I know a lot of people who aren’t Joe Hockey fans or who just hate politicians wasting our money, who aren’t happy that Joe is leaving and bringing on a by-election.
Joe Hockey was a great bloke and a great politician but like Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Tony Abbott, he showed to do well in the leadership roles of Prime Minister or Treasurer means you have to be someone special.
You might not have liked or loved them but Messrs. Hawke, Keating, Howard and Costello were outstanding politicians and very good leaders.
I’ve known Joe since his then Department of Small Business asked my company to tender for a national conference for small business owners in the early 1990s.
He was the Small Business Minister and everyone liked him. He showed up to nearly every venue, talked to the aspirational entrepreneurs who showed up and gave them encouragement by just being there.
John Howard earlier at a young age was Finance Minister and I remember doing a speech to insurance brokers who were pretty hostile towards Joe because he wanted to change things to make life better for their customers at their expense. He copped a hostile reaction that day but I thought he was gutsy and pretty well fighting for the right cause.
The country got to ‘love’ him as a sparring partner for the temporarily popular Kevin Rudd, before the latter became our Kevin 07 PM.
Joe always wanted to be PM and went close to toppling Malcolm Turnbull in 2009 but Tony Abbott came through and the rest became history.
The Treasurer’s job lowered the boom on Joe and his Waterloo was his first Budget. Until then, even Dr. John Hewson, who can be a hard man to impress, told me on my TV show that Joe was “best on field!” That was pre-May 2014 but that Budget, which was designed to put deficit and debt destruction ahead of good politics and even good economics, brought Joe and probably Tony Abbott undone.
Good politics says you go for a hard Budget to sort out the country’s finances and then hope you can win people over with your second and third Budgets to ultimately win another election.
That’s the conventional political playbook but the Senate and the toughness of some of the proposed changes stymied the Budget’s passage to law and the press gave it to the Government, especially the ABC and Fairfax.
Who will ever forget the first post-Budget question to Joe Hockey from the 7:30 Report’s Sarah Ferguson? In case you have, it went like this: “Is it liberating for a politician to decide election promises don’t matter?’’
I remember thinking Joe copped that too graciously and it made me think what Paul Keating might have said to such a rude question? He would have given it to her and blamed Labor for being economic nincompoops but Joe was too much of a good bloke to do what he should have done.
Being the country’s Treasurer is a tough gig.
At the time, I criticised the Budget, not so much for the politically crazy policy options they went for, which the feral Senate would never pass but because, as an economist, I thought the economy was slowing too quickly and a tough Budget was not economically wise. It was after the RBA had interest rates too high and I was telling them that and I copped a bit of flak over that myself.
I was proved right on both too high rates and the bad timing of a tough Budget but a lot of right wing business leaders and commentators, who know only a little economics, thought the Government had got it right.
Oh well, economics is hard, like politics, and when you put them together successfully, you create legendary PMs and Treasurers, though even Paul Keating got interest rates wrong before his “recession we had to have!”
My memory of Joe will always be of a great bloke and a great politician but he has shown us all that it is another step up from a great politician and even Minister to being a brilliant Treasurer. Abbott, Rudd and Gillard have shown the same applies to being PM — it’s for very special people.
That said, for anyone who wants to play critic with Joe and his contribution to Australia after 19 years in federal politics, let me share with you what the great US President Theodore Roosevelt once said of someone like Joe: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I know my life has been enriched by knowing someone like Joe Hockey and he will be sadly missed.
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