DIVIDING society into the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' is a political technique that has been exploited by leaders for thousands of years.
The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has confirmed that the politics of envy are alive and well under Labor in his essay for The Monthly, titled ''The 0.01 per cent: the rising influence of vested interests in Australia''.
He singles out billionaires such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer as examples of ''a handful of vested interests that have pocketed a disproportionate share of the nation's economic success [and] now feel they have a right to shape Australia's future to satisfy their own self-interest''.
''This poison has infected our politics and is seeping into our economy,'' he writes. ''Though these vested interests have not yet prevailed, every day their demands get louder.''
In Australia, the battle for class division became redundant in the early '90s. Australia runs as a meritocracy. We earn rewards based on merit and effort. We do not see ourselves as an inherently class-based society, but as a society characterised by our willingness to have a go, take a risk, and do our best.
These values were emboldened under the stewardship of the Coalition government between 1996 and 2007, when we undertook significant economic reforms to provide hope, opportunity and reward to all Australians.
The Coalition inherited an economy back in the '90s that hindered opportunity, with an aggressive personal taxation regime, high unemployment, higher interest rates and lagging productivity.
An economy that impedes individual ambition - whether through higher taxation, the lack of opportunity in employment, or restricted social mobility - is one that enforces the barriers of class.
Australians have seen the fruits of decades of economic reforms, with higher wages, higher productivity, greater home ownership and extended life expectancy. No longer do they see their circumstances of birth as an impediment to their ambitions.
But since coming to power in 2007, Labor has misjudged the ambition of the Australian people. Labor pretended to harbour the same economic values as the Coalition, and through portraying themselves as fiscal conservatives gave Australians the impression that prosperity and opportunity would continue.
Come July 1, Australians will have been slugged with 20 new or increased taxes since Labor came to power. Contrast this to significant tax cuts provided to families and businesses under the Howard government.
In 2011, there was no net job growth for the first time in 20 years. Productivity has stalled. Business and investment confidence has declined.
Governments should ensure that the actions they take leave Australians better off in terms of opportunity. Australians must not be held hostage to class divides. The role of government must be to help people to the starting line, while accepting that some will then run faster than others.
As a Liberal, I believe our success as a society is determined by the way we create the conditions for all Australians to excel and prosper, by allowing them to achieve their own ambitions - whatever they may be.
Wayne Swan appears to think that it is the role of government to run the race for people, while at the same time accusing our gold-medal winners of cheating.
But the government shouldn't be in the business of restricting the ambitions of any individual, and certainly not in the business of attacking Australians because of their success.
All Australians should know that they grow up in a country where it is possible, through hard work and diligence, to achieve their dreams.
The Americans call this the American Dream, but it is similarly played out across the globe, including in emerging economies in Asia.
As the child of a father who came to Australia in 1948 as a refugee from Palestine and built himself into a successful businessman, I know that being successful in Australia is not the product of belonging to rich and prosperous families, but the result of hard work and diligence.
Some of the highly successful people Swan set out to attack in his essay came from modest circumstances.
Even in America, the country Swan continually criticises in his essay, 80 per cent of millionaires are the first generation in their family to be millionaires.
Prosperity is not something to be attacked, but encouraged.
Joe Hockey is the shadow treasurer.