There was no one crucial time in Wayne Swan's time as treasurer. Given he faced the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s, a recession in most of the developed world, the ongoing tendency of his Treasury to wildly overstate revenue, a mining investment boom of unprecedented magnitude and an extended period with the Australian dollar above parity, picking a single moment to encapsulate his treasurership is impossible. But two moments will suffice to demonstrate why Swan will be leaving politics at the next election having made a huge difference to the lives of ordinary Australians.

One was the 2008 budget. It was before the period of the emergency interest rate cuts and the two stimulus packages of the financial crisis. It was when the dominant fiscal narrative was still the need to cut the Howard government's wasteful spending, to implement Kevin Rudd's commitment to "take a meataxe" to the public service, which had ballooned as Howard had tried to spend his way to a fifth term in office.