Doorstop interview: Retirement at next election; career lessons

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5 years ago
Doorstop interview: Retirement at next election; career lessons
WAYNE SWAN, MEMBER FOR LILLEY: I just wanted to thank some of my friends, the True Believers, the people who have put in the hard yards over many years here in Lilley, and particularly my family. It’s an emotional day today, because today I’m announcing that I will not be nominating as a candidate for the Labor Party at the next Federal Election. Nominations will be called soon, but I will not be a nominee.
I’d also like to thank my Parliamentary colleagues who are here today – Jim Chalmers, Senator Chisholm, Leanne Linard, Stirling Hinchliffe, and Jared Cassidy.
It’s pretty fair to say that it’s been an incredible privilege to be the Member for Lilley for 22½ years. It’s been an even greater responsibility and privilege to serve as Federal Treasurer for six years and Deputy Prime Minister for three. So I do want to thank all of the electors of Lilley who have supported me and all of the people right across the country who have supported me during that time.
Everyone who knows me knows I will be working really hard to ensure we retain the seat of Lilley, so I’ll be working very hard, right up to the next election day. Nothing changes here, on the ground in Lilley; I’ll be out doing all of the things I normally do as a local member.
I was first elected at the age of 38. I was 41 when I lost the seat, I was 44 when I won it back, and I was 47 when I nearly gave it away when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
I really enjoy being the Member for Lilley, but the truth is this: time stops for nobody, not even former Federal Treasurers.
The inescapable fact is that I’m approaching that stage in life where it’s simply not possible to be 110 per cent committed as a local MP and to meet all the other obligations that I have – in particular, making time for our new granddaughter, who’s here today, our newest arrival – pursuing other passions – particularly elevating the debate about inequality and how we can make our economy and society fairer – and also just trying to live a normal life, and staying fit and healthy.
The interests of the electors of Lilley are very close to my heart, and I want to make it very clear that they have been central to every decision I have ever taken in my public life.
Their views have been central to many of the decisions that I’ve taken and it’s always been their bread and butter needs that have driven what I’ve done in politics.
But the truth is that Lilley has always been a close-run seat. I’ve won eight elections, I’ve lost one election and I’ve had half of my victories with very, very slim margins.
So I do want to retire in a way which gives a Labor candidate the very, very best chance of winning this seat in the next Federal Election and making Bill Shorten our Prime Minister.
Anyone who’s here today knows that our area is changing rapidly. There’s no better example of that change than right here in Nundah. In fact, we’re standing on a cut‑and‑cover road that changed the nature of this area when it was put in. This area – like the rest of the electorate – has begun to be repopulated with new families; lots of babies and lots of new people moving in.
When I was first elected, I succeeded Queensland Labor’s first female Member of the House of Representatives, Elaine Darling, and I think it would be fitting that on this occasion a young woman with the energy and smarts to represent Lilley forcefully and successfully were chosen by the Labor Party to run as a candidate in Lilley.
I just want to make a couple of points, I suppose, about the future.
Politics isn’t just something that Members of Parliament do. I was into politics long before I became a Member of Parliament, and I will continue to serve the country long after I leave the Parliament.
I particularly want to continue to be a strong voice and advocate about doing something about growing inequality and wealth concentration in our economy and in our society.
Extreme inequality and wealth concentration poisons a society. It makes the gaining of consensus and common purpose more difficult, and in fact it threatens our democracy.
The Australian political genius has always been to avoid the inequalities and divisions that have opened up elsewhere in the world.
We as a country must not go down the American road. And it’s not too late to stop that happening. So I’ll be giving my all as a private citizen, when I finish up as the Member for Lilley, to continue to be a strong voice for a prosperous economy and for a fair society.
It’s long been my belief that we live in a community, not a corporation.
A community with an honoured and valuable role for everyone – and everyone who wants a decent and well-paying job in our community should be able to get one.
The social and economic destruction that comes from prolonged and high unemployment and underemployment is what the Labor Party was formed to fight. It must remain Labor’s prime motivation into the future.
That’s why, of all my achievements, I’m most proud of the work I did with Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard to avoid recession during the Global Financial Crisis, saving our people from economic devastation and from the social dislocation that ravaged countries right around the world.
I became Treasurer on the eve of the greatest global economic catastrophe since the 1930s. What happened next in terms of our successful response to the Global Financial Crisis was defining for our nation, for our young government, and it was a career-defining moment for me personally.
Our policy response was and is recognised as the best anywhere in the world, and there is simply no argument with that fact. I’ll always be proud of that legacy and I do believe it is one of Labor’s proudest moments.
But there are new economic and employment challenges that are confronting us. Profound technological change is very disruptive. The need to find meaningful paid work for everyone and the need to ensure the gains of that technological change are spread right across our country and our community is greater than ever. I therefore intend to be involved with organisations inside and outside the labour movement, nationally and globally, to argue for new ways of creating jobs and preventing the dangerous concentration of wealth and political power that we see accumulating around the world – not the least of which is in the United States.
As Treasurer, I did six Budgets, two stimulus packages, and with my colleagues put in place very significant economic and social reforms in carbon pricing, parental leave, disability and education funding, along with the biggest increase in the Age Pension in Australia’s history.
It is a fact that the Australian economy is now 28 per cent bigger than it was at the end of 2007, and that’s in no small measure due to the credible macroeconomic policy that we put in place during the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession.
Here locally, I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve – very big changes across 40 schools, the extension of Boondall Wetlands for anyone who’s been down there, the preservation of Eventide – a very big issue – the upgrade that’s continuing to happen on the Gateway North, significant investments in Prince Charles Hospital, and many more.
Indeed we are standing on one of them here. A cut-and-cover that has become Sandgate Road that is below this park, and that has made the modern Nundah, that we all know and love as Nundah Village, possible. Another great achievement locally.
I want to say to all our friends from the local area, I want to thank them for their hard work. I want to thank all of my electorate office staff and ministerial staff for their support and loyalty over a long period of time.
They are on the front line of the political contest and my success would not have been possible without the very good work of so many people over the years.
So in particular, I want to thank Kim, who has kept my feet on the ground – not always an easy task. But what people don’t really understand is, when you sign up for a job as a local MP, more often than not your partner is out there, doing a lot of that work as well. And I think it’s pretty fair that in Kim’s case, she always does better than me! At least that was the feedback from time to time.
I want to thank my children for their forbearance. It’s very tough for kids in politics, particularly when their parents are going through very difficult times. They accept the dark side of politics; they’ve felt it in their lives. So I couldn’t have been effective, really, without the love and support of my children
I just want to make one final remark. In my time in politics and the Parliament, I’ve been guided by the wisdom and the memory of the late Mick Young, who was a shearer‑turned‑politician, who I was very close to, and who was very much a mentor. He shaped my view of what Australia should strive to be. I hope with all my heart that my time in the Parliament has been true to the rock‑solid Labor values that Mick taught me to respect. And these are the values that will continue to guide me through the rest of my career.
So I intend to keep working hard locally, until the next election. I intend to continue to represent my constituents, I intend to work as hard as I possibly can to make sure that Bill Shorten becomes the next Prime Minister of Australia.
So thanks for your forbearance through that relatively long statement, but if you’ve been around in politics for a while, you’re probably entitled to give a statement of eight minutes or so! I understand that Jim Chalmers is going to give a press conference in a moment, but I’ll take a couple of questions and then hand over to him.
JOURNALIST: On a personal level, your Parliamentary career spans a very long time. What have you learnt about yourself and the Australian people over that period, and how have those things changed over that period?
SWAN: Well that’s a great question – have you got a couple of hours?
The Australian people make sensible decisions. And when mistakes are made, they pick them up relatively quickly.
So I’ve found that the way to be the most effective MP you can is to be out there talking to people, in the streets, in the schools, in the supermarkets, listening to what they say.
One of my profound disappointments with Australian society today is that too many people in what I’d call the elite are distant from the lives of ordinary people. They suffer from the blindness of affluence and they tend to live in – this is some business leaders in particular, who are always advocating austerity for ordinary people and luxury for themselves – they live and mix only with people in the wealthiest postcodes.
Our politicians need to be very much grounded in the schools, in the social organisations in the areas in which they live. And if local MPs can do that, they can more accurately reflect those views. Because the truth is, from time to time the views of the people are not truly reflected in the political system, and the Australian people generally correct that pretty quickly. If you’re going to be an effective MP for your area, you’ve got to be out there and ahead of it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Swan, how bad is economic inequality in Australia right now and how concerned are you about the political influence of corporations?
SWAN: Well, inequality is getting rapidly worse on the back of considerably high levels of underemployment and insecure work. Australia, over the last 30 years, has done a better job than most other western countries of fairly distributing the gains of our economic growth.
And there is no better example of that than during the Great Recession, when we protected the jobs, the lives and the incomes of low- and middle-income earners in this country, when around the world, particularly in the United States, millions of them were related to the unemployment queues and the minimal social safety nets that those countries have.
So Australia has done a better job over a long period of time, largely because of the policy frameworks put in place, by the Whitlam, Hawke, and Keating Governments, and then Rudd and Gillard Governments.
But in the last five or six years, with the full attack of the radical right, now represented by Malcolm Turnbull, the social safety net has been rapidly destroyed and we are seeing a really disturbing march of greater inequality. What we are seeing is that in this community, we’ve got a government that is putting in place a policy for extreme trickledown economics, which basically means tax cuts for the wealthy and the powerful, deregulation for the powerful, and of course wage suppression for the rest. That is a recipe for American-style inequality as we go forward. So I’m extremely concerned that the current policy settings in Australia are a recipe for US-style economic and social inequality and the political polarisation that comes from that.
I don’t want to see Australia as a country captured by the very rich or the very left. But the way the elite in Australia are carrying on, they’re creating a polarised economy and a polarised political system. And we are seeing the results of that, daily.
JOURNALIST: What is your biggest regret in your career?
SWAN: I suppose there’s a personal one and there’s a political one. From a policy point of view, the way we lost the debate under Julia Gillard, when we brought in the carbon price, in which Tony Abbott and a group of extreme right-wing thugs pushed the door open, labelled it effectively as a carbon tax and conducted one of the most vicious and destructive scare campaigns in modern history. Losing that debate is a regret.
The substantial increase in power bills today we are seeing is a consequence of Labor’s policy being removed and of the conservatives engaging in denial of climate change and trying to destroy the renewable energy industry. That’s policy regret number one.
Personal regret? I’ve always been a really hard worker and I’ve always, when faced with a challenge, I’ve tended to work very long hours and I’ve tended to do it for a really long time. And I regret as a Minister that I didn’t take off enough time to refresh and recharge. Frequently, continuously long hours of work over a continuous period of time don’t necessarily give you the perception and the sharpness that you need to meet the challenges of the future. If I could go back and do one thing, I would have been engaged, certainly, in a bit more time with the family, and a much more rigorous physical exercise program as treasure than I otherwise did. And I do regret that.
JOURNALIST: That is something that is not often spoken about, though – the personal sacrifice MPs make. Would you like to see that somehow change, or do you also believe that you sign up for that as part of the position?
SWAN: You sign up for it, by and large. But it’s how you manage it that’s the challenge.
The scrutiny of families is inevitable. We are seeing an episode here where someone’s private life is unfolding, and no one on my side of politics wants to see an intrusion into people’s private lives. But when their private lives actually intrude into the public space, such as we are seeing now, that means that these issues inevitably get covered. I’m just devastated for the family of Barnaby Joyce at the moment. I know what they’re going through. Political times always hit families hardest. And the person of course responsible for that is their father.
I won’t make any further comment on that, except to say that in this case it’s been obvious from a political perspective that his oafish and buffoonish behaviour has been a feature of the political arena for the last couple of years, and the appropriate check on that is the Prime Minister who failed to do anything about it.
JOURNALIST: How is your health? Do we have any health concerns?
SWAN: Nope. I was diagnosed with, and treated with prostate cancer at the age of 47. I had a radical prostatectomy – the interpretation of that is, it came out. And I’ve not had a health problem flowing from that at all. I’m very conscious that as I move into the older age bracket, I can’t continue like I was when I was a Minister with not having a regular exercise program and so on. I am very healthy, and the aim of trying to get a better balance between work, family and recreation is to actually stay healthy.
Thank you.
Labor Party Federal Election member for Lilley