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The Power Index: is Joe Hockey up to the job?

Joe Hockey looks set to have the toughest job in Australian politics come September next year. That’s when, if current polls bear out over the next 18 months, he’ll become treasurer.

It will be the moment of truth for a man whose stint as shadow treasurer — from February 2009, when he replaced the accident-prone Julie Bishop — has been marked by struggles over fiscal credibility and ongoing battles with the economic irrationalist wing of the Coalition: the Nationals and economic interventionists.

With an easygoing demeanour and a Beazleyesque girth, Hockey’s long battled perceptions that he’s too nice for the hard stuff of politics. Many in the business community regard him as a lightweight — “buffoon” is one of the harsher terms thrown around.

What Hockey definitely has is, for a politician, the dangerous quality of an open mind. Too open, say his critics — he’s the man who famously damaged his leadership prospects by asking his Twitter followers what they thought about climate action. Senior politicians are supposed to be men and women of conviction, certain in their beliefs and hellbent on implementing their agenda.

But his banking reform campaign in 2010 reflected a willingness to consider different approaches to important economic ideas. It wasn’t standard Liberal philosophy — he incurred the wrath of the banks and particularly ANZ’s Asia-obsessed Mike Smith (who childishly compared Hockey to Hugo Chavez) for calling them out on their determination to become systemically-riskier growth stocks. But he had the backing of some of Australia’s most-respected economists and was able to stir Wayne Swan — who found himself portrayed as the bank’s loyal defender — into creating a (half-baked) banking reform package.

Hockey is anything but the Liberal from Central Casting. There’s the Armenian/Palestinian background, for starters. He did have a traditional moneyed Sydney Catholic education at Aloysius College and St John’s at Sydney University, as well as a stint in student politics — Hockey was SRC president at Sydney in 1987 (and was accused of failing to aggressively lead student demonstrations for fear of endangering his solicitors’ and barristers’ admission board enrolment).

But his time as a student politician was defiantly non-partisan. It was only later he declared an ideological epiphany and joined the Liberals, working as a senior adviser for John Fahey and gaining preselection for North Sydney. At that stage the preselection looked worthless — the seat was held by local legend and independent Ted Mack, who could have stayed there for the rest of his life. But Mack decided to bail out before he earned (another) parliamentary pension, and Hockey entered parliament in 1996.

While Hockey’s progress was rapid, there remained questions over how much policy substance he could muster. He stumbled selling the GST in 2000 as assistant treasurer, and spent two years in the low-profile Human Services portfolio (where the ID card issue burnt him), but was then promoted by John Howard to Workplace Relations in a desperate, futile effort to soften WorkChoices before it destroyed the government.

In recent months, his biggest fight has been against protectionists within his own party who wanted the opposition to reverse its commitment to reducing automotive manufacturing subsidies. It was the first substantial fightback against the populist, big-spending policies that have characterised the Liberals under Tony Abbott, and it was successful. It suggested Hockey — who was last year humiliated over a proposal that one of Australia’s premier tax rorts, family trusts, be targeted by tax authorities — was starting to gain traction within his party on a more economically orthodox platform.

Business and economists will be hoping Hockey continues to strengthen into the party’s economic disciplinarian who’ll keep a big-government leader and the Nationals under control.

*To comment and for more visit The Power Index

18
  • 1
    Jimmy
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Hockey clearly ins’t up to it, the coalitions economic policy is confused and will probably lead the country into recession and whenever he is asked about it he seems to channel Sir joh and respond “now don’t you worry about that then”

  • 2
    SBH
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Bernard, If you’d ever dealt with public servants who had Hockey as a minister or had dealings with him in any government or shadow portfolio you’d know he built a rock solid reputation as being even more hopeless that Alexander Downer. As shadow treasurer, his tenure has been marked by bumbling populist nonsense.

    The thought of him as treasurer and Abbott as PM fills one with horror.

  • 3
    Holden Back
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Just keep writing this article, over and over, until some mainstream hacks pick it up, (‘Ooh look, free articles!’), and things could change significantly between now and August.

  • 4
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Up to the job? Seriously? Following in the footsteps of giants like Billy McMahon, Phil Lynch and the blessed martyr John Howard? Course he is. How hard can it be? You just get the Melbourne Club on speed dial and do whatever Gina, Clive and the banks tell you. Like falling off a log.

  • 5
    CHRISTOPHER DUNNE
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    (Warning: contains severe sarcasm and traces of nuts)

    Sloppy Joe would have to be better than that Nigerian woman, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who he slagged so nicely recently, wouldn’t he?

    You know, the one who wasn’t America’s choice for President of the World Bank. Maybe Joe could shoot for that job after he’s ‘fixed’ the Australian economy.

    Anyone want to lay bets on Hockey’s chances?

  • 6
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    There seems to be an underlying acceptance in a number of articles in Crikey over the past few days that presumes an Abbott victory at the next election. Considering we are only half way through the current electoral cycle I believe that presumption borders on arrogance and treats your audience as “buffoons”.
    Regardless of the constant and often published voting polls it is presumptious to project these on to the voters intentions at a poll that isn’t due for anotrher 18 months.
    So the question is “if” rather than “looking set” that seems to me a more rational lead to the story.
    Hockey and many of his cohorts on the opposition benches have yet to prove themselves to have any policy substance that might entitle them to have the majority of the voters support.
    The polls over a longer period than journalists care to look indicate a volatility in the electorate that could manifest itself in any direction over the coming 18 months in the federal sphere.
    I for one still have faith in the intelligence of most our voters.

  • 7
    eric
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Piggy Hockey is one of the dumbest shadow treasurers in living memory and dont get me started on the rest of the idiots on Abbotts front bench

    God help us if that motley crew get elected.

  • 8
    SBH
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    And just to show he’s been listening, this just in from Uncle Joe

    We need to be vigilant. We need to compare ourselves with our Asian neighbours, where the entitlements programs of the state are far less than they are in Australia.”

    That’s what we need in the best performing economy in the world - a third world welfare system!

  • 9
    Woody
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Yep, it’s “Welfare To Workcover” all over again….

  • 10
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    SBH - I saw the start of that interview on lateline last night and turned it off before I threw something at the TV. The idea that we will get ahead by removing safety nets and cutting back on age pesnsions until we can compete with our asian neighbours is so backwards it is unbelievable.

    Should we just get all the unemployed to meet on street corner waiting for someone in a pickup truck to drive by and pick out who they want to work for them for the day?

  • 11
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    That’s right Jimmy just hang around on street corners waiting for someone to give you a hand! Typical Aussie spoon-fed bludger mentality!

    Get yourself up off your bum and you and the kids off to the tip and scavenge like any half-decent, hard working, half starved family in Manila or Jakarta…. Work Choices - you wish.

    By the way - Joe Benedict Hockey … his dad was a BIG fan of Ben Chifley apparently. I’ll bet Joe didn’t put that on his application for preselection.

  • 12
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Sorry Pete you are abolutely right, why there are plant of recyclables thrown away every day, plus meals would be included you only have to find where the restaurant garbage is dumped.

  • 13
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Precisely Jimmy … that’s the sort of thinking that will make this a land of freedom and opportunity once again.

  • 14
    SBH
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Jimmy, its that kind of thinking that will make this country great again - or give us 10% unemployment and a minimum wage of six bucks (and that’s only US dollars mind) an hour

    By the way not to tempt fate or anything but where is our very own Greek chorus?

  • 15
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    J B Hockey’s overnight London pronouncements fail to acknowledge two basic things.
    Firstly the friedmannomic principles he wshes to apply have proven over the last forty years to be a failure in the following national experiments;
    Argentina
    Chile
    Russian Oligarchic Democracy
    Iraqian fundamentalist chaos
    Britain and now in the Western World financial system.
    The application of the fundamentalist economics of Friedman and Hayek have only served in each one of the above applicational experiments to increase the percentage poor and transfer massive amounts of the nations wealth to a few. They have proven to be failures with monumental consequences to the harmony of societies where they have been applied.
    Hockey also forgets to mention that entrenched in this economic approach is the sale of the communities assets and necessary services to the private sector while at the same time he ignores the corporate welfare that the conservatives have established in our tax structures.
    One can only come to the conclusion that the man has a bird brain if he accepts and wants to apply this disproven nonsense.

  • 16
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I am starting to think Abbott and Hockey and stuck in 1930 where they could go to London and make speeches and no one in Australia would hear about them. Last year Abbott went over and told everyone how fantastic the economy is and now hockey.

    I actually just read the interview from last night, scary stuff. Once again the oppostion can not give any specifics on the policy but when Hong Kong is held up as an example where the tax rates are low but there are no safety nets we should all be worried.

    other points of interested, Hockey say everything should be means tested, but the private health rebate is different, govt welfare needs to be cut back, but the coalitions paid parental scheme is different, the baby bonus - that’s different.

    Sounds a little like all the other coalition policies, just vote us in and well give you the detail later.

  • 17
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Jimmy;
    No; He has caught the thatcherite desease while he is London. You want to have a look at Naomi Klien’s lecture available on the ‘Information Clearing House News’ site.

  • 18
    Jimmy
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Those interested hsould have a look at a story on the world today site abut this topic.

    It sites that Singapore has complusory savings of 35% and that Scandanavian countries tax higher, have higher welfare but still have very strong economies.

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