It’s a tricky thing, this Finance Minister of the Year gong, for the opposition. Do they take their lead from John Howard, who congratulated Paul Keating on getting the same gong in 1984? Admittedly that was when relations between Howard, Keating and Hawke were curiously benign and as yet unsullied by Wilson Tuckey’s “Christine” jibes and Keating’s promise to make Howard wear his leadership like a crown of thorns.

Well of course not. Joe Hockey rose after question time yesterday to attack Swan, suggesting that the award was undeserved and that, to the extent that it may have been deserved, it should have gone to Peter Costello.

That in itself is an interesting observation, by the way. It’s not much more than a week since Hockey said something very interesting about Costello during the parliamentary budget office debate.

“PEFO, the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, is the only document produced by the Treasury that has the Treasury’s economic forecast and the Treasury’s economic numbers. All of the other documents that the PBO will use are in fact the Treasurer’s numbers. I have been there; I know what they do. They are the Treasurer’s numbers, and when they are doing the so-called confidential analysis of policies before the issuing of the writs it will be based solely on the economic forecasts of the Treasurer. I know that in the past Treasurers have played with the economic growth figures in order to inflate income … I could tell you. Paul Keating boasted about it, mate. In fact, there were numerous occasions on which Paul Keating, as Treasurer … Keep pushing me! As Treasurer, Paul Keating admitted that he changed economic numbers from those provided by the Treasury.

The “pusher” in that comment was Simon Crean, who was heckling Hockey at the time. But Hockey’s choice of words was quite clear — he referred to treasurers, and that he had been there. So, given Hockey’s service as Minister for Financial Services under Costello in the second term of the Howard government, there’s only one conclusion, that he was suggesting Peter Costello was guilty of “playing with the economic growth figures in order to inflate income.” We asked Costello what he thought of that claim but, sadly, the boutique investment banker didn’t respond.

Hockey also strangely complained about the lack of “ringing third party endorsements” about the award, which appears to assume that Euromoney, which handed it out, is some Labor-affiliated entity. Hockey read out a list of the nationalities of previous recipients, and appeared particularly unimpressed about some of them “Slovakian ministers, a Serbian, a Nigerian and a Bulgarian. In 2001 there was a Pakistani finance minister. That is quite an extraordinary one, that one.” What’s extraordinary about Shaukat Aziz — later Prime Minister — getting an award went unexplained, particularly as Aziz was lauded for a consolidation of Pakistan’s previously shambolic public finances, something the IMF singled him out for praise over. Perhaps, you know — Pakistan is inherently funny? As for “a Nigerian”, well, that was only Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who became managing director of the World Bank for four years between stints as Nigerian Finance Minister and Foreign Minister. Still, Nigerians, eh? Hockey strangely omitted last year’s recipient. Nothing extraordinary about that one. Last year Jim Flaherty, Finance Minister in Stephen Harper’s right-wing  Canadian government, won the gong. Perhaps it wouldn’t do to mock a conservative colleague.

Hockey then quoted Paul Keating’s reported reaction, before curiously following it with

“I have censored this, because I note down the bottom it says: Copying and distributing are prohibited without the permission of the publisher. If you wish to distribute this content please contact Christopher Hunt ([email protected]). If anyone wants that information, that is where you can go and get the approval to use Paul Keating’s own words in relation to that matter: Mr Hunt at euromoney.com.”

Juvenile, Joe. He feigned outrage when Anthony Albanese upbraided him for it, but I haven’t heard too many other copyright notes from parliamentarians of late when quoting media articles.

What he could have done was indeed congratulated Swan on the award, but then used it as the basis for a comparison with Paul Keating, who had his best years as economic manager ahead of him when Euromoney singled him out, and contrasted the comparative records of economic reform under Swan and the Hawke-Keating governments. That would have looked gracious, but made an effective point about the lack of big reform since 2007. He might have even slipped in the point that Keating knew how to get stuck into the big banks, something Swan has been decidedly unwilling to do. There would have been much fun to be had in reeling off the Hawke government’s list of reforms and comparing them to what’s been done so far under Rudd and Gillard.

Better yet, Hockey could have made the point that Swan’s lack of effective communication is a key reason why Labor has struggled to own a strong economic record. But one assumes Joe likes that situation just fine as it is, thank you very much.

Peter Fray

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