New Jersey officials hit back at Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan for his depiction of their state as a down-trodden place where workers get “thrown on the scrap heap of life.”
“Apparently, the electoral ‘silly season’ is not a uniquely American phenomenon,” Tom Kean, the top Republican in the state legislature, said in an e-mail. Swan gave a speech yesterday in Melbourne, calling Bruce Springsteen his hero and the state’s struggles the singer’s muse. Given that New Jersey outpaced Australia in job creation in recent months, “I’m not terribly certain why anyone here would care what Mr. Swan has to say,” he said.
Swan, in the prepared text of his speech, said that if he could distill the relevance of Springsteen’s music to the country, it would be: “don’t let Australia become a down-under version of New Jersey, where the people and the communities whose skills are no longer in demand get thrown on the scrap heap of life.”
Facing an election due late next year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s administration is trying to champion the cause of working-class voters, and Swan’s latest effort channels the American songwriter known for his blue-collar following. Quoting songs by Springsteen dating back to the 1970s, Swan, who is also deputy prime minister, cautioned against a widening of income inequality in his country, where a rising currency has hurt exporters.
“Give me a break,” Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said in an interview at the capitol in Trenton. “I’d like to know if he has any knowledge of New Jersey beyond what he’s heard in a Bruce Springsteen song.”
A spokesman for the deputy prime minister said in an e- mailed statement today that Swan was talking about the New Jersey that Springsteen describes in the 1970s and ’80s and not making any judgments on the state today, and people would be wrong to assume otherwise.
Christie is another fan of Springsteen. He had a blue-and- white Fender guitar signed by the singer hung on his office wall. Christie has found himself at odds with the singer known as The Boss, who criticized budget cuts for services to the poor last year.
Employers in Australia, with a population of 22.7 million, added a total of 800 jobs in May and June, compared with the 27,500 added in New Jersey, which is home to about 8.8 million people, according to official data in both places.
Even so, the state’s unemployment rate in June was 9.6 percent, the fourth highest in the country and above the national American average of 8.2 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Australia’s jobless rate in June was 5.2 percent.
Swan, 58, is trying to help Gillard build public support for taxes on mining profits and carbon emissions that came into force July 1. Her government trails the opposition Liberal- National coalition by 12 percentage points, a margin that if replicated at the election due in the second half of 2013 would lead to a landslide defeat.
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