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How Euromoney’s finance minister award became an Aussie political football

Although it applauds sound stewardship of an important global economy, in jeering Australian hands Euromoney’s finance minister of the year award has become a political football punted around Canberra since Paul Keating was honoured in 1984, his first year in office, for floating the Australian dollar and rejuvenating a moribund banking sector with foreign competition, inspired reforms few expected of a union-dominated Labor government.

And it’s a football that’s never been more gleefully kicked than by Peter Costello, Keating and Swan’s ideological nemesis, whose 11 years as what Australians archaically call treasurer is Australia’s longest tenure in the office.

The unawarded Costello is long believed to be privately chagrined at this perceived snub. He seizes every opportunity to pan the award and Keating too, who had enthusiastically embraced it as the international imprimatur of a lustre that Australians, for whom it’s a national sport to spit contempt at their leaders, didn’t and wouldn’t. This might well be the fate that awaits Swan, for a prize perceived as a poisoned chalice in Canberra.

We asked Costello to critique the performance of Swan, the man who succeeded him as treasurer. When untouchable in government, Costello liked to waltz through parliamentary halls warbling an Al Jolson classic – "how I love you, how I love you, my dear old Swanee" – usually after he’d again savaged the colourless Queenslander on the floor of the House. But times change. Costello ignored our invitation.

And maybe those earlier long and painful years fielding Costello’s barbs did wound "The World’s Greatest Treasurer", as Costello still likes to mockingly label Paul Keating, because he wasn’t initially particularly forthcoming either. When Euromoney sought comment from the only other Australian ever to have received our award, the famously flinty Keating’s instinctive reaction was to tell us "to just fuck off" and "I couldn’t give a fuck", while curtly offering what appeared to be travel advice, suggesting we visit some place called "buggery".

Which is where voters might also soon dispatch Swan, a Keating-era backbencher, if he follows his former leader’s example in steering Australia into a policy-induced recession, as Keating did in 1991, the last time Australia experienced one, and a gift for the ever-taunting Costello.