January 12, 2004 | Graham

Swan bowls wrong pace.

Every government and opposition needs its Lilleys and Thompsons. Hawke had men like Keating and Walsh, Howard had Reith and now Abbott, Latham has Wayne Swan. These are people who can create mayhem by the way they bowl issues up to the opposition. Sometimes they have to be able to create them when they don’t exist in the first place. They can be devastating, but only when they are on target.
Swan’s latest effort has gained him a lot of media exposure, but it is more likely to add to the Howard run-score than take wickets. I’ve tried hard to find the original press release anywhere on the web, but I’ve failed. (Memo to Wayne, you need to update your website). In fact, looking at the number of issues he has covered, I suspect that there are a number of press releases. So what I am about to write is reconstructed from what I’ve heard and read over the weekend, but without necessarily having the direct quotes, and I’m just going to concentrate on a few of the things he’s raised. For those wanting a more complete feel for what Swan has said you might want to click here , here and here.
The gist of the Swan argument is that Australians were worse off under Howard in the year 2001/2002 to the tune of $150 to $430 per annum and this is due to the Howard government’s tax and welfare policies, including the GST. He was lucky that the original batsman at the crease was Kay Patterson, who just prodded at the ball. Other Ministers (such as Nick Minchin) are lining up to try Swan’s line and length, and it is unlikely to work for him.
Here are four reasons why he shouldn’t bowl these deliveries:

  • When the government gave Australian families a tax cut of $3 to $10 Swan and others ridiculed it as being too small to make any difference (helped by Amanda Vanstone’s crack about the price of a hamburger). Note how closely the figure Swan is talking about equates to the tax cut. Either $3 to $10 a week is a significant figure or it isn’t.
  • Labor’s record in increasing real incomes is woeful. Under the Hawke Keating accord real wages actually stagnated. Pay conditions of ordinary Australians were essentially sacrificed to beat inflation, to redistribute “the cake” to company profits, and maintain the hegemony of the ACTU and the major trade unions. That’s one reason Keating was tossed so decisively from office in 1996. It might be 8 years ago, but it will still have a resonance with a large portion of the electorate and confirm them in their 1996 voting pattern.
  • This is a selective use of figures, choosing the time frame that best suits Swan. This invites someone to look at the whole of the period of office of John Howard and start an argument about “lies, damned lies and statistics”. As long as people are feeling happy (and strong real estate markets and consumer demand suggest that they are) you can’t win an argument like this, only reinforce existing prejudices. The existing prejudice is that Labor governments aren’t good economic managers.
  • GST. One of my favourite examples of a slick non-sequitur used as an effective political slogan is “Jobs not GST”. I’ve always understood that Wayne Swan came up with this phrase. Even if he didn’t he used it relentlessly throughout 1992 and 1993, and it was successful. But Wayne, that’s 10 years ago. Life has moved on. We have had a GST since July 2000 and most of us don’t think about it any more, and certainly no-one believes that any government, Liberal or Labor, will repeal it.

It might be tempting to exploit the lack of competing news stories at this time of the year to score some easy mentions in the newspapers, but only if you have your longer-term strategy worked out. Otherwise you risk setting bad and damaging precedents for the rest of the year as well as giving your opponents some easy runs. Labor needs to set the scene for its conference at the end of this month, and negotiate the right results through it. It’s not yet the right time to be breasting up to the Government. In fact, as Labor is going to have to reconcile factions pushing for more government expenditure on services on one hand and bigger tax cuts on the other, this innings probably needs a spin bowler rather than a fast one.

Posted by Graham at 11:36 am | Comments Off on Swan bowls wrong pace. |
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