Wayne Swan: All bark and no bite.


The scene is not long after the 1998 Australian Federal election. The Coalition Government had been returned despite losing the popular vote to Kim Beazley’s Labor party. This had a lot to do with John Howard’s vow to implement a GST (otherwise known as the never-ever tax) and voter backlash was strong. Not strong enough though to remove the Coalition from Government.

The number of Labor MPs had increased but it was always going to be tough for the Labor party to reclaim power. Australia has a long history of sticking with a political party for a number of years, before a massive change in public opinion when the boards are cleared.

One of the rising stars for the Labor party though was a young man with nerdy glasses called Wayne Swan.  It was obvious from the start that Swan didn’t have the fast mind or towering intellect to keep up with the brains trust of Howard, Costello and Downer, but he managed to hold his own in the parliamentary debate by doing one thing: attacking.

Swan would never even attempt to grasp Labor’s policy initiatives, or even try and get his head around what Free Trade actually was. He would strut up to the podium in Question Time and unleash a verbal torrent of insults, accusations, lame jokes and half truths.  In other words, what he lacked in brain power he made up for in firepower.

However, incredibly this tactic of nothing but 'cannon fire from the mouth' helped Swan’s stock rise within the party. Somehow, he had managed to progress through the ranks fast enough that members of the press gallery started to label him as ‘Labor’s Attack Dog’.

Swan’s loud voice and menacing tone had shaken things up. At the time of his rise, Peter Costello was the unparalleled king of Question Time – a mantle he had inherited from the original masterof the Question Time insults: Paul Keating.

Costello, for all his faults, has a towering intellect. The man is just downright clever. And in Question Time – it showed. His unique blend or sarcasm, theory, lame jokes and arrogance separated him from the pack. However by late 2003 and 2004, it was clear that the political landscape was changing.

Firstly, the Australian public had stopped listening to the Coalition. Sure, the Coalition’s policies were infinitely better and had served Australia well, but after almost 10 years of successive Howard rule, the public had begun to thirst for change for change's sake. And who, you may well ask, were the star performers of this new Labor? Mark Latham, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd.

These three realised long before Howard, Costello and Downer did, that the new sound bites people would listen to on the nightly news were no longer clever, sarcastic and funny remarks – the like of which Costello was the master of. No! Now it was all about attack. Latham and Swan in particular were in their element.

Not once in the next few months did you hear about a shift in policy from Labor. What you heard were sound bites that attacked the Coalition’s character. This is when the phrase ‘out of touch’ began its quest for world domination.The Labor team accused the Government of being out of ouch at every turn. Swan was yet again – a star performer.

No longer was Swan required to even feign an understanding of the political economy. All he had to do, was do what he did best: bark.

And boy did he bark loudly.

Funnily enough, this is when I began to disrespect Wayne Swan. I... well... almost liked him up til that point because he had fooled me into thinking he had an intellect. However with the rise of Latham, I began to see Swan for what he really was – someone was all bark and no bite.

Luckily for the Coalition, in the 2004 election Mark Latham spectacularly imploded and lost the election in a choke not seen since Jean Van-De-Velde in the 1999 British Open.  Like Latham, Swan had screwed up. He had been outpointed in most of his campaigning by a fired up press gallery and many (including yours truly) had written him off as a spent political force.

Hold your horses though! Fast forward to the beginning of 2007. 'Rudd the Mighty' is now leader of the Labor party, and my favourite Martian Julia Gillard is his deputy. But wait, who did Rudd place as the Shadow Treasurer? Wayne Swan. The dog had been let off his leash once more.

Once he was let out of his kennel, Swan’s bark was back in full flight – and it was hilarious to watch. Not only did the man with the lowest IQ in Parliament have a portfolio he had no understanding of, but he made no effort whatsoever to even attempt to understand it. Rather, Swan bought into the Rudd campaign. One which had no new ideas, except to paint the Coalition as a party of no new ideas.

In one of Australia’s biggest examples of irony, the party with no ideas began to look like the party with all the ideas, because their brutal attacks on Coalition members’ characters were so unexpected. Sound bites galore from Rudd, Swan and Gillard about how ‘out of touch’ the Government was became part of every Australian’s staple diet. You couldn’t turn on a television without hearing how the Howard Government was out of new ideas.

Of course, this is not without a hint of truth. The Coalition had grown supremely arrogant and had failed to realise that the Australian public were listening to Labor. Not because the Government were really ‘out of touch’ but because Labor was the only side doing the talking.

Rudd had discovered a win-at-all-costs mentality, and Swan was once again a key ingredient. At every turn, he was insulting Peter Costello. Not Costello’s economic record which most would agree is pretty damn good, but attacking the character of the man. He was consistently saying that Costello was a fossil and an arrogant fool.

This is where Costello failed to pick up the scent. Like many other people, Costello had written Swan off as a know-nothing chihuahua. However, with a bit of help from the good old Aussie media who like a change in Government every now and again to ‘shake things up’, Swan’s message got through. Suddenly, Peter Costello was the villain. Wayne Swan? The loyal guard dog of Rudd’s team.

Throughout the campaign of the 2007 Election, Swan didn’t answer more than 3 policy questions... for the whole campaign. You see, after Rudd and Gillard, Swan was the next most ‘on message’ Labor team member. Every chance he got, he avoided policy and increased his character attacks. It was hilarious to watch.

This is where the Labor campaign reached its zenith. While it accused the Government of running the 'mother of all fear campaigns', Labor was running a massive one of its own. Now you couldn’t turn on the television without hearing how everyone was going to lose their job because of work choices and how the world was going to end because we hadn’t signed Kyoto. Fear, fear and more fear.

Amazingly though, this caught the Coalition so off guard (and combine this with Howard’s arrogance, Abbott’s incompetence, Kevin Andrews’ incompetence and Mark Vaile’s boringness) that Labor’s message rang out loud and clear that come November 2007, the Coalition was dumped more comprehensively than Heather Mills.

These days, I reckon Swan’s days are numbered. The public is finally starting to wake up to the fact that Rudd is all spin and no substance, while Wayne Swan is repeating himself at every turn. If you turn on Question Time in the next week, watch it for 10 minutes and you’ll still hear the phrases ‘Working Families”, :Workchoices”, “Climate Change”, “Out of Touch” from Labor more than you’ll hear my old housemate Geoff mention how hot he thinks Jessica Alba is.

Wayne Swan is an old dog who hasn’t learned any new tricks. He’s continuing to bark, but finally, the public may be beginning to realise that he is all bark and no bite. He’ll continue to bark – and bark loudly – until the next election. But hopefully by then, the public will have bought a new pair of ear plugs.

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Kim Beazley
Kim Beazely narrowly lost
the 1998 Federal Election.
Wayne Swan was quick to unleash
his bark on the Liberals.
Van De Velde
Jean Van De Velde boasts one of the
biggest chokes in sports history.
Rudd Gillard
The Labor spin masters in action.
Heather Mills
Heather Mills' relationship with Sir Paul
didn't end on the happiest of terms.