22 February 2024
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Hockey bags over-entitled politicians as a cancer

Peter Switzer
25 October 2023

In old-fashioned footie circles, there was a ‘law’ of sport that often was declared by coaches, especially before taking the field, and it was: “No guts, no glory!” Well, former Coalition Treasurer Joe Hockey has told a London audience that modern day politicians were entitled populists, who were a cancer in the community.

The SMH’s Latika Bourke attended Joe’s talk at the London Institute for Economic Affairs, which happened to be where he did his first rant against the overpampered in Australia and the world. Hockey was the Opposition’s spokesperson on Treasury matters and it gave a sneak preview of what he was set to do as Treasurer in the Abbott Government.

Under his “no guts no glory” era as Treasurer he copped a lot of media, Labor and even collegial backlash after he had the guts to:

  1. Refuse financial assistance to Holden in SA.
  2. Refuse a bailout for SPC Ardmona in Victoria.
  3. Deny Barnaby Joyce’s plea to help farmers.
  4. Try for a higher fuel excise tax claiming “the poorest people either don't have cars, or actually don't drive very far”.
  5. He backed the scrapping of the price on carbon.
  6. He cut public service jobs.
  7. His 2014 Budget wasn’t a populist effort and was labelled an “austere Budget.”

This 2014 Budget copped a lot of criticism, but Wikipedia reminds us that, “The Guardian writes that criticism of the budget as “unfair” … [and it] harmed Hockey's public image.

The irony is that Joe had guts but didn’t get the glory. It’s why Malcolm Turnbull talked about the need for a GST until he became Prime Minister. And it’s why few politicians will have the guts to do what Bill Shorten did, and that’s being honest about wanting to take away franking credits and negative gearing before going to the poll.

Of course, Bill could have had better policies to be honest about, but when a politician has guts, the media will seize upon what they propose to do, and vested interest groups will then pile in. As Bob Dylan sang in Hurricane: “And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.”

This is what Hockey said in London: “Today I am warning our legislators and leaders that it is their entitlement that is the problem. The entitlement to hold on to power. The entitlement to be popular no matter what the cost.” He says it’s not just an Australian problem but a Western democracy challenge, pointing to the US where it’s ““strangling itself with debt”.

Giving voters what they want in an age of entitlement is at the core of our political problems, he argues.  “That sense of entitlement, that you can give people everything they want, is a cancer in our community,” he said. “We will all pay a price.”

I recall when Joe was one of the youngest ministers ever as Minister for Financial Services. When I was giving an economics speech at a national convention of insurance brokers, Joe had put forward changes they didn’t like. They boo-ed him off the stage. When I took the stage following this, I was very well-received when I kicked off with a joke about politicians! I owe you, Joe. In many ways, the lessons he preaches shouldn’t be ignored.

But the critical point has to be that when a politician has guts, they must also have a damn good policy that can be well-explained to voters. John Howard and Peter Costello did it with the GST, and so did Bob Hawke and Paul Keating with many of the deregulation reforms of the 1980s.

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