One of the great things about shameless use of rhetoric and ridicule is that it inspires backbenchers to bay for more. One of the less great things is that it can come back to haunt you.
A fine example was the reaction of Coalition MPs to Joe Hockey’s effort ridiculing Wayne Swan over winning Euromoney’s Finance Minister of the Year Award.
Hockey, amidst much Coalition merriment, ridiculed the award pointing out that it had gone to dreadful nonentities from basket cases such as the Pakistan and Nigerian finance ministers. The Pakistani, Shaukat Aziz, was the recipient of glowing praise from John Howard in 2005. The Nigerian, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was subsequently recruited by the World Bank. Some of the media, who did more research on the Hockey claims than Hockey’s office did, pointed out what a goose he had made of himself.
Well a goose internationally but it probably did him little harm in Australia or his own party — the initial headlines were what mattered — and most of these things get forgotten in a day or two.
But with the Coalition confident of winning the next election they might now have to think about how some of their Treasurer’s first overseas meetings with other finance ministers and finance institution’ staff might go.
The thought came to mind when late last week President Obama nominated Jim Yong Kim as the US candidate for the next World Bank head. The odds are he will get the nod as the US nominee does. But there are two other candidates — Jose Antonio Ocampo from Columbia and — you guessed it – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Okonjo-Iweala is in her second term as Nigeria’s finance minister after being the World Bank’s managing director.
Wayne Swan has already said the Australian government won’t necessarily support a US nominee (this was before the nominee was known) and saw some justice in considering a non-US candidate. While the US and Europe have the votes to decide who gets the job, no doubt Wayne Swan is already thinking about how we could mount a campaign to support a woman as World Bank head and one with a distinguished career. He could even invite Hockey to endorse the government position.
With conservatives these days never apologising, and rarely retracting anything, preferring to just call on everyone to “move on”, endorsement is unlikely. But a first meeting between a Coalition treasurer, Joe Hockey, and a newly-appointed Nigerian World Bank head would be fascinating indeed.
However, it might be a prompt for another letter to the editor from former finance minister Nick Minchin (who has joined Vic Carroll in sometimes making the The Australian Financial Review letters pages the most interesting and provocative part of the paper) laden with statesman-like thoughts such as those he expressed on topics from the Future Fund to Huawei and the NBN.