So we finally know why Joe Hockey got into politics.
Brisbane journalist Madonna King tells us, in Not Your Average Joe, her entitlement-and-all biography of Australia’s Treasurer.
Of the many snippets that have emerged in the wake of the book’s publication this week, the revelation about what spurred the future Liberal heavyweight to get into politics is perhaps the most revealing.
Was it the iron curtain of communism? The spectre of militant unions? The threat to free enterprise posed by government red tape? Did Hockey read Hayek, or Oakeshott, or Burke, and come to realise the innate value of conservative philosophies?
Err, no. The front desk staffer at his student union was rude to him.
Hockey was enquiring about a movie ticket at the University of Sydney’s Student Representative Council, King writes, “where the woman at the front counter had dismissed his query”.
“He thought she was rude. She probably thought he was an upstart, but Joe was furious. His fees were paying her salary and that meant she was in his service. ‘I would have liked her to be nice to me,’ Joe says, ‘so I thought I should give politics a go.’”
It says so much about Hockey, ultimately because it’s so trivial. As Laura Tingle observes today in the Australian Financial Review, the book’s “most devastating feature is the tone of self-congratulatory smugness that emerges from its subject and his colleagues”.
It’s a tone that many have detected from the Treasurer in his first year in office. From his bombastic but factually empty slogans about the “end of the age of entitlement” to the unfortunate symbolism of a post-budget cigar, Hockey has given every impression of reveling in the pain he’s inflicting on Australian voters.
That’s why the Coalition has been so dismayed at the book’s revelation that Hockey wasn’t satisfied with his macho assault on Australia’s welfare state, and wanted the austerity to cut much deeper.
The media jumped on this tidbit with alacrity, and Hockey has all but confirmed it in subsequent interviews.
Hockey is not exactly distancing himself from the new book. Not only did he cooperate with the biographer, he even turned up to the launch. Along with most of his extended family, it appears.
There’s nothing wrong with a successful Australian showing pride in his life achievements. Hockey’s rise from the son of an immigrant small businessman to the apex of Australian politics is something of which he and his family can rightly feel proud.
But you do have to ask yourself whether this is the best use of the Treasurer of Australia’s time.
This is the man who has just moved the retirement age to 70, and has been consistently telling us all that we’re either lifters or leaners.
Given the rhetoric, it was a surprise to see the man running the Treasury taking time out of his busy schedule yesterday to launch his own biography.
This is presumably why none of Hockey’s fellow ministers attended the launch.
In his notorious speech about “the end of the age of entitlement”, Hockey said “there needs to be clear thinking about which services should be provided by governments”.
I wonder if this clear thinking extended to the service of free advertising provided by the Treasurer of Australia to a commercial publisher for the launch of a book?
The symbolism aside, the politics of Hockey’s big biography is clearly troubling some of his Coalition colleagues.
At a time when the Coalition has finally secured some positive media coverage over the MH17 tragedy, Hockey has managed to drag the political debate back to the government’s most unpopular territory: the budget and its mean-spirited assault on Australia’s social democracy.
There is ill-concealed anger in the Coalition’s ranks at Hockey’s grandstanding. The feeling is that it comes at a time when he really needs to be keeping his head down.
It’s hard not to read the entire affair as a spin job aimed at polishing Hockey’s leadership credentials, should Tony Abbott become an electoral liability at some time in the future.
For that reason alone, the inclusion of a lukewarm endorsement from Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin has attracted considerable interest.
The Australian’s Peter van Onselen has a story today that quotes plenty of aggrieved backbenchers attacking Credlin for making the comment.
“So much for staffers being seen and not heard,” one said.
In opposition, the Coalition thrived by sitting back and exploiting Labor’s disunity. So the ALP must be enjoying the sudden outbreak of backgrounding.
Not that Labor can stop, of course. Former Labor minister Greg Combet is also launching a book this week, which reportedly contains damaging revelations about Julia Gillard’s desperate tactics as the end of her prime minstership approached.
At least Combet waited until he’d left politics. Coalition strategists must be wondering what possessed Hockey to let through an authorised biography while still in government – indeed, while still in the first year of his tenure as Treasurer.
The whole thing is looking like a spectacular miscalculation. In that respect, it mirrors many of the Coalition’s more serious misjudgments, such as its belief that backflipping on a series of election promises would somehow be forgiven by voters.
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