anyone who's got Labor's interests at heart would be talking up our economic successes. The truth is, as we've seen in the many statements from people who were present during the GFC – from Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Jenny Macklin, Anthony Albanese – that is not a view which is shared by any of them. And I would just make this point: I spent six years as Treasurer and 15 years on the Labor Party frontbench, and really you can't do that without policy skills and strong support from your colleagues. So, sour grapes from Kevin, but I don't intend to let the proud record that we have in economic management and the good things that Kevin did as Prime Minister be run over by that sort of commentary. For example, tomorrow we've got the ten-year anniversary of saying sorry, a very proud moment for Kevin, the Government and Jenny Macklin and I don't intend to let any commentary about Kevin run over any of that.

ZONCA: There was a time when it was said that you and Kevin were quite close friends in fact – both Queenslanders, spent plenty of time together here in the Sunshine State, grew up on the Sunshine Coast. Do you feel hate towards Kevin Rudd?

SWAN: No, but could I just correct some of that? People have written that we went to school together – we did not. We weren't at the same school together. It's true that we got to know each other and were close friends through the election of Wayne Goss as Premier. But basically our friendship was something that didn't go into the [late] 1990s, let alone into the 2000s. So, we did work together. Frequently in work and in politics you'll find people that you're not necessarily all that close with, but that doesn't stop a professional working relationship. And I had a professional working relationship with Kevin, particularly during those very dangerous times, through 2008 and 2009 which did produce very good outcomes. But they weren't done on the platform that is somehow being created by the commentary that we were really, really good mates. So we had a professional working relationship through that period and that's the truth of it. But that’s not the way in which the commentary gets retailed from time to time.

LEVINGSTON: Wayne Swan was Treasurer for six years, Deputy Prime Minister for three. He first entered Parliament 25 years ago and it's now time for him to stand down. Wayne Swan, since 1993 when you were first elected to represent the electorate of Lilley, what's the most significant change you've seen in politics over that time?

SWAN: Oh, I think it's the way in which the whole political media cycle has just sped up. So what would probably happen in three years of politics back in 1993 and 1996 probably all comes through in the space of a year or six months now. The speed of our life, but the speed of our political life – partially on the back of the changing structure of communications, the way in which the media operates, the arrival of social media, all of those things tend to make the political and media cycle much shorter and have become more and more demanding on your time. So when I was Treasurer, when you're actually dealing with very big and meaty policy problems and putting in place solutions for them, so the political environment has become much quicker, much sharper, much more polarised on the back of those changes and much, much more personalised, I think.

LEVINGSTON: Do you think the electorate's better informed, given the immediacy of access that people have to their MPs now?

SWAN: Well I think there's a problem across society, whether it's in politics or whether it's in personal life, that there's such an avalanche of information. How you try and sift your way through it, and particularly sift your way through it in a way in which you can get to the kernel of truth and fact has, in fact, got a lot harder. And you can see that in the debate in the media about what's fake news and so on. So even though there's much more information, and even though it's much more immediate, it is also much more fractured, and there's no real intermediary in there at the moment which can help people, if you like, separate fact from fiction.

LEVINGSTON: Well people seek clarity on issues as well–

SWAN: They do.

LEVINGSTON: And keeping in mind, you've got to be in this role for potentially another year -- I think the Prime Minister mentioned 2019 as a possible election date over the weekend -- people are seeking clarity on Labor's stance on the Adani-Carmichael coal mine.

SWAN: Sure.

LEVINGSTON: Where are you on that, Wayne Swan?

SWAN: Well, I mean, last year I led the debate in the National Parliament about ensuring that they were not given some sort of preferred treatment in terms of Federal Government loan support. One of the things I did when I was Federal Treasurer was that I set up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which was a public investment body for renewable energy and energy efficiency. It's got a board with an investment mandate that's world class. The mandate for the NAIF, which is the Government's vehicle to invest in mines like Adani, was just basically a boondoggle. So I've vehemently opposed any financial support for the Adani mine. Whether it goes ahead or not is a matter for the commercial and economic assessments of the responsible authorities, over which–

LEVINGSTON: But surely you have a view–

SWAN: Over which the politicians have very little control. There are independent processes there. I'm very sceptical as to whether it will go ahead, and I've got a whole lot of doubt about its finances. But those decisions shouldn't be backed up by the Government, State or Federal, and that is not happening, and they will come down to a discussion, I should think, between the commercial operator and their bankers. As for the environmental decisions, they are also at arms' length. Those processes have to play out, whether you like it or not.

ZONCA: Wayne Swan is with you. He is the Federal Member for Lilley, but announced over the weekend that he will retire from politics at the next election. Twenty-five past nine. Wayne Swan, still on news that's going around at the moment, and that's the future of Susan Lamb, one of your Labor colleagues, the Member for Longman, should she stay as an MP?

SWAN: Absolutely. I believe she took all reasonable steps to discharge her British citizenship and we now await a court case, or a decision from the High Court in a court case, in the next month or so, which will provide greater clarity for that, but in terms of where the current law is, I believe she took all reasonable steps to change her citizenship, to get rid of her British citizenship.

ZONCA: I ask that question because one of our producers accidentally received a text from Susan at half-past five this morning, saying she was heading to Bill Shorten's office. Can we expect any further news today?

SWAN: No, that would be a regular visit that backbenchers would have to offices in the building, I wouldn't be reading too much into that.

LEVINGSTON: Wayne Swan, we've got to wrap it up because you've got to get into Parliament, but you mentioned life after politics, time with your family, perhaps surfing, perhaps a little more music. Have you had any other job interviews over the weekend?

SWAN: No, and I'm not seeking them either!

LEVINGSTON: We'll wait and see what happens next. Wayne Swan, congratulations on 25 years in politics. Really appreciate your time this morning.

SWAN: Thank you, and I hope the program goes well – I'm a regular listener.

LEVINGSTON: Alright! This is for you, Wayne Swan.

SWAN: Thank you.

LEVINGSTON: Thanks so much, Wayne Swan, the Member for Lilley. And this bloke, The Boss – I think he’s his favourite.