Euromoney’s Finance Minister of the Year awards were designed as a gong for good work, to acknowledge a recession avoided, an enlightened reform advanced, an economy saved.
Australian politicians – who have been honoured just twice over its decades-long history – clearly didn’t get that memo.
Down Under, our award has become political dynamite, to explode opponents like Labor’s Paul Keating, given the accolade in 1984 for floating the Australian dollar and rejuvenating a moribund banking sector with foreign competition, reforms few expected of a union-dominated Labor government.
Keating’s conservative nemesis, the never-awarded but long-serving Peter Costello, would mock Keating as the “world’s greatest treasurer”, to the delighted chortles of Costello’s jeering Liberal colleagues.
And then there’s former PM Kevin Rudd, in a category of his own. Rudd’s treasurer during his first term as PM from 2007 was fellow Queenslander Wayne Swan, who continued in the post after 2010 when Rudd was replaced as Labor leader by Julia Gillard in a coup that had Swan’s fingerprints on it.
Domestic politics aside, Swan got our award in 2011 for stewarding Australia through the ill winds that buffeted the globe in the wake of the elongated 2008 financial crisis, helping Australia become one of a handful of economies to avoid recession, an achievement acknowledged by economic minds greater than ours.
Fast forward to 2018.
Embittered Rudd has written a political memoir and has scores to settle, notably with his factional rival Swan. When Euromoney magazine recognized Swan in 2011, Rudd writes, "there was an almost audible dropping of jaws around the departments of Treasury, Finance and Prime Minister and Cabinet."
Swan was, Rudd says, "a party secretary whose interest in numbers were more to be found in Newspoll than the national accounts."
According to reports of his book, Rudd writes that weak treasurers like Swan can come good with tuition, but that assumes “a basic level of intellectual software capable of being trained, as well as a treasurer sufficiently interested in being trained. In Swan’s case, neither condition existed."
But wait, what’s this? Briefly in Canberra this week to meet incumbent conservative treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Euromoney happens to spot Rudd supping in a darker corner of the capital’s Hyatt hotel. As he savoured a nice red, we offered our business card and asked him about his sledging of Swan, published that very day in the domestic press.
“Oh, oh, Euromoney, wonderful,” Rudd blustered and flustered, when we pressed him.
“I didn’t say (the Swan gong) wasn’t well justified. It was well done and well deserved,” he said.
Which, when confronted in person, is very different from what reports of Rudd’s book say of the matter.
“I’m just saying it was a team effort, not just one person,” Rudd protested to Euromoney.