Back to work, Wayne

We’re now into day four of Wayne Swan versus The Billionaires.

Fortescue Metals, the company founded by Swan’s target Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, has again taken out a full-page ad in the Australian Financial Review, basically reiterating what a fantastic fellow Twiggy is. No doubt Swan will fire another shot across the bows of Forrest, Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer later today.

It’s time for Julia Gillard to give Swan a polite tap on the shoulder and tell him that it’s time to stop this nonsense.

Swan has now had plenty of chances to achieve his aim of demonstrating to traditional Labor voters that the party is still in favour of the working man and against the bosses – particularly the rich ones.

Has it worked? I’ve got no idea, although Swan has further damaged Labor’s relationship with business and ignored the fact that these entrepreneurs take risks, create jobs and pay taxes. And the billionaires Swan has insulted are certainly big enough and smart enough to look after themselves. 

But it’s time to put this garbage behind us. Wayne Swan has created a pointless distraction when he has some very big issues to tackle.

Here are three: 

1. The Budget 

The Federal Budget is two-and-a-bit months away and I would have thought this alone was enough to soak up all Swan’s spare time. It’s a crucial Budget for Labor, which must deliver its promised surplus if it is to have any chance of rebuilding its credibility with the electorate. But getting to a surplus won’t be easy and Swan will need to make careful and potentially painful spending cuts. It’s going to be quite the highwire act. 

2. Tax reform 

Wayne Swan has the Business Tax Working Group working on new initiatives to improve business tax structures, with the big ticket item likely to be giving small businesses the ability to carry back tax losses, such that they could offset taxes paid on profits in previous years when they experience a loss. Swan has told the group that it must find the savings to pay for such a move, although this is ridiculous – it’s Treasury’s job to work out those costings, and it is grossly unfair to put that responsibility on what is essentially a group of experts working on this part-time. Jump in and help out, Wayne. 

3. Structural change 

Instead of trying to spark a fake “national debate” about whether rich people are bad, Swan could spend some time having a national debate about how the economy should adjust (or rather be adjusted) to meet the challenges of structural change in sectors such as manufacturing and even retail. What are Swan’s big ideas? What is his economic vision? Let’s start talking about this sort of stuff.

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