Australian treasurer Wayne Swan calls Australia’s rich a threat to democracy

Australian treasurer Wayne Swan has attacked Australia's richest citizens as a threat to democracy.

In an essay in The Monthly magazine, Swan — from the country's ruling Labor Party — described the influence of the wealthy few as a "poison" that had "infected our politics and is seeping into our economy."

Naming mining magnates Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest and Clive Palmer, Swan said vested interests were helping to "undermining our equality and threatening our democracy." 

Worse, he wrote, the billionaires were undermining the Australian notion of a "fair go" — where everyone has an opportunity to prosper.

"A handful of vested interests that have pocketed a disproportionate share of the nation's economic success now feel they have a right to shape Australia's future to satisfy their own self-interest," he wrote.

The Treasurer credited the GOP race for presidential nomination with providing inspiration for article: 

"Today, when a would-be US president, Mitt Romney, is wealthier than 99.9975 percent of his fellow Americans, and wealthier than the last eight presidents combined, there’s a global conversation raging about the rich, the poor, the gap between them, and the role of vested interests in the significant widening of that gap in advanced economies over the past three decades."

He continued: This is a debate Australia too must be part of. We’ve always prided ourselves on being a nation that’s more equal than most — a place where, if you work hard, you can create a better life for yourself and your family. Our egalitarian spirit is the product of our history and our national character, as well as the institutions and safeguards built up over more than a century. This spirit informed our stimulus response to the global financial crisis, and meant we avoided the kinds of immense social dislocation that occurred elsewhere in the developed world.

"But Australia’s fair go is today under threat from a new source." 

While accepting that entrepreneurs lifted employment, Swan said the likes of Rinehart, Forrest and Palmer were seeking to wield influence beyond their immediate business interests.

"They are openly seeking to exert an inordinate degree of political power, and I'm highlighting that fact," he said.

None of the magnates or their company spokespeople, contacted by Bloomberg, chose to respond to the article.

However, the conservative opposition jumped at the chance, describing the comments as a form of class warfare and "the politics of envy." 

Lawmaker Christopher Pyne told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that is showed the Treasurer had nothing of substance left to talk about.

"I think Australia is very much the country it has always been," Pyne said, rejecting the suggestion that Australia was a less fair nation than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and that the gap between rich and poor was widening.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, meantime, defended Swan's views, saying they represented core values of the Labor Party.

"In Australia we've done something unique. We've had the ability to grow stronger, but also to continue to be fair," she told reporters in Canberra, the Murdoch Press reported. "That's a great Labor tradition."

Swan, however, scoffed at Pyne's criticism, telling the ABC: "It's not about envy, it's about opportunity, in ensuring that Australia remains a country of the fair go."

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