Will Hockey be the Government’s fall guy?

By Leith van Onselen

Fairfax is running an article today claiming that Prime Minister Tony Abbott is being urged to dump Joe Hockey as Treasurer before calling an early election in March 2016, with Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, tipped as Hockey’s replacement:

Fairfax Media has been told by two cabinet ministers that talks over axing Mr Hockey have been held, with a move to sacrifice the Treasurer designed to shore up Mr Abbott’s own leadership and quell a potential backlash after the September 19 [Canning by-election] poll…

The Liberal Party holds the seat of Canning with a margin of 11.8 per cent, but recent polling in the seat shows it is now on a knife edge, with swings to Labor of as much as 10 per cent forecast.

One cabinet minister familiar with the talks said a swing against the Coalition of more than six per cent – which would still see the Liberal Party’s candidate Andrew Hastie win the seat -€“ would be bad news for the prime minister and more than 10 per cent would be “dire”.

“They are considering dumping Hockey post-Canning and believe that will get them to Christmas,” the minister said, with any move dependent on the result.

A second cabinet minister said Mr Abbott was under “œenormous pressure” and it was possible Mr Hockey would be “thrown to the wolves”€ to protect the prime minister’s leadership.

I am no fan of Joe Hockey’s time as Treasurer, and believe that he has done a fairly poor job.

Hockey’s crafting and then selling of the 2014 Federal Budget was a disaster, and his contradictory views on “ending the age of entitlement” (which conveniently excluded the wealthy) and the “budget emergency” have certainly done him no favours, nor have statements like “poor people don’t drive”.

But the Coalition shouldn’t kid itself that Hockey is the weak link. Tony Abbott, too, has made serious gaffes, including his numerous “captain’s calls” on the flawed Paid Parental Leave, Prince Philip’s knighthood, the dumping of chief whip Phillip Ruddock, and the refusal to address Australia’s ginormous and inequitable tax concessions, not to mention Abbott’s questionable positions backing coal over renewables.

Abbott’s leadership has been one of slogans over sound policy making, and he is a key reason why the Government is rudderless.

If the Coalition were wise, it would dump both Abbott and Hockey, and replace them with a more palatable combination, such as Malcolm Turnbull and Morrison.

That said, choosing to call an early election in March 2016 would be wise since it would likely represent the peak in the current economic cycle – i.e. when dwelling construction and prices are peaking, before the mining investment downturn accelerates, and before the car industry begins to shutter.

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