There has been a lot of invective heaped upon Bozo Joe Hockey in recent days by the loon pond right as it sought to save its inept prime minister. Mr Hockey is clearly going to lose his job but it’s worth exploring whether Bozo was as bad as he’s being made out to be (and as responsible for the Abbottalypse as he is being accused of).
Hockey came to the job of Treasurer offering a clear vision for “ending the Age of Entitlement”. It was the only economic vision that the government ever had so in that sense it was vastly superior to anything offered by the “open for business” Tony Abbott. It ran into a lot of problems very quickly, and became a petard upon which Hockey was hoisted over and again, but not specifically because of his ineptitude. Indeed, it was usually Abbott captain’s calls based upon political calculation, that saved this company or that sector via government intervention, that punched holes in the vision. The Hobart chocolate factory and salary sacrificing sector saves are prominent examples.
Hockey also swept into Treasury with the very admirable goal of hammering some realism into its forecasting machinery, which had been delusionally bullish for years. That legacy is still embedded in the Budget with what are at last at least semi-believable commodity price forecasts. True, he back-flipped on that in his last Budget by inflating other inputs but the return to dumb optimism was based upon a push to save the sinking Tony Abbott (and he was rumoured to have overseen them) so it’s not fair to lump that on Hockey. His 2015/16 Budget is on track to meet deficit targets. After that it’s a disaster of course.
As well, it was Joe Hockey that mastered two very important structural policy shifts and probably the Abbott Government’s only real achievements. It was Hockey that framed the intellectual debate around the need for a “Son of Wallis” inquiry. It was he that picked the personnel that delivered an excellent result, despite the great of skepticism from peeps like me. The Murray Inquiry will appear prescient in the rear vision mirror of history. Even if its timetables are too slow and targets too low, it traced precisely what is wrong with the Australian economy and will be the blueprint for much tougher rules around banks for many years to come.
The second top-shelf policy effort was the foreign investment rules renovation. The push to enforce FIRB rules around illegal Chinese property buying was long overdue and excellent policy-making. It will likely stand the test of time now that it is in the hands of ATO and is a money making regime. Just as importantly it shifted the normatives around giving houses to foreign criminals to the detriment of local youth, making it much more difficult for Labor especially to loosen them again. The reform of significant investor visas was also excellent.
Both of these structural policy reforms are structural in nature and material blows to the politico-housing complex.
Joe Hockey also took a very sensible agenda to the G20 and performed solidly while his prime minister projected the dignity of self-appointed cult leader.
Turning to the negative ledger, Bozo did egg on the housing bubble rather stupidly. And he was prone to bluster and gaffes. He also oversaw, with Mathias Cormann, the disastrous first Budget. It contained some solid undertakings to reform entitlement in pension giveaways and the like but it also interpreted the “end of entitlement” as not much more than a chance to rip welfare out of the lower classes while the rich galloped to the bank laughing all the while. That was a fatal blow to the government.
It is true, too, that Joe Hockey could never carry a convincing economic narrative. But that did, in great part, result from being undermined by the political calculations of his useless boss over and again. The End of the Age of Entitlement was a framework that could have stood up to the rigors of the troubled times of a busting mining boom and, if expressed right, woven together Australians in a new project of national prosperity. But Hockey was never honest enough about declining circumstances, was caught up in too much Liberal Party entitlement with its mates and was lumbered with politicised PM that kept embracing entitlement to the full to save his own skin.
Even so, when the dust of history settles, Bozo Joe Hockey can look to his tenure as treasurer with less shame than Tony Abbott can as prime minister. Hockey’s imprint on the economy will be lasting to the good despite failures large enough to send him packing.