Transcript - Tonightly with Tom Ballard




SUBJECTS: ALP Presidency; Bernie Sanders; Global Financial Crisis; Carbon Pricing; Kevin Rudd; Inequality; Corporate Tax Cuts; Underemployment; Insecure Work; Negative Gearing; Buffett Rule; Labor’s Fairer Tax Plan.

TOM BALLARD: My guest tonight served as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer. In Februrary, he announced he’d be leaving Parliament after two decades as the Member for Lilley. And he’s running for the role of President of the Australian Labor Party. Here he is in Parliamentary action.


WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: The Leader of the Opposition slept right through the critical vote. He was drunk and didn’t come into the House. He slept right through that vote.

ANNA BURKE: The Treasurer will withdraw. The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. The Treasurer will withdraw.

SWAN: I withdraw.


BALLARD: Oooh! Please welcome Wayne Swan everybody.

SWAN: Hi mate.

BALLARD: Welcome to the show. Thank you for being here, sir. Does it bring back memories?

SWAN: It’s a pleasure. And it brings the memories back, there’s no doubt about that.

BALLARD: Now, you’re running to be the President of the Australian Labor Party, but the electoral rules say that you are unable to use the media to promote your candidacy.

SWAN: I can say nothing.

BALLARD: You can say nothing. But you’re here on the show, now. Is the loophole that nobody watches this show? Is that why you’ve joined us? We’re barely part of the media.

SWAN: You’re a very attractive proposition.

BALLARD: Well thank you very much! Stop flirting with me, please. So you’re stepping down as the Member for Lilley and you’ve been there since 1993 – had a few years out of office but you won your seat back. Quite an innings indeed. Sam Dastyari once described you as the Bernie Sanders of Australia. He’s 76. You could be running in 2020. You’re only a spring chicken – you’re 63 mate!

SWAN: Yeah, but time stops for no one. And I think it’s time to hand the baton on to a fresh, young candidate. We’ve got a brilliant young woman that we’ve just endorsed and she’s going to do really well.

BALLARD: Okay. So you had a pretty amazing run. There were some highlights. People credit you for getting us through the Global Financial Crisis along with Kevin Rudd, with those stimulus packages. Euromoney Magazine in 2011 named you World’s Best Treasurer. Success is very boring, though. Let’s talk about your failures.

SWAN: It is the conventional media!

BALLARD: It’s the way we work, yes.

SWAN: What’s your biggest regret from your time in Parliament?

SWAN: I think my biggest regret was when we announced the carbon price with Julia Gillard and we lost control of the debate. And the consequence of that for climate change and the response that we needed has been quite dramatic. And we’re living with the consequences now. We’re not reducing our carbon emissions, and energy prices are going through the roof. And that’s a consequence of a failure to have a price on carbon that was sustainable over time. So that’s my biggest political regret. My biggest personal regret is not to have taken enough time off when I was really busy, both for family time but also to stay fit, because you can often just work too long for too many hours over a long period of time. And I don’t think that’s the best thing. I could give some advice to people in high-pressure situations: always make sure you take time out.

BALLARD: Do you wish you were PM?

SWAN: Well I got to be Deputy PM and that was pretty good.

BALLARD: Yep, that’s worked out well for everybody lately.

SWAN: Well, true! There’s quite a few of us about!

BALLARD: Hanging out on the backbench, having a great time!

SWAN: We could fill a room!

BALLARD: Yep! So, Mr Kevin Rudd says one of his greatest regrets was making you Treasurer over Lindsay Tanner. You’ve said publicly that he was a dysfunctional decision-maker, that he had a deeply demeaning attitude towards people, that he doesn’t hold any Labor values – a bit of bad blood there. Now he’s the godfather of your son, Matt. Do you guys hang out? Or is it a bit awk—

SWAN: I think you might have got the impression we don’t hang out! Kevin and I were once very good friends. We’re no longer friends, but I don’t intend to canvass those relationships. There’s been enough disunity in the Labor Party and I don’t want to canvass it by adding to it. I want to pay credit to Kevin. He did a great job during the GFC, and the Government worked really hard. And just because you don’t get on doesn’t mean you can’t work together. And plenty of people have had to work with people they don’t necessarily get on with, but they worked together for a greater good. And I think we did that.

BALLARD: Let’s talk about wealth inequality. So this is a major passion of yours. You wrote an essay back in 2012 tackling rising inequality: “it was one of the tasks that called me into politics.” And you’ve been making a lot of headlines lately, talking about this. According to Oxfam, the top 1 per cent of Australians own more than the bottom 70 per cent combined. Why are things like the way they are, and why are they getting worse?

SWAN: Well, over the last 30 years, we’ve seen increasing income and wealth inequality. More and more has been concentrated at the top. The middle-income people have been hollowed out, and we’ve got vast armies of working poor. And I attribute that to policies of trickledown economics, which essentially boil down to tax cuts for the rich and powerful, deregulation for them as well, and wage suppression for everybody else. And that has got much more extreme, say in the United States. And now we’re starting to go down that American Road. And I guess my message for Australia has been: it’s not too late to turn back. We shouldn’t go down the road of the big corporate tax cuts, for example, that Malcolm Turnbull’s putting forward at the moment.

BALLARD: You say that very politely now … You told Fairfax Media: “the idea that the principal thing we should do to drive growth is give a company tax [cut] is bullshit. A third of them pay fucking nothing.”


SWAN: Would you like me to say it again?

BALLARD: Yeah! There’d be a good grab for that actually. That’d be helpful. So this all forms part of the general world view or the system that you might refer to as neoliberalism.

SWAN: That’s right.

BALLARD: Can you explain to us what you mean by that term?

SWAN: Well basically it means wage suppression. That is, cutting wages for the great mass of working people and relying on tax cuts to the rich and wealthy to trickle down and be shared at the bottom. And they’re just not. So the consequence of that, say even in this country, is we’ve got an increasingly insecure labour market. One in six people are either unemployed or can’t get enough hours of work. If you’re between 15 and 24, its one in three. So whilst the overall unemployment number is relatively low, what it disguises is increasingly insecure work. Examples of where people are not paid their proper entitlements. I was off today, talking to some people who work for the food delivery companies. I won’t name them. But they’re getting $8 a delivery. They’ve got no protection. That $8 for delivery doesn’t depend on how long it takes them to do the job. They could have to go a long distance. There’s too many people being exploited in the labour force. And the big challenge for Australia is to find a way to create jobs for all. Good jobs, great life. That’s what we need.

BALLARD: Well that’s got to be a huge challenge for the Labor Party, too?

SWAN: Too right.

BALLARD: Like, union density is really low. Membership of political parties is down. And then we see policies like negative gearing reform coming from the Labor Party, which Treasury says will have a mild impact or almost negligible impact. We’ve seen a lot of tinkering with things which pisses off a whole bunch of … certain constituencies. What do you think the Labor Party has to do, has to really change where it is now to seriously address these problems?

SWAN: Well I think we’ve got a very big and bold agenda. I mean, you talk about negative gearing – taking that step is a huge step, fraught with political difficulty. The right thing to do for subsequent generations that are trying to get into the housing market. The changes we announced in tax in a number of other areas are very substantial. The economic policy being put forward by Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen is one of the boldest from the Labor Party in a generation. I think we should pay credit to that.

BALLARD: You disagree with Chris Bowen’s position on this thing called the Buffett Rule, though, named after Warren Buffett. Can you explain what that is?

SWAN: Well the Buffett Rule is basically a way of ensuring a high-income earner pays a certain level of tax. What happens at the moment is negative gearing, use of trusts, a whole series of dividend imputation credits and so on allow people like me not to pay the top marginal rate, but to pay something less. So what the Buffett Rule says is that you have to pay a minimum rate of tax. And that really closes off those loopholes. But we’re announcing the withdrawal of those loopholes in the first place.

BALLARD: So if you’re making like a million bucks you’d have to pay at least 35 per cent tax.

SWAN: Exactly. Exactly that. Because there’s not that many people who are getting a million bucks who are doing that. And that’s the problem.

BALLARD: No, right, yeah. Sorry about that everyone.

SWAN: You’re doing well!

BALLARD: I’m doing fine. We have a podcast here at Tonightly. Wayne Swan’s going to stick around, we’ll have a bit more of a chat. You can subscribe to that, to the ABC Listen app to hear more from Wayne Swan. Thank you very much for being here, we appreciate it. Wayne Swan, everybody! Give it up!

SWAN: Thank you.



Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra