Former Treasurer Wayne Swan used his final speech to parliament to tell Australians they avoided much more than a crippling recession during Global Financial Crisis a decade ago.
The Labor heavyweight said the country also dodged the aftershocks of an economic meltdown, which has led to the failure of consensus in Donald Trump’s America and Theresa May’s Britain.
“In short, you don’t feel the bullets you dodge. And we dodged a huge one,” Mr Swan, who will not contest the next election, expected to be held in May, said this afternoon.
Mr Swan said the enormous stimulus package devised by the Kevin Rudd Government had worked.
“Ten years ago, there was a deeply weird attraction in some quarters to the idea that a ‘cleansing fire of recession’ wouldn’t be such a bad thing for Australia,” he said.
“I rejected it then and I reject it even more forcefully now, precisely because of the potentially terrible human consequences.
“We did all this knowing full well that our opponents would hound us with slogans about ‘debt and deficit’.
“In departing this place, I have a perspective I didn’t in the heat of battle, and can honestly say I’m happy to wear that criticism as the price of saving Australia from much worse.”
He became known as “world’s best treasurer” — mockingly from political enemies — after his handling of Australia’s end of the GFC earned him the title of Finance Minister of the Year from Euromoney Magazine in 2011.
Labor boosted spending and Mr Swan said he is proud there was no recession, unlike in most almost all other industrialised countries, and superior performance in protecting jobs and businesses.
He said consideration should be given to how the rest of the world has changed in comparison to Australia.
“Think about the rise of populism and ugly nationalism, the end of the last remnants of political consensus in the United States, the sweeping away of mainstream parties of the centre-left and centre-right in Europe and elsewhere, and the return of the far right to prominence in Germany and the rest of Europe,” he said.
And he said Labor’s strategy during the GFC could help achieve the unexpected — a return to power after just two terms in opposition.
“We must not become over confident, but we could be on the cusp of something quite special and unexpected: returning to government just two terms.
“The strength of our current position has been made possible by two things. The first is that during the Global Financial Crisis we avoided recession and kept our economic credentials intact. It’s a great record we should be proud of.
“And the second is that we have found a new lease of political unity. That unity has come from excellent leadership — and I congratulate Bill and the whole leadership team on its achievement. But at its heart, it is a unity of political purpose.”
Mr Swan was first elected to the Brisbane seat of Lilley in 1993. He suffered a “gut-wrenching” defeat in 1996, but was returned in 1998 after what he jokingly called a “two-year holiday”.
He served as Treasurer from December 2007 to June 2013 — arriving in the job just in time for the GFC.
He tallied that he has sat in parliament for a total of 1422 days.
Mr Swan will remain in the world of politics as the incoming national president of the Labor Party.
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