Who’s listening to Wayne?

Had the Budget been delivered by almost anyone other than Wayne Swan it would have been roundly applauded, says ROBERT MACKLIN

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WAYNE SWAN has the same problem as his Prime Minister – he talks like he’s been pre-recorded and all the interesting, human stuff has been edited out.

In Question Time, at least Julia Gillard is able to think on her feet and keep your interest. Not Wayne. Every time he opens his mouth at the Despatch Box it’s like air escaping from a punctured tyre. There’s a big puff of wind to begin with and then it just hisses out and sinks down to the rim.

He has trouble sounding his “rrs” – “pretending” comes out “pertending” and as he raises his voice and speeds up his delivery the words themselves lose all meaning; they’re just a hurdy-gurdy of sound; he becomes Shakespeare’s “poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more… full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing”.

This is sad because the Government has a good story to tell. But so long as Wayne is telling it, no one is much interested in listening. So why, we may ask, does the Prime Minister not put him out to grass in the gentlest possible way, offering him a grand diplomatic post like the Court of St James… anything, really, that would make way for a replacement?

The truth is, she’d love to.

But she’s stuck with him.

First, he has that most desirable quality for a deputy – he’s no threat to her leadership. In all the speculation of the last 12 months no one has seriously put Wayne forward as a candidate. And while this really gets his goat, it’s practically a guarantee that his job is safe.

Second, he’s a Queenslander and the party that sacked the first Queensland PM since Artie Fadden in the 1940s just can’t afford to offend banana-benders’ sensibilities. And there’s absolutely no one else from that great State who could be promoted to fill his Treasurer’s boots.

Third, if Wayne did fall under a bus tomorrow, the most qualified replacement is generally regarded as the current Immigration Minister and former Assistant Treasurer, Chris Bowen. However, he is identified with the Kevin Rudd forces who got suckered into a challenge for the leadership by Simon Crean several months ahead of schedule. And my personal favourite, the Finance Minister Senator Penny Wong is in the wrong house.

So Wayne is about as safe in his job as any politician has the right to expect. He even has a declared opponent for his seat of Lilley in Clive Palmer who virtually guarantees him re-election.

But to what? That’s the rub: if he stays in his present post Labor will lose the treasury benches. He’ll be consigned to the wilderness of Opposition to a government that will dismantle all his good work. He’ll just have to sit there and watch it all go down the drain.

And it’s no good “pertending” otherwise.

robert@robertmacklin.com

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