Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has labelled Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan's criticism of mining magnates as "extraordinarily inept" and "totally against the national interest".
In his keynote address to the Urban Development Institute of Australia national congress in Perth, Mr Kennett said singling out successful people because they "dare to differ" on policy was "a knee in the groin" to all busi- ness people striving to succeed.
Mr Swan's essay in The Monthly magazine has been widely panned after he claimed Australia's democracy was threatened by mining entrepreneurs such as Andrew Forrest, Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer opposing good public policy.
"The extraordinarily inept, stupid, puerile comments of our Federal Treasurer when slamming three of our successful Australians to me just beggar's belief," Mr Kennett said.
Mr Kennett said allowing the comments to gain "any currency at all" put at risk Australia's entrepreneurial spirit.
"There is a stream of thought emanating out of Canberra at the moment that wants to put us all down and I think we've all got to understand just how serious that is," he said.
However, Mr Swan dismissed the Mr Kennett's comments.
"The way Jeff Kennett, Tony Abbott and other conservatives have rushed out to defend the vested interests proves the point of my essay - I don't remember ever seeing them defending more super for Australian workers or tax breaks for small business," he said.
"Labor is the only party that will continue the fight to ensure more Australians enjoy the opportunities of the Asian Century and not just a fortunate few."
Mr Kennett's attack came after Premier Colin Barnett said it was Mr Swan's "bungling", not vested interests, that caused the demise of the original mining tax.