Don't blame us: Swan on vitriol

THE Gillard government bears no responsibility for the negative and vitriolic tone of the political debate in 2012, says Treasurer Wayne Swan.

He admits the ''scrappy'' political year turned many voters off politics but denies the government contributed to bitter partisanship that defined it.

''I don't concede that the government has been behind personal attacks,'' he 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, Prime Minister Julia Gillard labelled Opposition Leader Mr Abbott a misogynist, 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''.

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

But Mr Swan denied 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. 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 Ashby and company,'' he said in reference to the Federal Court finding that the Liberal National Party-endorsed candidate, Mal Brough, conspired with James Ashby to end the political career of former speaker Peter Slipper.

Despite the finding, Mr Abbott has since expressed his 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,'' Mr Swan said. ''Too often that gets brushed aside in some sort of notion that it was some sort of two-way process.''

The Treasurer pledged to haul the political debate to positive territory in 2013, saying it 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 [in] Australia for the future. That's where the government is coming from.''

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

''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.''

Mr Swan rejected suggestions the mining tax had been unsuccessful, pointing to a fall in commodity prices, and nominated the key policy battlegrounds of 2013 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 last year [2012].''

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