Unlike his fellow Jesuit old boy Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey doesn’t get his mystic moments scrutinised in much detail. Which is a pity, really, because the evidence suggests that Joe, like God himself, moves in a mysterious way.

Take the smartcard. Here’s what the Sydney Morning Herald had to say on June 13 this year:

Joe Hockey’s relationship with the smartcard was love at first sight: a holiday romance in the world’s most romantic city.

Mr Hockey, the Federal Human Services Minister, told Next he was in Paris last October for the CARTES conference – the smartcard industry’s biggest annual show.

Outside the Villepinte exhibition centre the leaves were starting to fall and the air had a touch of autumn chill. But he was filled with a warm glow as he strolled through the expo.

“There were hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors,” Mr Hockey says. “Just walking down the aisles convinced me that this was a no-brainer. These smartcards are used in so many places and have so many applications and yet we’re (in Australia) still carrying around cards with magnetic strips.”

The yarn goes on to say:

Like many romantic stories, this one might not stand up to scrutiny. The CARTES conference was in November, not October. And consultants KPMG say they were asked to prepare a business case for a health and social services smartcard In October.

In any case, Mr Hockey was in the mood for love. “When I got this job 18 months ago I recognised early that it was not sustainable to have this system that provided $90 billion worth of concessions based on cardboard and plastic cards.”

Love makes all but the hardest-hearted embarrass themselves. Joe’s a decent enough guy, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. But it’s worth having a closer look at his comments last week on tackling skills shortages:

Dole bludgers have to “get off their backsides” or jobs will go to foreign workers, Federal Minister Joe Hockey said yesterday.

The Human Services Minister’s comments were prompted by a lightening tour of country NSW towns last week where he found companies desperate for thousands of workers…

Mr Hockey said the days of dole bludging were over, with the Government planning to further toughen its stance on getting welfare recipients back to work.

Under the overhauled Newstart program, people on the dole will be required to visit Centrelink offices every fortnight for a four- minute interview to explain their required ten job interviews…

Jesus himself retreated to the desert. 40 days and 40 nights, readers will recall. But all Joe did was a “lightening tour”, so surely he was around to read Patricia Karvelas’ piece in The Australian of September 21:

Almost all unemployed people could soon be forced to visit Centrelink offices for a four-minute interview every fortnight to ensure they keep getting the dole.

Currently, 60 per cent of people on Newstart, the dole, have to report fortnightly to Centrelink to hand in their forms. But they are not required to attend meetings with Centrelink staff.

Many others, including mature-age people, people with caring responsibilities and those in rural and remote areas are expected to report only every 12 weeks.

But according to rules being proposed by the Department of Workplace Relations, there will be a shift towards fortnightly reporting for about 90 per cent of recipients by July next year…

So you’ve got to ask: Are Joe Hockey’s mystic moments all they’re cracked up to be?

Peter Fray

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