Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Election 2007: An interview with Wayne Swan

Yesterday, Woolly Days conducted a phone interview with the Shadow Treasurer and Labor member for Lilley, Wayne Swan. It is the first in series of interviews with each of the declared candidates in the local electorate for the upcoming federal election. Wayne Swan was educated at the University of Queensland where he graduated with honours in economics. Prior to entering politics, he was Secretary of the Queensland ALP during the state government tenure of Wayne Goss. Swan was first elected to federal parliament in 1993. He lost the seat of Lilley in the landslide election of 1996 that brought John Howard to power. But he regained it in 1998 and has held it ever since.

Swan was promoted to the Shadow ministry after winning back the seat and was appointed Manager of Opposition business in the lower House in 2001. He has also served as Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services. He was appointed Shadow Treasurer in 2004 and has held this high-profile post since. Last month, Opposition leader Kevin Rudd publicly stated that Swan would be federal treasurer if Labor wins government.

Lilley covers much of the inner Northern suburbs of Brisbane including Brisbane airport, Wooloowin, Clayfield, Kedron, Hamilton, Ascot, Nundah, Boondall, Zillmere, Brighton, Sandgate and parts of Aspley. The seat was created in 1913 and named after Charles Lilley, a former Premier and Chief Justice of Queensland. Swan defends a 5.4 per cent margin in Lilley which makes it notionally a Labor marginal seat. However with the polls running hot for Labor and a recent small distribution that also favours them, it would be a major shock if Swan was not re-elected. ABC psephologist Antony Green’s assessment is that Swan will retain his seat.

Woolly Days began the interview with Wayne Swan by asking him to describe his life outside politics. Swan said he liked to relax and spend time with his friends and family when he could. “I have three children, two girls and a boy, the eldest is 23 and the youngest is 13,” he said. “My eldest Erinn is in a band called Nina May which is doing very well at the moment”. Swan said he enjoyed the simple things such as a take-away curry from nearby Albion, or a meal at the local RSL club. “I like to go for a surf when I can” he added.

Then Swan described his professional approach. “Politically I’ve got a common sense approach: I work hard, am disciplined and I like to get results,” he said. “The reason I’m in politics is that I want to make a difference to my local community and my country.” Woolly Days asked him how he differentiates himself from the other candidates in the electorate and why the people of Lilley should vote for him. Swan began by saying he has lived in the electorate in for 26 years. “I think I understand the area well, I’ve spent a lot of time working here and getting extensive knowledge of the community and the areas of it,” he said. “A federal electorate is a large area and it takes time to get to know it”.

Woolly Days asked him what concerns were emerging from his discussions with voters in the electorate. Swan said the needs of the people of Lilley are same as those nationally. “People want a good start in life, a commitment to education, and someone to address the lack of urgency about the federal government’s commitment to climate change. We have a commitment to reducing carbon emissions, people want to see an end to the unfairness of work choices, and are sick of the government’s inaction on infrastructure,” he said. “We have seen problems on the Gateway Motorway with traffic spewing out onto suburban roads. That’s why we’ve made a major commitment to fixing it up with a recent announcement to build a link between two of Brisbane's major motorways”.

Swan said that local people want a good quality of life “and that’s why I’ve been a long-term supporter of the Boondall Wetlands and making sure they haven’t been taking over by property developers”. Swan said he works with local and environmental groups, climate change groups, the RSL and other service groups to get good outcomes for the community. The next question to Swan was: what he saw as the three single most important issues nationally for this election and why? Swan nominated the trio of education, climate change and industrial relations. He said what he meant by education was creating the conditions for the prosperity of the children of the future. It meant keeping up with China and India and giving people the opportunity to get ahead.

On climate change Swan cited the creation of the economic and social framework for the carbon reductions Australia needs. He reiterated Labor’s commitment to ratify Kyoto and then look beyond that. He said the post 2012 framework will be decided in Bali this December and Labor is committed to supporting the process. On industrial relations Swan said Labor is committed to replacing workchoices with “a fair and balanced set of industrial policies”.

Woolly Days asked if he thought the council amalgamation debate would impact on Labor's chances of picking up extra seats in Queensland. Swan flatly denied it would have any impact and said Federal Labor is opposed to compulsory council amalgamations. The next question was “If Labor does win, how will you manage the interests of your local constituency given Kevin Rudd's stated position you will be Treasurer?” Swan responded by saying his job as shadow treasurer has already a large and public profile “but it doesn’t stop me from being attentive to the needs of my electorate”. He continued: “My community involvement would not be affected in whatever role I might end up with after the election nor is my commitment to my local area. If anything, I would have a stronger voice to act for my locality in Treasury.”

Woolly Days then asked what opportunities he thought Peter Costello has missed in his management of the Treasury portfolio over the last 11 years and how would he do things differently? Swan said Costello had “squandered the opportunities of the mining boom and the strongest global economy in 30 years and has missed the chance to secure Australia’s long-term prosperity”. He said Costello had also presided over “dangerous climate change of the worst order”. He said Costello had also missed opportunities in education. “We are investing less in education and training; in fact Peter Costello is going in the other direction.”

Swan refused to be drawn on how a lower house Labor government would deal with a potentially hostile Senate. He said Labour would stand by its policies and not negotiate in advance with any of the minor parties. Woolly Days also asked whether he had noticed trends or biases in the media's pre-election coverage. Swan said that bias was not a factor. “There are things we agree with the media on and things we disagree with them on but it all balances out in the end,” he said. But he did take exception to the government’s use of the media. “What annoys me is the outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money on government advertising,” he said. “What is needed is an alternative framework.” He said that if elected Labor will have the auditor-general examine these ads and define what is legitimate and what is illegitimate use. “Advertising for recruitment to the defence forces is legitimate,” he said. “But this governments's work choices ads and climate change ads are simply free campaign ads for the Liberals”. Swan parting message was a contrast between Labor and the government. “We have a program for the future based on social cohesion,” he said, “while the government is stuck in the past”.

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