Hockey: It's Just Not Cricket


"Shadow treasurer" — the very name gives some idea of the nature of the job. While the actual Treasurer gets to strut about the country like a tyrant of antiquity, hob-nobbing with elites and showering largesse upon his subjects with a kind and beatific smile upon his lips, the shadow treasurer must skulk in the darkness, hiding from the light and shunning decent society, emerging only occasionally, silent and deadly, to issue a press release condemning the government’s tax policy, before withdrawing, once again, to the murky netherworld that is their lot.

This is why it’s no surprise that shadow treasurers have such a high attrition rate — this ninja-like lifestyle simply keeps wearing them down. And thus it was equally unsurprising that Julie Bishop this week caved to the pressure and resigned, in yet another shameful reminder of how much Australia hates women. It’s a shame that we will no longer be hearing Bishop’s opinions and insights on economics — in today’s climate, a good chuckle is like gold — but I think we are all in for an exciting new era with her replacement, Joe "Raging Bull" Hockey.

In fact, the excitement has already started, as this Age editorial makes clear. Briefly, what happened is that Bishop resigned, and Hockey took over, but beforehand, Malcolm Turnbull may or may not have offered the job to Peter Costello, which Christopher Pyne thinks would have been perfectly natural, but which Tony Abbott thinks is ridiculous, but then Abbott may just be annoyed because Turnbull didn’t make him manager of opposition business, which was Hockey’s old job but has now been given to Pyne, leaving Abbott with family services even though he helped Turnbull become leader, which Turnbull might not be for much longer if it’s true that Costello turned down the shadow treasurer’s job because he plans to challenge for the leadership soon, even though he’s had the chance to do so before but didn’t, but speculation continues to swirl because Costello refuses to leave the backbenches.

Next week, George Brandis and Nick Minchin develop suspicions about Sophie Mirabella’s baby, and Wilson Tuckey makes a shock discovery about who really burned down Lasseter’s.

Of course, there is nothing really so strange about the possibility that Turnbull may have offered Costello the job before Hockey. As Hockey himself said, the Liberal party is like the Australian cricket team "where you have got Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath participating in cricket in India and not participating in the Test team – there is always a longing to have your best on the paddock". Just in case you were confused, in this case Peter Costello is Shane Warne, and John Howard is Glenn McGrath, meaning that Joe Hockey is Nathan Hauritz, Malcolm Turnbull is Ricky Ponting, and Julie Bishop is Lara Bingle. Tony Abbott is most likely Kim Hughes. Analogies, as always, make everything easier.

And by the same token, it is no surprise that Costello turned the job down, once he realised that it would interfere with his burgeoning career in film criticism. It is true, mind you, that commentators like Andrew Bolt think Costello is just biding his time before once more lunging for the spotlight, but then Andrew Bolt also thinks George Bush is Batman, illustrating the importance, in political analysis, of keeping in mind the thin line between prophecy and dementia.

But what is interesting is the likelihood that it was Turnbull himself who spread the idea that Costello had knocked back the offer of Bishop’s job. This points to the innate cunning and innovative political savvy of Turnbull. He recognises that the old ways of conducting politics have failed. The traditional methods of leading a party — presenting a united front and the impression of commitment behind the leader — have been identified by Turnbull as tired and out of date. Solidarity took John Howard to defeat and Brendan Nelson to despair, which is why Turnbull has come up with a clever "Third Way", a plan to dazzle the electorate by convincing them that he inspires feelings of hatred and laziness in his MPs. Will this bold new strategy work? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Nelson himself has also announced his impending retirement from politics, sparking loud calls of "I didn’t know he was still alive" from across the country. Thrilling days for the Libs indeed.

But no matter how exciting internal party machinations and petulant middle-aged men might be, politics isn’t all sexiness, and the really important issue is just how the Opposition will perform from here. How will Joe Hockey, now that he has admitted he is no Shane Warne, take the fight up to the dangerously charismatic Wayne Swan? He has started by accusing the Government of "spending money like a drunken sailor", which to be honest seems to be a little unfair. Why a drunken sailor? Why can’t it be spending money like a calm, sober sailor, with expensive tastes? In fact, Hockey may have opened up an opportunity for the Government there; the next election may see the campaign slogan "Rudd and Swan: What’s Wrong With Wanting Nice Things?" Ah, Joe. A rookie mistake.

And it’s important that he doesn’t make any more. It’s important that the Opposition be able to hold the Government to account. A strong opposition is crucial to a robust democracy, according to countless political pundits with nothing better to write about, and this is especially true in an era where prime ministers wield unprecedented power, riding roughshod over state governments, independent senators and foreign lap-dancers alike.

Can Joe Hockey do it? Can he make the post of shadow treasurer more than a filthy beggar on the streets of parliament? Can he bring the Opposition out of the dim recesses of the political back-alley and into the light? Can he be the Fozzie Bear to Turnbull’s Kermit that the party has been crying out for? Can his mixture of affability and abuse penetrate in a way that Julie Bishop’s combination of confusion and incompetence could not? Will Costello rise again? Will Turnbull realise he prefers massive salaries and a millionaire lifestyle to a politician’s pay and having to talk to Barnaby Joyce? Will Abbott ever stop whining like a little girl? The eternal questions never stop bobbing, dumpling-like, to the top of this great parliamentary stew.

Politics as usual. It’s good to have you back.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.