Media watchers should be forgiven for a degree of confusion over statements by federal treasurer and deputy prime minister Wayne Swan in the past two weeks.
He began the month with a Press Club address, published in The Monthly’s March edition titled “The 0.01%” where he attacked “the rising power of vested interests” — naming mining magnates Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart — for “undermining our equality and threatening our democracy”.
Then the Australian Financial Review broke the hardly surprising story that Greenpeace is seeking donations to campaign against coal industry expansion.
Suddenly, Swan leapt to the defence of the big miners, calling the anti-coal movement “irrational”, “deeply irresponsible” and “destructive”.
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LaTrobe University’s David Day wrote in a March 8 Fairfax opinion piece: “On Monday, Treasurer Wayne Swan assailed coal magnate Clive Palmer for using his wealth to influence government policy. On Tuesday, Swan attacked environmental organisation Greenpeace for threatening Palmer’s wealth.”
What is Swan actually on about? Is he for or against the miners?
Swan was a key player in the move to ditch former PM Kevin Rudd and install Julia Gillard in his place. This took place on the back of a $22 million mining industry advertising campaign against Rudd’s proposed mining tax.
Perhaps quite innocently, The Monthly’s March edition also contains Rhys Muldoon’s account of the events in Parliament House on the night Rudd was deposed.
He wrote: “Gillard’s office … was filled with men I’d never seen before. Not one. Standing there I received an SMS that Gillard and Swan had been ‘given the nod’ by the three big mining companies — Xstrata, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton — beforehand, letting it be known that the ads attacking the government for its proposed tax on miners’ super profits would be pulled.”
Now energy and resources minister Martin Ferguson backed Rudd’s recent challenge to Gillard. It’s reported that he and Swan aren’t best friends over the Rudd affair. Is there a policy divergence between Swan and Ferguson over mining too? Not at all.
Ferguson’s department has prepared a white paper on the future of energy. It suggests Australia’s coal exports can quadruple and liquefied natural gas exports can triple.
As a Quit Coal activist posing as “Twiggy Palmock, CEO of Extratum Mining” put it in a comedic interjection at a Melbourne presentation on the Energy white paper: “Thank you Mr Ferguson, for being such an effective puppet for the fossil fuel industry.” The interjection was accompanied by “a ‘frack’ of Fergusons” — a group of supporters who stood together in Martin Ferguson facemasks.
Sinclair Davidson, from the pro-mining industry Institute for Public Affairs, said in a March 6 ABC The Drum article that Swan had called the mining tycoons “rent seekers” in this Monthly essay. This, he said, is “the economists’ ultimate insult”.
But nowhere in his essay does Swan use the term “rent-seeker”. Swan attacked mining tycoons that “pour their considerable personal fortunes into advertising, armies of lobbyists, dodgy modelling and corporate and commercial manoeuvring designed to influence editorial decisions”.
He suggests Gina Rinehart is buying into Fairfax Media “in an attempt to wield greater influence on public opinion and further her commercial interests at a time when the overwhelming economic consensus is that it’s critical to use the economic weight of the resources boom to strengthen the entire economy”.
If you strip away all Swan’s talk about “middle-class Australia” and the “social contract”, this is the essence of what Labor’s mining tax is about.
Socialist tax academic John Passant has described Labor’s mining tax as “a redistributive measure from a very profitable section of capital to all of capital through company tax cuts”.
There is no government plan to stop either the profits or the pollution of the mining sector. Labor needs to appear to do something to share the mining boom wealth around. That’s what is behind Swan’s public foray into apparent criticism of “vested interests”.
If the collective noun for a group of Martin Fergusons is a “frack”, there are several options for Swans, according to Wikipedia. While they are on the ground, the term is “bank” — an appropriate term for the treasurer, perhaps. Swans in flight are referred to as a “wedge”.
In politics, Wikipedia says a “wedge” is an issue “which splits apart or creates a ‘wedge’ in the support base of one political group”.
If the Australian population come to understand the hypocrisy that is behind the Labor government’s attitude to mining and climate issues, Labor will indeed be wedged and we may well see Swan in flight.
Swan’s agenda is not about taking from the 1% to give to the 99%. It’s certainly not about protecting the environment. It’s about taking from the 0.01% to give to the remainder of the 1%, to ensure their stability in ruling the 99%. It’s about sharing the wealth of the mining boom with other business interests, not the battlers.
That’s why he has censured the mining billionaires with words that conservative critics have called “class war”. It’s a smokescreen. He wants to keep his position in the bank.