Treasurer Wayne Swan has searched deep within himself to draw inspiration from his personal rock idol Bruce Springsteen as he ramps up his criticism of Australia’s richest and most outspoken mining magnates.
When Mr Swan talks about The Boss he isn’t referring to Prime Minister Julia Gillard but rather the American rocker who the Treasurer sees as some kind of prophetic soothsayer who had long predicted the decline of the American economy.
Delivering the John Button Lecture in Melbourne tonight Mr Swan, who is currently Acting Prime Minister, will reveal his inner cool to expound on the wisdom of Springsteen and urge Australia to heed the warnings of The Boss’s music.
‘‘If I could distil the relevance of Bruce Springsteen’s music to Australia it would be this: don’t let what has happened to the American economy happen here,’’ he will say.
‘‘Don’t let Australia become a down-under version of New Jersey, where the people and the communities whose skills are no longer in demand get thrown on the scrap heap of life.’’
Mr Swan will reveal to his audience just how much he knows about Springsteen by quoting from lyrics and dropping album titles into his speech.
He says Springsteen observed the ‘‘big changes going on in the American working class’’ and used his songs to champion the causes of ordinary people.
‘‘You can hear Springsteen singing about the shifting foundations of the US economy, which the economists took much longer to detect, and which of course everyone is talking about now,’’ Mr Swan says.
The Treasurer says nothing has fuelled his public life more than pursuing a fair go for working Australians – and he says it is the same for Ms Gillard, who also lists Springsteen as her favourite.
Mr Swan uses not only Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Australia’s own Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil as examples of musicians standing up for the working class.
Which, he says, is exactly what he has been doing by criticising the actions and motives of Australian mining billionaires Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart.
In March, the Treasurer wrote a controversial essay for iThe Monthly magazine warning against the vested interests of the rich, singling out the three mining tycoons.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accused Mr Swan of trying to start a class war. But to tonight, the Treasurer will say he does not regret a word of what he wrote and said.
‘‘Not for a second,’’ he says. ‘‘In fact, my only regret is not going in hard enough, because every criticism I made has been played out almost to the letter on our national stage.’’
Mr Swan says Mr Palmer’s political campaign against him personally, Mr Forrest’s legal campaign against the new mining tax, and Ms Rinehart’s campaign to buy Fairfax Media while also refusing to sign its charter of editorial independence, all prove his case.
‘‘Parliament, the Constitution, independent journalism – all three are fundamental pillars of our democracy, being used as their playthings, supported every step of the way by the Leader of the Opposition,’’ he says.
Mr Swan will tell his audience that while some people with vested interests believe they should be immune from criticism and be feared by everyone else, he does not.
‘‘In the face of all this we have to stand up and be heard, because when the massively wealthy buy the loudest megaphones, the voices of the people are drowned out,’’ he says.
But he insists he has never disparaged individual achievement or billionaires, adding that most Australian entrepreneurs are to be ‘‘absolutely commended’’ for the risks they take and the wealth they create for the country.
But Mr Swan said his argument is only that economic opportunities should be created for everyone.
‘‘We can’t just quietly accept a situation where a handful of people can stymie economic reform which aims to spread opportunities to others,’’ he says.