Twenty-five years ago this March, new Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and his nervous Treasurer Paul Keating held their first joint press conference. Their mission: to articulate their distress and amazement at discovering that the budget deficit was not $1.7bn but $4.3bn, and in the next financial year would, at current settings, blow out to over $9bn.

Before they began, Hawke, not knowing that the microphones were on, whispered to his Treasurer: “lay it on with a trowel.”

Which is what they both did, ripping into the previous government’s economic record, shaking their heads at the utter irresponsibility and deceitfulness of it all.

John Howard and Peter Costello did the same, starting in 1996, to the Hawke and Keating governments. It is a time honoured tradition.

And it is now time for the current Treasurer Wayne Swan to don the bricklayer’s garb. His efforts so far have been half-hearted.

New governments have a truckload of goodwill, but it evaporates whether they use it or not. So it makes sense, while everyone is listening, to put some things on the record. Write some history.

Swan notes the bleedin’ obvious – that the previous government is responsible for today’s inflationary pressures – but he doesn’t say why. He needs a simple story. Paul Keating’s word picture last year – of a lazy Peter Costello, lolling around in a hammock, periodically requesting the latest account numbers – was a good starting point.

Swannie could also do with a dose of arrogance. Rehearsed and bland is OK in opposition, but government members can afford to relax and show some personality. Right now he’s trying to impress the financial crowd – which is good – but the journalists, and through them “the mob”, also need something meaty.

What was wrong with the previous government’s approach to the economy? Were they preoccupied with day to day politics? A dysfunctional government, obsessed from day one with their own tawdry leadership issues, too wrapped up in today’s culture wars to fight tomorrow’s challenges? Did they sit back, watch the money pour in, and dole it out at election time? Does it yet again fall to a Labor government to clean up after years of conservative self-absorption and indolence?

Maybe none of the above, but we need something.

So Mr Swan: take some acting lessons, or perhaps have a few gigs with your daughter’s rock group. Somehow discover that inner trowel, and construct us some economic history.

Otherwise the journos will build their own. And Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull will be handing them the bricks.