Former treasurer Wayne Swan: "I’ll always be proud of what Labor did in government to steer our country through the most tumultuous economic period in living memory." Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Former treasurer Wayne Swan has launched a scathing attack on the head of Tony Abbott's Commission of Audit, accusing business leader Tony Shepherd of being an ''an unthinking mouthpiece for the Liberal Party'' with ''zero understanding'' of the importance of social reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The comments are Mr Swan's most significant political intervention since Labor lost office last September.
Mr Shepherd, the outgoing president of the Business Council of Australia, said in his farewell speech on Thursday night that he was looking forward to the release of the commission of audit report because ''the former government should be held to account for the budgetary decisions they made''.
Tony Shepherd: "‘‘My comments were not political - they were apolitical, as I am." Photo: Jesse Marlow
Mr Shepherd said Labor had locked long-term commitments into future budget cycles that "they must have known Australia couldn't afford on any reasonable projections".
"When organisations like the Business Council questioned those decisions in the past, we were pilloried," he said. "But I can tell you now from the inside that our warnings were absolutely moral and correct."
Mr Swan, who has largely refrained from public commentary since the election, said: ''If Tony Shepherd wanted to offer a genuine critique of government decisions, instead of acting as an unthinking mouthpiece for the Liberal Party, then he might have mentioned the insanity of Tony Abbott's $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme, which will smash the budget, increase taxes on Australian businesses and do nothing to boost national productivity.
''If Tony Shepherd thinks the National Disability Insurance Scheme or the Gonski reforms are a waste of money, he's out of touch with mainstream Australia. It also shows zero understanding of the economic value of these huge reforms, and it certainly doesn't reflect the views of most Australians.''
Mr Swan accused Mr Shepherd of being ''in cahoots'' with the Liberal Party for years and putting political interests ahead of those of the business community.
''I'll always be proud of what Labor did in government to steer our country through the most tumultuous economic period in living memory,'' Mr Swan said.
In response to Mr Swan's comments, Mr Shepherd said on Friday: ''My comments were not political - they were apolitical, as I am.
''My message was very similar to that recently delivered by [former Treasury secretary] Ken Henry and also Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.
''I don't for one second believe those policies [the NDIS and Gonski] are wrong or foolish - it is a question of affordability. Governments need to look beyond the next budget and forward estimates to the longer term.''
Mr Henry said earlier this month the country could not afford new social policies - such as the NDIS and the Gonski reforms - without increasing taxes or major budget cuts.
Mr Shepherd, a business veteran and former chairman of Transfield Services, will be replaced as BCA chair by Telstra chair Catherine Livingstone.