February 1, 2011
“Wayne was very, very cool; and I was very, very not.”
– Kevin Rudd, in November 2007, about Nambour State High schoolmate Wayne Swan.
Australia started reeling under a series of floods in December 2010, with the floodwaters yet to recede from Brisbane, the capital of the worst hit state of Queensland. Since then, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan has found himself in the midst of a crisis situation and is now undertaking the Herculean task of rebuilding the infrastructure and property that has been damaged. After all, Queensland is in his blood.
Wayne Maxwell Swan was born in the town of Nambour in Queensland in1954 and grew up there. Perhaps in a foreshadowing of things to come, Swan attended high school with another promising young man, Kevin Rudd, who later became Prime Minister of Australia. But Swan’s taste for politics did not emerge until he graduated from the University of Queensland in Public Administration, and after he served as a Lecturer in Public Policy for 12 years at the Queensland Institute of Technology.
Concern about unemployment and social inequality prompted Swan to join the Australian Labor Party. Much later, these issues became the subject of his 2005 book called Postcode: The Splintering of a Nation. Swan was elected to Parliament from 1993 to 1996, and re-elected in 1998 and serves to this present day. Following Labor’s win at the 2007 election, he became Treasurer of Australia in Kevin Rudd’s Ministry.
Swan’s first budget as Treasurer concentrated on slashing spending, to combat the inflationary pressures in the economy. When the global recession hit, Swan responded with an “economic security strategy” worth $10 billion in October 2008. Designed as a stimulus package and directed towards retail sales, the initiative was chiefly supported by the International Monetary Fund. Swan also put into action the Nation Building and Jobs Plan to provide government-sponsored employment worth $42 billion.
“ We’ve had record job creation in Australia over the past year.
Because the Government responded promptly to the global recession,
put in place stimulus in a timely way, our economy is strong.”
– Wayne Swan 1/31/2011
On June 24, 2010, Swan was elected unopposed as the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, and while remaining Treasurer, also became the Deputy Prime Minister when Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as the Prime Minister.
Roughly six months later, the floods hit Aussieland, leading to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from around 70 towns and cities. Recently, Swan revealed that the floods will cost the nation an estimated 1 billion Australian dollars ($990 million) in agricultural losses and billions more in lost coal exports, a likely dampener to the country’s growth. The tourism sector will also be vastly affected, which again adds to Swan’s woes. The deluge is being described as the biggest natural disaster in Australian history with total damages likely to be around 13 billion Australian dollars, which is 1% of the nation’s GDP.
But there may be a silver lining in the clouds. Swan has expressed the hope that the rebuilding process would act as a salve to the battered economy and may become the much needed stimulus that could kick start growth later in the year. And to meet this challenge head on and begin the job of rebuilding Australia from the ground up, Swan has assembled a federal floods taskforce comprising Australia’s “best and brightest.”
The hurdles may seem insurmountable, but Swan is no stranger to uphill battles. In 2002, at the age of 48, Swan was diagnosed with prostate cancer and has since fully recovered with treatment. This kind of courage in the face of adversity will hold him in good stead while working for Australia’s recovery in the coming months. He will need it. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan already face fierce opposition to their proposed flood recovery levy, an initiative to shore up the ensuing reconstruction. Swan has maintained that given the magnitude of the damages wrought by the floods, there is no other escape route. The government has already given out $230 million in emergency relief payments and Swan is now working to raise the funds required for rebuilding vital infrastructure like roads, bridges, rail lines and schools.
Wayne Swan lives with his family in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, in the same house he has lived in since the early 1980s. Walking alongside friends hit by the devastation in Brisbane, a city left underwater for days in many areas, Swan shares in the pain for his beloved Queensland. And now, with Wayne Swan’s help, the healing of this previously lush and bountiful land must begin.
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