The West

Wayne Swan is to launch a fresh attack on the nation's richest people, warning the fundamental pillars of Australian democracy are becoming the "playthings" of mega-rich miners such as Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart.

In a speech tonight, Mr Swan plans to say that Mr Forrest, Mrs Rinehart and Queensland billionaire Clive Palmer are trying to drown out the legitimate views of ordinary Australians with their own self-interest.

And he will also warn that Australia risks an "economic disaster" if the focus of the rich and politicians is merely on making the nation wealthier rather than how that wealth was shared.

Mr Swan earlier this year targeted the three miners in an essay in The Monthly magazine, prompting Mr Palmer to launch - and then abort - a campaign to stand against the Treasurer in his Queensland electorate. Mr Forrest's company Fortescue Metals Group took out full-page newspaper advertisements to target the minister.

But in his John Button lecture to be delivered in Melbourne, Mr Swan will argue the reaction of the three highlighted the dangers that Australian democracy faced from rich and vested interests.

The critics of his essay ignored the way Mrs Rinehart, Mr Palmer and Mr Forrest were distorting the real issues facing Australia.

"So one tycoon is using his money to challenge the principle of fair taxation through electioneering," he intends to say.

"A second is using his money to challenge it through the courts. And a third is using money to challenge it by undermining independent journalism. Parliament, the Constitution, independent journalism: all three are fundamental pillars of our democracy, being used as their playthings, supported every step of the way by the Leader of the Opposition.

"In the face of all this we have to stand up and be heard, because when the massively wealthy buy the loudest megaphones, the voices of the people are drowned out."

Mr Swan's speech draws heavily on his deep interest in American rock legend Bruce Springsteen and his views on the US economy.

He will say that while the divide between American rich and poor has grown over the past 30 years, it has been stable in Australia.

Mr Swan will argue that while it is vital to grow an economy, how that economy is shared among its population is just as important.

"The worst thing we can do as economic managers is create a society in which there are just a few at the top and teeming millions at the bottom, with hardly anyone in-between," he will say.

Springsteen's views on the decline of parts of the US could become relevant to Australia unless there was an effort to fairly distribute the nation's wealth.

"If I could distil the relevance of Springsteen's music to Australia, it

The West Australian

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