Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cruisin' with the Boss, Swannie

I really like this piece by the Canberra Times' Jessica Wright:

"These are strange days and so it is fitting that one of the world's economic leaders, Wayne Swan, is starting his day with a bit of Springsteen.

And 'The Boss' is wailing loud.

It is 8am and the Treasurer's parliamentary office has been in full swing for hours. The Australian stockmarket is about to begin its wild gyrations for another day.

Advisers and ministerial staff bustle about, briefs and reports are ferried from one desk to another.

Across the hall, Lindsay Tanner, the man with the job of wielding the axe over Australia's finances for the past year and who will now play nurse and administer an adrenaline injection chats with Labor heavyweight, Senator John Faulkner.

Here, with still-damp hair and clutching a mug of coffee, is Australia's man in the eye of this global economic storm...

Mr Swan rises pretty early these days.

Part of a government infamous for its early starts, he rises well before daybreak, his mind turning to lands and economies where the sun has set long after our own.

He says his routine suffers the greatest upheaval when travelling abroad.

''While I'm in Australia [it is] pre-dawn briefings about overnight developments, a quick cup of tea and a piece of toast, early morning meetings, usually breakfast television and radio engagements, and on with the day,'' he says.

''[Abroad last week] It was hard yards, but if there was ever a time for hard yards it is now.''

The Treasurer has had an almighty year in the spotlight.

Delivering Labor's first budget in 11 years and targeted by the Coalition as the ''weak link'' in cabinet, Mr Swan has been baptised at the dispatch box and, for the most part, seems to have relished it. Question time has shown the emergence of an acerbic lyricist, especially during the last months of Brendan Nelson's ill-fated stint as opposition leader and the ensuing in-party leadership tussle.

In the space of a week, Mr Swan tagged Peter Costello, Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull as the ''Three Stooges'', proclaiming then-shadow treasurer Turnbull to be ''living in cloud cuckoo land'' over the state of the Australian economy and describing the Liberals as standing ''for big oil, fast cars and Bacardi Breezers.

''It is now clear the Liberal Party is being led by [British singer] Robbie Williams''.

Fortifying rock 'n' roll for breakfast and pop star references aside, he is in a far more sober mood these days.

Mr Swan viewed first hand last week the despair and panic of the global money meltdown in the place of its birth, Wall Street.

Arriving home he declared Australia to be in the midst of the worst financial crisis to confront the modern market economy.

The trip to the United States was, he says, clarifying in its graveness, the crisis evolving before his eyes.

''My first time on Wall Street was many years ago, when the world and the global economy were far less interconnected than it is now,'' he says.

''The clear impression I got last Thursday was that the outlook was obviously very sombre, though very determined to ensure we get the reforms in place at a global level to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.''

When is it going to end?

It is a question that no one has been able to answer satisfactorily.

It is a question that Mr Swan faces daily from the media, the opposition and the public.

''It's certainly an extraordinary time for the global economy, the greatest upheaval since the Great Depression on financial markets,'' he says.

''Our job is to act decisively so we can stay ahead of the game. We ... anticipated the possibility that global conditions would get a lot worse, which is why we built such a strong surplus.

''Now that those tough times have arrived we're focused on doing everything possible to protect the economy from the worst effects of the global economic crisis.''

Time is money, and in Mr Swan's case, the adage is particularly apt. As he sweeps up papers and sets his sights on the first of many meetings for the day, The Canberra Times puts one last question.

What would ''The Boss'' have to say about all this?

Mr Swan pauses, the stereo at last silent.

''I reckon if these times were a song,'' he muses. ''It would be Thunder Road.''

Strange days indeed.