Flat White

A plaintive twilight swansong

20 February 2019

2:01 PM

20 February 2019

2:01 PM

The retiring member for Lilley didn’t actually whistle The Red Flag during his parliamentary swansong, though there were dog whistles aplenty for friend and foe alike.

Wayne Swan was and remains a hard man of Australian politics.

He is a political hater in the Jack Lang, Paul Keating mould.

He departed as he arrived, an Orwellian orator, an unrepentant, unreconstructed class warrior, a self-promoting historical and political revisionist.

His valedictory speech was as nuanced as a swift kick to one’s delicate nether regions, notable for those it pointedly ignored as much as those it mentioned.

“When I first drafted the speech, I did want to reach out across the chamber,” Swan told parliament.

“I actually thought I would be able to ask people, perhaps, to remove their party blinkers and at least try to understand a bit more about why people take the policy stances they do, even if they’re disagreed with.”

It was not lost on those present the government benches were as deserted as a Chernobyl fun park, while his fellow opposition members appeared as comfortable as rabbits in a spotlight, or guests at an Al Capone dinner.

Then the hubris.

“Being in this place is actually about service, and that is what I have striven to give to the Australian people for my 24 years as a member, including my nearly six years as Treasurer, which makes me behind only Paul Keating and Ben Chifley as the third-longest serving Treasurer.

Earle Page, Costello, Artie Fadden, Harold Holt all served longer than Swan and some longer than Keating, but since they were not illuminated by the Light on the Hill which also shined on the Swan household, they don’t count.

Also pointedly excluded were fellow Queenslanders Peter Beattie and Kevin Rudd, though Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Wayne Goss rated mentions, though for contrary reasons.

John Howard earned special mention for his “dog whistle” politics over refugees, though the great irony was Swan’s speech had more dog whistles than Crufts.

“It’s not about Labor good, Liberals bad,” Swan whistled, when that was exactly his core message as he catalogued a litany of Labor achievements as opposed to Coalition oppressions against those suffering societal inequality.

“Tackling inequality cannot just be dismissed as the politics of envy, as we read all the time in the papers,” whistled the class warrior who ruthlessly exploits the same politics.

“Of course, we have seen some polarisation in our country over the last decade,” whistled the great polariser.

Wayne’s world has always been and will always be about them and us, with special derision reserved for them.

Although he is exiting parliament, in his future role as National ALP president he will deliver more of the same.

Don’t expect the whistling to stop anytime soon.

Ross Eastgate blogs at Targets Down.

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