It is a strange thing that the most senior frontbench spokesperson in the Labor Party aside from the leader has remained the same man since 2005, without ever it seems him manoeuvring for the leadership himself. Wayne Maxwell Swan, born in Nambour Queensland in 1954, first contemplated a tilt at the Labor leadership in 2002. Simon Crean was languishing in the polls, Kim Beazley was adamant he no longer wanted to be leader, Kevin Rudd did not yet enjoy rockstar status and Julia Gillard was still in her political infancy. At the time Swan was the Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, a role that involves much hubristic blustering which is conducive to inflating ones perceived political profile. It is alleged by Mark Latham that Swan refused to pledge unconditional support to Crean as he prepared to make his move if caucus support continued to drift away from the embattled leader. These plans however were put on hold when Swan’s old commander and mentor, Beazley, re-entered the leadership race.
Swan wisely shrunk away, knowing full well he would come in third in a three horse race between himself, Crean and Beazley and committed himself to his old leader’s service. Whilst Swan backgrounded against Crean, Latham aggressively drummed up support for Crean, and found amongst his allies a certain Julia Gillard. When Crean resigned the leadership Latham inherited Crean’s support and Swan fell still farther from the leadership. After Latham defeated Beazley in the 2003 leadership ballot, Beazley actively protected his caucus support in the event that Latham fell over which again ruled Swan firmly out of the race. It was during this period however that Swan’s circumstances became odd. In a conciliatory gesture aimed at placating the disgruntled caucus rivals, Latham appointed Swan as Shadow Treasurer in 2004. Historically the treasury portfolio had been touted as a the alternative option the leader, instances of this being the case include Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Costello, Paul Keating, John Howard and Bill Hayden. Yet the presence of Beazley stalking Latham from the Shadow Ministry of Defence, the popular high profile performance of Kevin Rudd in Foreign Affairs and the laudable efforts of Julia Gillard defending Latham saw Swan relegated to fifth or sixth place.
When Beazley returned to the leadership in 2005, Swan may have enjoyed some heir apparent status but he was by no means a competitor for Beazley. It was only after Beazley was defeated by Rudd in 2006 and retired from public life that Swan might have hoped to enjoy the endorsement of his own bloc of voters in a leadership contest. But now there was no leadership vacancy, Kevin Rudd was the most popular politician in history. Upon becoming leader Rudd re-appointed Swan to the Treasury portfolio despite being under no obligation to do so. Rudd as a condition of his leadership campaign had won the unprecedented right to handpick the frontbench and Swan had campaigned for Beazley. Nevertheless Swan was kept on and initially he appeared content to be a loyal senior lieutenant to Rudd.
The very nature of modern political discourse dictates that the hypothetical event of senior ministers usurping the Prime Minister must be analysed into exhaustion. Rudd had scarcely been in the job for twelve months when murmurings of a leadership plot against him were underfoot. Ninety percent of these rumours surrounded not the Treasurer however but around the Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a member of Labor Left faction which had not seen one of its own lead the party since Herbert Evatt more than sixty years ago. Meanwhile Swan shared the remaining speculation with then Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Trade Minister Simon Crean and even the Minister for Tourism Martin Ferguson.
Now Swan is deputy Prime Minister to Julia Gillard. He joined forces with his former factional rival to oust Kevin Rudd and is now the most powerful man in Australia. But the Gillard leadership is under siege and with nowhere much to go but down Swan is reluctant to see one of the main alternatives, namely Rudd, Crean or Shorten, take her place. And so it falls to Wayne Maxwell Swan to take on the mantle of leadership himself or bow out of politics altogether. Swan would know that it isn’t a particularly likely outcome, his modus operandi has generally been poorly received by the public and the press. Nevertheless in recent months we’ve seen Swan beef up the rhetoric, pick fights with right wing pundits and generally speaking become a bit of media tart, he knows the forces are marshalling and he’s not going to capitulate in a hurry. At last, after ten years on the periphery, Wayne Swan has entered the leadership race.