Hoping there’s no Swan in the Caucus. As Treasurer Wayne Swan goes through his ritual pre-budget spinning, he should be hoping there’s not someone like his treacherous self lurking on the Labor backbench. For this is the 20th anniversary of the revolt the newly elected Swan MP so disloyally led against a previous incumbent of the treasurer’s office confronted with difficult decisions.

Back then in 1993 John Dawkins as treasurer felt compelled to be the economic manager who, within months of Labor’s victory in the unwinnable election, delivered a budget containing only half the “l-a-w law” tax cuts PM Paul Keating legislated for before going to the polls. For good measure there was a raft of other unpopular spending and revenue-raising measures.

And they were measures against which the opportunist Swan, with his new-boy partner in crime Stephen Smith, decided to mount a caucus revolt.

For those of you to young to remember back that that far there’s a wonderful description of  those events by my old friend Alan Ramsey, “When Dawkins met the machine man“, which appeared a few years ago in The Sydney Morning Herald. It’s worth a read especially for anyone tending to be sympathetic to sympathetic to Swan in his current predicament of being promise-breaker-in-chief. This extract will give you the flavour:

“Headlines like the Financial Review’s ‘The man who led the Caucus revolt’ ran over stories telling readers: ‘Barely five months into his first term as a federal MP, Queensland’s Wayne Swan was this week leading a caucus revolt against the budget. Beaming in the national media spotlight as the Government’s fiscal plans collapsed last Monday, Mr Swan confidently told reporters that, as chairman of the influential caucus economic committee, he would be holding meetings with the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, and the Treasurer, Mr Dawkins, demanding further changes.

“A few hours later, after the committee had meted out a savage rebuke to the Labor leadership, Mr Swan emerged once again before the television cameras, describing the meeting as ‘robust, productive, a full and frank exchange’. Mr Keating and Mr Dawkins, he said, would in future be consulting more with caucus. It was sharp slap in the face for Mr Keating …”

Disclosure of interest: John  Dawkins is one of only two politicians I have in my friends category (I am the godfather of his daughter and worked for him in 1993 to make a smooth retirement from politics after his budget as amended was finally passed). For the record, and so you don’t think  I am completely partisan, the other was Jim Killen, who was best man at my wedding and in whose house I got married before moving on to Eagle Farm to watch the Brisbane Cup.

A photo variation. A visit to Papua New Guinea provided a welcome variation in the Prime Ministerial photo opportunities, but there was still time for a cuddly kid. Strangely absent in the pictures I saw was the First Bloke, who normally only gets a nod these days during international tours.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, meanwhile, swapped wife and daughters for his good old mum.

Going down. Given the concentration of the government spinners on getting some of the bad budget news out of the way early it’s probably not surprising that the Crikey Federal Election Indicator has reached a new low point for Labor — a probability of victory assessed at a mere 8.7% this morning.

News and views noted along the way.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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