Hasn’t Treasurer Wayne Swan found his voice this past fortnight?

He of the poison pen, fresh from slamming former foreign minister Kevin Rudd as “a man of great weakness” (among other dirty words) last week, has performed a bit of a K-Rudd move himself and filed a piece for The Monthly magazine. But this is less about quoting Bonhoeffer, and more about channelling Wayne’s newly-found rage towards a different set of targets — specifically, the filthy rich. Those who seek to wield political influence, that is …

Swan is taking it up to Australia’s answer to Russia’s oligarchs. Our mining giants and those that unquestioningly support and parrot their line, that is: “The combination of industry deep pockets, conservative political support, biased editorial policy and shock-jock ranting has been mobilised in an attempt to protect vested interests.” He continues:

“Politicians have a choice … between standing up for workers and kneeling down at the feet of the Gina Rineharts and the Clive Palmers …

“… To be blunt, the rising power of vested interests is undermining our equality and threatening our democracy … We see this most obviously in the ferocious and highly misleading campaigns waged in recent years against resource taxation reforms and the pricing of carbon pollution. The infamous billionaires’ protest against the mining tax would have been laughed out of town in the Australia I grew up in, and yet it received a wide and favourable reception two years ago.”

We like that the Treasurer is getting lippy, but given the success of that “infamous billionaires’ protest”,  launched off the back of a flat bed truck, it’s a case of too little too late. After all, if these “ferocious and highly misleading campaigns” actually work, then it’s hardly going to discourage our hard working, salt of the earth, billionaire Aussie miners.

That minor quibble aside, it’s hard to argue with Swan’s contentions. Just witness Palmer’s bizarre display yesterday in what initially seemed to be an announcement of his intention to launch a second football (soccer) league as just the latest salvo in his ongoing dispute with Frank Lowy and was later watered down to some kind of “watchdog”. Palmer dominated last night’s news cycle with that little thought bubble, in the same week he bragged about his 68-0 success rate in court cases. (As The Power Index reported yesterday, he used to list “litigation” as a hobby in his Who’s Who biography.) Because he can. So too, Rinehart is a fan of clogging the courts,  as she continues to gag the media from reporting on her small family spat, all while buying into that same media, of course. Because she can.

They all can. The billionaires of the mining boom can all afford to buy and sell us 10 times over, which essentially is meaningless — until they start thinking they can.

Combine their penchant for politics with media outlets suffering from plummeting revenue and therefore vulnerable to takeovers (combined with depleted resources to scrutinise the powerful less and less), a public who despite living in the information age seems even more amenable to swallowing a line and defamation law that suggests you can sue anyone if you just have the money. It’s these factors, not just the cash, that means the mining boom is ensuring these people are getting richer and more powerful with every minute, whether they’re launching a media takeover, a think tank, a football club, a High Court challenge, or laying on the couch.

Sound off Swan, somebody needs to. Then again, as Bernard Keane recites today, you could start backing up the big words by getting serious about lobbying reforms. Just a thought …

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey