New Year's resolution: accentuate the positive

THE Gillard government bears no responsibility for the negative and vitriolic tone of political debate this year, according to the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, who admits the ''scrappy'' political year has turned many voters off politics.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, Mr Swan pledged to haul the political debate into positive territory next year but denied the government had contributed to the bitter partisanship that defined 2012.

''I don't concede that the government has been behind personal attacks,'' Mr Swan said.

''We want to have a policy discussion based on the facts, not on the aggressive negativity, particularly the likes of which we've seen from Tony Abbott … to say that's a personal attack on Tony Abbott, given the events of last year, I find quite extraordinary.''

This year the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, labelled the Opposition Leader a misogynist; the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said he had an ''issue with capable women'', and Mr Swan called him a ''policy weakling'' and a ''thug when it comes to personal attacks''.

The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, called Mr Abbott a ''wrecker'' and said everything he had told the public about carbon pricing was ''complete bullshit''.

But Mr Swan, who was acting Prime Minister until the weekend, denied suggestions the government was culpable in helping to set the low tone of what has been labelled the nastiest political year in memory. ''You've got to be kidding me,'' Mr Swan said.

''The negativity in policy and personal attacks have all been from Abbott. I mean, for god's sake. These are the people who are now hung out to dry for their activities in terms of Mr [James] Ashby and company,'' he said, referring to the Federal Court finding that Mal Brough, an endorsed candidate of the Liberal National Party, conspired with Mr Ashby to end the political career of the former speaker Peter Slipper. Despite the finding, Mr Abbott has expressed full confidence in Mr Brough.

''I'm a little surprised at the notion that there is some sort of equivalence in terms of the negativity going on … The Prime Minister in particular, in the face of enormous negative attack and enormous denigration, performed superbly. Too often that gets brushed aside in some sort of notion that it was some sort of two-way process.''

The Treasurer said hauling the political debate into positive territory next year was his ''New Year's resolution'' to ignore ''glass half empty'' naysayers.

''My hope is to have a very, very strong policy debate … about the big reforms we need to set up Australia for the future. That's where the government is coming from.''

Mr Swan said his government had instituted ''one of the biggest reforms for the future of Australia'' - carbon pricing - in the face of ''vicious opposition, not just from the Liberals but from large sections of industry''.

''That showed the government's fortitude and commitment to policy because what's got lost since the carbon pricing came in is how big a reform that had been,'' he said.

Mr Swan defended his surplus backdown of a fortnight ago, when he announced a $3.9 billion shortfall in revenue in the first four months of the financial year. He argued that the surplus announcement should not be seen as a ''loosening of the purse strings'' and said the government had delivered record low interest rates.

Mr Swan had consistently promised a return to surplus next year and in 2010 the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the budget would return to surplus ''come hell or high water''.

Mr Swan said: ''In the circumstances of the international volatility it would have been irresponsible to cut deeper or further during this period because that would just endanger jobs and growth.''

He rejected suggestions that the mining tax had been unsuccessful, pointing to a fall in commodity prices, and nominated the key policy battlegrounds of next year as education, the national disability insurance scheme, industrial relations and the national broadband network. ''We would love to get on with them in an environment which wasn't characterised by the excessive negativity we saw'' this year.

Mr Swan foreshadowed what is sure to be a key plank of ALP strategy - linking the spending cuts of Campbell Newman's government in Queensland to the federal Coalition's plans for government. ''I don't think there's any doubt that the sort of slash and burn attitude to jobs and services in Queensland is exactly the sort of policy description that Tony Abbott and his crew have got. He hasn't said one word of criticism of what's gone on in Queensland.''

Mr Swan said Mr Abbott had a secret agenda on industrial relations. ''Like John Howard or hate John Howard, the one thing he at least had the guts to do was outline his views on industrial relations. I don't think we're necessarily going to see that from Tony Abbott.''

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