Friday, June 25, 2010

The rise and rise of Deputy Swan

Wayne Swan will fly out for Canada this afternoon to attend the G20 Summit after all.

He withdrew from the summit a few days back to broker a deal with the miners. Now as Australia's new Deputy Prime Minister he'll attend in place of Julia Gillard.

Those who know him say its hard to be sure how ambitious he ever was. As Labor's family services spokesman for six years from the late 1990s he resisted suggestions to tradeup to a grander sounding portfolio. It was only when virtually ordered to take the Treasury portfolio after Labor's election loss in 2004 that he accepted "as anyone would, " as he he put it in the introduction to the book Post Codes he subsequently wrote about disadvantage in Australia.

As a Labor Party apparatchik in Queensland in the early 1990s he displayed a touch of genesis working out how to unseat the enormously popular Lord Mayor of Brisbane Sallyanne Atkinson. Discovering she was paid more than the Prime Minister he dubbed her "Salaryanne"... and succeeded in getting replaced the virtually unknown Labor candidate Jim Soorley.

Had he stayed in the background or moved to the national ALP machine he would have been good, but he was determined to be in politics himself and was not put off when he was defeated after just one term in 1996 nor when after being reelected he discovered in the 2001 campaign he had cancer. He swore his older children to secrecy as he prepared for an operation and didn't tell his youngest, Matthew - only to discover later Matthew had blurted out during Show and Tell at school that "his Dad had cancer, but that the class was not allowed to tell anybody - especially Laurie Oakes".

In his early months as Treasurer after Labor's 2007 win he sounded robotic, the result colleagues say of trying too hard. "His approach to any problem is work harder," said one. "He kept getting in earlier." During the financial crisis he began work at 6.00 each morning putting in 18-hour, sometimes 20-hour days. Along the way his demeanor changed. In the selling of this year's budget he sounded less robotic, more at ease and more in command than his former rural Queensland schoolmate Kevin Rudd. No-one who knows him doubts his genuine commitment to improving the improving the lives of Australians. It has made him a very Labor Treasurer, automatically viewing most things through the eyes of Australia's least well off. It'll make him a very Labor Deputy Prime Minister.

Published in today's SMH

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