Markets: Swan's media misadventures

The former treasurer blames the press for talking down the economy, but a better relationship with journalists might have amplified his message.

The late, great US comic Rodney Dangerfield used to say of himself: “I don’t get no respect”.

Yesterday evening, former Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan continued in the same vein.

After a speech at a conference hosted by The Economist in Sydney, Swan departed quickly to see his Queensland rugby league side play New South Wales. Before leaving, Markets Spectator asked the former treasurer why Australians are so gloomy about their prospects despite, as he is keen to point out, 22 consecutive years of economic growth, an economy that is now the 12th largest in the world and one of only eight with a AAA credit rating?

Swan replied that the media was a large part of the problem in that it has shaped the population’s attitudes towards the economy in an overtly negative manner. Reporters and editors, said the Member for the northeast Brisbane electorate of Lilley, have engaged in a “poisonous discussion” about the Australian economy. The press was “in danger of talking the show down”, he said.

The former deputy Prime Minister also blamed lack of consumer confidence on the “poisonous rhetoric” of Opposition leader Tony Abbott and the after-effects of the global financial crisis that caused “choppy markets” and dented superannuation returns.

But perhaps some of the blame rests with Swan himself. He responded dismissively to questions following his speech. His remarks at the conference were more in the vein of a campaign speech than an address to business people, littered as they were with trite phrases such as, “Labor: jobs, growth and smart investments for the future. Liberals: cuts, slash and burn.”

Swan may deserve some credit for helping to steer the economy through its worst crisis since the Great Depression. But he doesn’t know how to communicate those achievements or the value of his economic stewardship. Politics is about communication, particularly if you are Treasurer, with the markets hanging off your every word.

A member of Swan’s entourage yesterday physically blocked and told Markets Spectator we weren't allowed to ask more than one question to the former treasurer. Swan may blame the media for not giving himself and the Gillard government a fair go, but his inability to use reporters to articulate his views is perhaps a greater failing.

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