Wayne Swan: one of the great Treasurers?

The Honourable Wayne Maxwell Swan MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia. One of the great Treasurers in the history of Australia. Born 30 June 1954 as a last day tax deduction for his adoring parents.

So say a number of prominent Australians. Maybe I’m wrong – I thought he was one of the worst.

Even Judith Sloan thinks highly of Wayne Swan, stating

Swan is a hard worker and spends a lot of time poring over briefs

Now Swan has advanced to the third longest-serving Labor Treasurer behind Ben Chifley and Paul Keating. Comparing the three, Saul Eslake said

Swan is the most successful of the three in terms of macro-economic management. He has kept the country out of recession, while under Keating we had a recession. That’s a very big achievement.

While Chris Richardson had this to say of Swan

 Wayne Swan will rank well in the pantheon of Australian treasurers.

Ross Garnaut was similarly enthused

The past five years are marked by two towering achievements – sustaining economic growth during the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, and implementation of the world’s best carbon-price scheme in terms of an economically efficient mechanism for reducing emissions.

Have I been judging Swan too harshly? I said he was worse than Jim Cairns, but apparently I should be rating him up against Keating and Costello. After all, Swan saved Australia from a recession. He might make a good prime minister even.

Now Ben Chifley served as Treasurer for 3001 days, from 1941 to 1949, including 1620 days when he was both Prime Minister and Treasurer. Paul Keating served as Treasurer for 3006 days and later as Prime Minister for 1543 days.

So far Swan has served for 1818 days, and if he catches up to the other two will still be Treasurer in February 2016. If he follows the other two he will also become Prime Minister.

It doesn’t look too good for Julia Gillard does it?

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J has an economics background and is a part-time consultant
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44 Responses to Wayne Swan: one of the great Treasurers?

  1. David

    Eating into the fruits of previous governments whilst simultaneously planting economic landmines for the next. What’s not to like?

    Personally I wouldn’t put Swan in charge of the household budget.

  2. Toiling Mass

    I think he spends a lot of time changing his briefs.

    His career as treasurer must have been like driving an accelerating, out of control car where each thing he does makes it ever more out of control.

  3. Swan is a hard worker and spends a lot of time poring over briefs

    But at the same time, one must not confuse effort and achievement.

    The thing with previous Labor treasurers who proceeded to the Big Chair is that they were intrinsically Prime Ministerial material. I am convinced that Wayne Swan was selected specifically NOT to be a Treasurer who might challenge his Prime Minister for the big job. Observe whence the blow fell that slew Rudd – not from the hand that held the filthy lucre, that’s for sure.

  4. duncanm

    would they be the briefs on Stephen Conroy’s head?

  5. Super D

    I think that Swan’s record demonstrates that over the past 5 years our economy has not only been bullet proof, it’s been idiot proof as well. That’s how good the boom has been.

  6. m0nty

    It doesn’t look too good for Joe Hockey does it?

    FTFY.

  7. John Comnenus

    A measure of the brilliance of Wayne Swan is how he dealt with the big three mining companies over the mining tax.

    So the world’s greatest treasurer and ALP power player walks into a room with the CEOs of three big mining companies to negotiate a tax. After weeks of talking tough and hours of tough talks Wayne Swan gets a deal………that kids to no revenue actually being raised. Brlliant work. Has any treasurer ever raised a tax that raised no money? He is a genius, and he sure showed those mining bosses!

  8. kae

    Doesn’t look good for Julia Gillard does it?

    Worse for us.

  9. Muphin

    If Swan was as good as he and others claim, why is the country 200 billion dollars in debt? Secondly, why has Swan or any Labor Government EVER produced a balanced budget or a surplus?

    In today’s papers Australia has over spent its budget by 34 billion dollars. Swan the greatest treasurer, I think NOT.

  10. hammygar

    Wayne Swan should be given due credit for the excellent state of the Australian economy over the last five years. Yes he is the greatest Australian Treasurer, even vis-s-vis Paul Keating. It’s not going to go too far to call him the world’s greatest Treasurer. I would even go as far as considering the addition of the word “ever”.

  11. duncanm

    Sorry hammy… you’ve gone too heavy on the Composta.. at least she knew how to remain believable.

  12. johno

    Swan is the most successful of the three in terms of macro-economic management. He has kept the country out of recession, while under Keating we had a recession. That’s a very big achievement

    What crap!

    We do not know the counterfactual. Would Australia have gone into recession without Krudd and Swanie’s wasteful spent-a-thon? Did all those who lost their lives from installing pink batts really save us from a recession? Did all those school halls really make a macroeconomic difference?

    Also, are we really better off having ongoing deficit and massive government debts? History shows that ‘stimulus’ spending is a short term sugar hit that slows down an eventual recovery. How much of our current sluggish growth should we attribute to the world’s greatest Treasurer’s past poor decisions?

    Personally I would rate Swanie below John Kerin and Ralph Willis.

  13. lotocoti

    Swan is a hard worker and spends a lot of time poring over briefs

    Some long dead Junker may have had the measure of the Pride of Nambour High.
    “I divide officers into four classes — the clever, the lazy, the stupid and the industrious. Each officer possesses at least two of these qualities…
    The man who is clever and lazy is fit for the very highest commands. He has the temperament and the requisite nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious must be removed immediately.”

  14. entropy


    We do not know the counterfactual. Would Australia have gone into recession without Krudd and Swanie’s wasteful spent-a-thon? Did all those who lost their lives from installing pink batts really save us from a recession? Did all those school halls really make a macroeconomic difference?

    Yes we would have. A technical recession. As GDP = C+I+G+(E+M) it is easy to avoid a technical recession by making G much bigger than the drop in the other measures. Very wasteful and ultimately creates a problem to be dealt with later, when the other bits of the GDP have to make up for it. But if there is one thing Rudd and Swann excel at, is wanting to appear to be doing good.

  15. candy

    Perhaps he’s harboring secret ambition to usurp j. gillard before the next election if things go badly for her.
    The quiet ones are always underestimated.

  16. Poor Old Rafe

    Steve Kates, off with this man’s head! (entropy at 9.03)

    As GDP = C+I+G+(E+M) it is easy to avoid a technical recession by making G much bigger than the drop in the other measures.

  17. Tapdog

    Perhaps he’s harboring secret ambition to usurp j. gillard before the next election if things go badly for her.

    An mouthwatering proposition Candy. I would like that.

  18. entropy

    Come on Rafe. it says more about how GDP is calculated, and thus manipulated, than anything about the wellbeing of the economy

  19. hammygar

    Wayne Swan is the greatest Treasurer in the history of the world

    They’re not my words and should not therefore be shown as a b-quote.

  20. Eyrie

    lotocoti, I suspect the long dead Junker may get the credit but that the truth in that was figured out a long time before. I suspect the Spartans knew it as an ancient saying.
    Of course it doesn’t just apply to the military. Look around you.

  21. Anne

    Sorry….uncharacteristically tacky.
    Don’t know what came over me.

  22. James of the Glens

    Hammygar appears to have missed out on hot breakfasts during his upbringing.

    But let’s be fair to Wayne – he has earned the title, “greatest”.

    The greatest national debt ever. The greatest non-revenue from a tax ever.

    No need to go on. Hang on; the greatest political imbecile ever. There.

  23. jane stirling

    wow check out this AFR news story. we may lose Glenn Stevens. would be shame. it is free. AFR bosses have very close ties to RBA.

    http://www.afr.com/p/national/rba_governor_mulls_early_exit_ZZrV1M3TejrHNn2MRJdfFJ

  24. jupes

    Wayne ‘Budget Surplus’ Swan.

  25. Token

    Hammy has a point, Wayne Swan is looking to push Jim Cairns and Ted Theodore as the worst Treasurer in history.

    Swan has now squandered more money than Cairns and his taxes like the Mining & Carbon Tax rank with the Harvester decision as among the most harmful policy blunders.

    Given that, Swan has a way to go to match the great crook from Qld, the man who helped split the ALP, Ted Theodore.

  26. Steve

    Swan is incompetent, and he knows it. Every time he has to stand in front of the cameras he looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. The only time he sounds even remotely convincing is when he is spewing invective because hate comes from the heart. He is not in the same league as Keating. He is not even in the same league as Paul the octopus. He was at least able to pick winners.

  27. Ivan Denisovich

    The Swan Supremacy:

    Swann did not understand the question no matter how it was re-phrased – in other words the treasurer of Australia does not know what the cost of capital is for Australian companies. This is economics 101!…

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/will_rudds_great_new_tax_raise_no_money/

    The thing with previous Labor treasurers who proceeded to the Big Chair is that they were intrinsically Prime Ministerial material. I am convinced that Wayne Swan was selected specifically NOT to be a Treasurer who might challenge his Prime Minister for the big job.

    Low opinion shared:

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/treasurer-wayne-swans-failings-as-treasurer-being-used-as-a-weapon-in-kevin-rudd-push/story-fn59niix-1226223935953

  28. Alfonso

    I pine for those days of yore when the mere sight of Costello at Question Time had the Goose reduced to a panicked incoherent mess……. (as distinct from his normal incoherence).
    Bring back Pete, Parliament’s best Goose filleter.

  29. Why on earth do people think avoiding a recession is a good thing?

  30. Will

    Anyone suggesting that Swan “saved” Australia from the GFC are blinkered morons

    What saved Australia from the GFC was a strong banking system that was highly suspicious of new financial products, such as the dodgy US mortgages imposed by the Community Reinvestment Act. They stayed away from the party.

    Since then, the Australian economy has been supported by high commodity prices and an investment boom attracted to the potential profits that these high prices promise.

    These are a few of the factors. More here.

    The Treasurer is not one of them.

  31. Gab

    I think that Swan’s record demonstrates that over the past 5 years our economy has not only been bullet proof, it’s been idiot proof as well. That’s how good the boom has been.

    Ain’t that the truth!

  32. James of the Glens

    Well said, Will.

    It has become increasingly obvious, both here and overseas, what damage just a few incompetent individuals can do to a country in a very short time.

  33. John Mc

    Only in Australia could someone

    - who has no formal training in economics,
    - no personal appreciation or understanding of economics or finance,
    - left record deficits, low productivity in his wake,
    - spent half his time trying to take extra revenue off the states to make up for his failures, and
    - and will almost certainly fail in his key promise of a budget surplus,

    be promoted (seriously) as one of the great Australian treasurers.

    Well, only in Australia and a few European countries. Specifically the ones that look like complete shitfights and are demanding Germany pay their bills.

  34. Rousie

    He does have the greatest ‘tell’ of all the politicians when he’s lying. Bounces all over the place like one of those dashboard figurines.

    It’s given me a good chuckle on many occasions.

  35. Neil

    How much of the stimulus package was Swans idea?? I think i read somewhere that Swan stated he would just follow the advice of Treasury if troubled times occurred.

    Perhaps Swan did nothing and just did what the head of Treasury told him.

  36. John Mc

    Perhaps Swan did nothing and just did what the head of Treasury told him.

    I’d be inclined to agree with that. Swan doesn’t have a deep understanding of economics and his instincts are quite basic. I doubt he could drive an approach of his own. He’s a bureaucrat to the core.

  37. H B Bear

    The quiet ones are always underestimated.

    Not in Goose Swansteens case. It is indicative of his standing that during the never ending speculation of who’ll drive the ALP bus over the cliff one name never comes up. A second rate intellect, organ grinder Bill Ludwig’s dancing monkey.

  38. Scapula

    Perhaps Swan did nothing and just did what the head of Treasury told him.

    Isn’t that what they all do?

    When they don’t it usually results in a public scandal played out in newspapers and that hasn’t happened for a long time.

    There is probably a little wiggle room for product differentiation, but that’s it.

  39. Warwick

    It’s +(E-M), Rafe,and like Swan it’s a badly flawed piece of work.

  40. Warwick

    While listening to and watching Swan over the years it has become painfully apparent that he lacks insight and authority when it comes to explaining his policies. Or, to use Keating’s idiom, he has not been able to construct a narrative. He stands up at Question Time and repeats the same old same old which has not got to do with anything much … so many wasted Question Times. Unlike Swan, Keating did not have a formal economics qualification, but I understand he was tutored by his advisor, Dr Barry Hughes. Ditto ex-Finance minister, Peter Walsh – no formal qualification, but genuine insight from expert mentoring which enabled him to understand and talk authoritatively about his portfolio. An outstanding minister. Was it Swan who came up with “go early, go hard, go households”? Or was it his departmental head, Dr Ken Henry? So who gets the credit for the first big spend? And who takes the blame for the second?

  41. Neil

    Isn’t that what they all do?

    When they don’t it usually results in a public scandal played out in newspapers and that hasn’t happened for a long time.

    I hope this is not true. Surely we are not paying Cabinet ministers all this money for them just to follow the advice of whatever Department they are in charge of.

    Costello would have told Ken Henry to go jump about the roof insulation scheme. There would have been no $500 cheques if Costello was Treasurer. In fact I doubt there would have been much of a stimulus program if Costello was Treasurer during the GFC.

  42. sdfc

    GDP(E)=GDP(P)=GDP(I). There seems to be a lack of understanding as to what GDP measures.

  43. JC

    pussy

    What do you think of Keating in his old age then?

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