The irony is delicious. And so, hopes Joe Hockey, is the lunch.
The Treasurer has well and truly hit the hustings, trying to sell a budget that has set records for its level of unpopularity.
Last night, Hockey flew solo on ABC’s Q&A program, subjecting himself to a ‘grilling’ from an audience that submits its questions long in advance, and which are then vetted by producers.
Q&A might be able to control the format, but they can’t always control the crowd, as student protestors proved a fortnight ago when they forced the show off-air briefly after unfurling a banner and chanting “No cuts, no fees, no corporate universities”.
Last night also started to go south pretty quickly, with Hockey heckled from the outset. It took host Tony Jones to step in and describe Hockey as courageous for appearing on the program, before the audience calmed down.
The timing is awkward for Hockey, and for Q&A, because tomorrow, Hockey is the keynote speaker at an Australian Council of Social Services luncheon in Sydney, at Parliament House.
But his appearance is on the basis that he not only gets a free lunch, but a free kick as well — organisers have been told Hockey will only appear if no questions are permitted from attendees.
Both ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie and Treasurer Joe Hockey were unavailable for comment at the time of press.
Hockey’s spinners clearly think a room full of social workers is a much tougher gig than a Q&A audience.
And they’d be right. There’s quite a difference between a stage-managed television program with a random sampling of ‘punters from the street’, and a free-wheeling semi-public forum filled with people with intimate knowledge of the social service industry that is in the sights of the Abbott Government’s savage budget cuts.
That irony wasn’t lost on Brigitte Garozzo from the NSW Education Action Network, one of the activists who smuggled in a banner at the recent Q&A protest.
“I think there should be a place for specialists in their field to direct questions towards a politician, especially the Treasurer, and especially after a budget that affects their particular area.
“It doesn't really make any sense to me why ACOSS would agree to that. They would obviously be outraged by changes to Newstart and other social services.
“If they were an independent body, surely they would have questions for Hockey? Surely they would want to properly represent the voices of the public?
“He should be answering questions and engaging in a meaningful dialogue. Why provide lunch for someone to come on and not answer questions?”
Garozzo said there was a world of difference between a made-for-television event and a public forum.
“On Q&A, you can submit questions beforehand. While I don’t know whether Joe Hockey gets to find out the questions beforehand, the producers and directors pick the questions they want asked.
“It’s quite stage managed. It’s very different to a community forum where members of the public can ask random questions.”
Garozzo also rejected the statements by ABC host Tony Jones that Mr Hockey showed “courage” by appearing on Q&A. “It’s the job of every elected representative to answer questions of the public,” she said.
“There’s nothing courageous about it — he’s been elected to do it, he’s being paid to do it and I don't think should be glorified for doing it, when it’s expected of him.”
UPDATE: A spokesperson for the Treasurer contacted New Matilda this afternoon, and denied the Treasurer would avoid questions at the ACOSS function.
The spokesperson said: "The Treasurer has done a number of public addresses about the budget, including an hour long Q&A last night, and a press conference last night. There was no restriction on who attended.
“He’s doing two more speeches through the week, and he looks forward to discussions with ACOSS.
“The Treasurer will answer their questions and continue to engage publicly about the reasons the budget was necessary to build sustainability."
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