Joe Hockey has been in a funk since the leadership spill and needs to snap out it for his party's sake.
The contrast, as Kevin Rudd invariably says, was stark. Joe Hockey sat slumped on the seat nearby, gazing up at the Reps chamber ceiling, while Malcolm Turnbull explained why he would be voting for the Government’s CPRS bills.
The body language, surely, was deceiving. Turnbull might have appeared forthright, aggressive even, as he expertly articulated the case for the CPRS far, far better than anyone from the Government ever had – particularly when, in three short sentences about how each recent decade had been hotter than the previous one, he demolished the myth of global cooling promoted by the likes of Tony Abbott.
But Turnbull was alone, reading -- if the Press Gallery commentary is correct -- the last rites over a political career wrecked on a point of principle, offering only a glimpse of what might have been had he ever mastered his many faults and coupled his undoubted brilliance with a more consultative and reflective style.
But Hockey remains Shadow Treasurer, a key part of the Coalition economics team, under a leader polling better than Turnbull ever did, perhaps a mere 2-3% away from achieving his career goal of Treasurer.
So, Joe, why the long face?
It might possibly be that Hockey was envious that he could never give a speech as good as that, for Turnbull's speech was, instantly, a classic of Australian politics. So what if it was delivered to a near-empty chamber? Its content was scintillating.
Australian politicians don't do soaring rhetoric or great oratory and there was none of that in Turnbull's speech, but there was an intellectual rigour and cold, hard refusal to countenance bullshit that is sadly lacking in modern politics (and, in truth, much of Turnbull's own period as leader).
No politician, from any party, has ever nailed the case for action on climate change so succinctly, and no politician -- and certainly not Kevin Rudd -- has ever come close to explaining so clearly why a market-based mechanism is preferable. And in his comprehensive demolition of the Abbott plan -- all delivered without mentioning Abbott or the details of the plan, or anything that could be construed as personal criticism -- Turnbull has not merely provided the Government with perfect soundbites, but with perfect talking points for its own use.
In fact, it did Hockey great credit that he showed up for the speech when it might have been easier to stay away and try to ignore what was happening. Only he, Russell Broadbent and Petro Georgiou were there for all of it. But Hockey has been in a funk since the leadership spill and what was commonly agreed to be his poor handling of it.
True, he has been keeping up his Parliamentary workrate in Question Time – bellowing incredulously at every utterance from Wayne Swan, laughing operatically at Kevin Rudd, shaking his head in outrage at Harry Jenkins’s bizarre rulings. And there’s recently been a new addition to Hockey’s family, meaning he could be forgiven for paying more attention to the domestic front than usual. But Barnaby Joyce has had a far higher profile on economic issues – disastrously, from the Coalition point of view.
Have a look at the Liberal website
where shadow ministers dutifully stick up press releases and transcripts – Hockey is nearly absent. He dutifully followed Abbott round a Canberra supermarket last week, holding watermelons forlornly, as if unable to quite believe that “retail politics” literally meant “retail politics.” Especially as part of a scare campaign on a policy he had strongly supported until December:
And sure, it doesn’t help that he found time to play dress-ups on television in the weekend, though if a politician can’t mock himself and show a lighter side occasionally, it’s a pretty sad world we condemn our elected representatives to: