Transcript - Tonightly with Tom Ballard Podcast



SUBJECTS: Union Membership; Corporate Malpractice; Change the Rules.

TOM BALLARD: Alright we're here on the Tonightly podcast everybody. Wayne Swan's stuck around – Wayne Swan everyone!

Thanks for doing our show. We went to the audience for a question. Chris was wondering how union membership is going to go up where there is some really bad press about the union world. Jon Kudelka [sic, Setka] from the CFMEU is not a fan of yours; I believe he called you a maggot and such. We've seen some corruption scandals; there are stories that come out on a regular basis. Just to give people a picture, in the private sector it's about 9 per cent of the workforce is unionised. How do you think the Labor Party, or you personally, can change that?

WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: Look, I think that was a really important question, because this increasing concentration of income and wealth at the top has gone up dramatically. And almost in parallel, going down has been union membership. So the lack of a strong union voice has been one of the things that has enabled people to concentrate income and wealth at the top. And you see this very much in the wage system. The second thing is, it's not easy any longer to organise the workforce like it was organised, particularly post war. We used to have large factories; large numbers of people would work together. So what you're getting now – particularly with the gig economy – is an evolution from mass workplaces to people being separated, hard to organise. So the job of the union movement to be successful has got harder and harder as the labour force has changed. And secondly, yes, there are a number of examples of bad practice in the union movement and they should be eliminated and those people should be locked up. Just as they should as they're in the business community! But we hear a lot less about what goes on at the top end of town, and the malpractice there, than we tend to hear about the union movement. And the reason for this is, very simply, that the people that are pushing the trickledown economic agenda have got the largest megaphone, and they've got a lot of money. And they've spent a lot of time demonising unions, even when they're good unions, because their political aim is to weaken the union movement to increase the profit share of the the economy at the expense of the wage share.

BALLARD: But we all agree that criminals, wherever they are, should be locked up and should be held accountable—

SWAN: Exactly. And the unions are no different from the rest of society.

BALLARD: Sure, but well there's a level of behaviour, like when union leaders are literally threatening the families of people who work for an organisation that they don't like. Stuff like that is just absolutely unacceptable.

SWAN: Absolutely. Course it is. And there are laws against that. Just as there are laws in the corporate sector. But there are plenty of people in the corporate sector – as we're now finding out, through the Royal Commission into the banks – who've been engaged in some pretty rank behaviour as well. I think we do have a problem about attitude. This notion that greed is good, that there's something wrong with selflessness, and that you should be selfish, is underlying a lot of bad practice that we see in organisations in our society. And if we want to be a successful society, as well as a successful economy, we've got to have an ethic where sharing is good, and a few cannot dominate the many. 

BALLARD: I encourage everyone to read his essay from 2012, I find it very interesting. But there's a quote there that stuck out to me. It said, "despite its faults, the market system is still the best system for generating prosperity for more people. We can't afford to let it be undermined by the excessive greed by a wildly irresponsible few." And what you just mentioned there too. I would say that there have forever been greedy, wildly irresponsible people. They will live at the top, they will protect their money and their wealth, no matter what. Can we just hope that people will be nicer, or do you have to restructure the system?

SWAN: No, you've got to change the rules. Post war, we had essentially, across western advanced economies, what you'd call a welfare state. The welfare state was based on an economic model which said we have progressive taxation, not regressive taxation. Was based on a model where you invested in health and education and made them reasonably universal so people got them, irrespective of need. That has been worn away in many countries across the world. And we've got this greed-is-good, whatever-it-takes mentality now operating in many of our corporates. And our corporates don't seem to think that they've got any community responsibility in any decision they take. And every decision they take has to be purely through the lens of what it means to be a shareholder. Well that wasn't the case for 20 or 30 years. I mean, share buybacks, which is where a lot of the profits of companies are going at the moment, are entirely selfish. And 20 or 30 years ago, were banned in corporate law. But these are the mechanism which has now been used, particularly in the United States, by the big companies that are getting Donald Trump's tax cut. They're not giving them to wages. They're actually using them in share buybacks. So there are changes of the rules in corporate governance. There are changes of the rules in terms of industrial relations. There are changes in the rules across the board that we desperately need to save capitalism from itself.

BALLARD: Are you worried about getting out? I guess if you win the ALP thing – not that we can talk about that at all, we're still in the game, but—

SWAN: Well what I said when I—

BALLARD: Particularly because, if things continue as they are, it is highly likely that we'll have a Shorten Labor Government at the next election.

SWAN: Well what I said was, I was getting out of Parliament, but I wasn't getting out of politics. I've sat in a seat that has been extremely marginal for over 20 years. And to continue to be re-elected, you've got to be absolutely dedicated to your local area. And I think I have been, to the extent that I could. In fact, I've got to the age where I don't think I can keep doing that, but I still want to be involved in the sort of discussions and the debates that we're having now. So in effect, I've got out of Parliament, but I haven't got out of the debate. And what I do want to do is be able to inject my voice from my experience as six years as Treasurer, and other experience I've had, into the debate to get some balance back into it. Because I think so much of the debate we've got at the moment is misdirected. It has no sense of community. We live in a community, not a corporation. But if you listen to so much of the language about economics and so on, it's the reverse. So I want to contribute to that debate.

BALLARD: Thanks very much. Just for the podcast listeners, Wayne Swan was speaking the entire time with an eggplant in front of him. So it's very hard for us to take him seriously, but we hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for being here. Wayne Swan everybody. Wayne Swan!

SWAN: Thank you.



This podcast originally appeared at:

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra