The Politics    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Poor Joe

By Sean Kelly

The Liberals can’t make up their mind which Joe Hockey they want

I really do seem to spend a lot of time feeling sorry for Joe Hockey.

He just brought down a budget that seems to have done the government some good. He achieved this partly by walking away from all of his passionately held policy principles – the age of entitlement was no longer quite as over as he’d said it was, and the debt and deficit crisis turned out to be less of a crisis and more of a brief, unpleasant fart, better treated as though it didn’t exist. This retreat from purity must have hurt, but he was willing to do it if that was what people wanted.

And it was what people wanted! The public was happy, and because the public was happy, his colleagues were happy.

Joe really thought he was getting the hang of this populism thing, so much so that he swaggered his way onto the Q&A set on Monday night and started freestyling crowd-pleasers, including the sudden unilateral removal of the GST on tampons (which, by the way, I think is a great move). Twitter lit up. He must have been over-brimming with the satisfaction of a job well done.

And then – are they never happy? What ungrateful wretches! – his colleagues started complaining about this new treasurer. 

One whinged to the Australian Financial Review:  “Get your head out of this space of economically rational policy, it’s whatever it takes to get through the day. We’re cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

It’s almost as if they wished they had the old Joe back.

Last night Bill Shorten announced he would next week move a bill – seconded by deputy leader Tanya Plibersek – in favour of gay marriage. (This tweet really tickled me.) There are already two other bills in the parliament for gay marriage, from the Greens and Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm. The bill is unlikely to be debated next week, and certainly won’t be voted on then. (Judith Ireland has a useful explainer on all this.) Liberals rushed to condemn Shorten for playing politics. In parliament today, the PM said: “If our parliament were to make a big decision on a matter such as this, it ought to be owned by the parliament and not by any particular party.” What I think that means is that gay marriage won’t be debated until later in the year, that the government is likely to ensure it’s not Shorten’s bill that is passed into law, and that the Liberals will get a free vote. But it’s impossible to be certain.

Dennis Shanahan writes that this week’s cabinet rumblings were less about the leadership and more about politics and policy, a useful reminder that the PM needs to continue to consult with his colleagues to avoid mistakes. (I agree.)

Bill Shorten delivered a speech to the ACTU today, saying the country is at a new threshold point in its politics: “People are hungry to lose the disenchantment and cynicism and have some optimism and hope and positivity for the future.”

Former climate change minister Greg Combet is working part-time for Labor, helping with the development of policy, including climate change policy.

Mark Kenny with an interesting piece on Hockey’s impromptu tampon policy. Full credit for the first sentence’s alliteration. (Though personally I don’t think you can even the scales by imposing the GST on condoms. Many women buy condoms. No men have to buy tampons.)

Cardinal George Pell has said he will appear before the royal commission into institutional child abuse if requested.

China and the weaponisation of space.

It has taken three months for bureaucrats to buy the governor-general a Thermomix – and counting. 

Kochie has resigned – live on air – as head of the organ donation authority, telling assistant minister Fiona Nash to “get a backbone”. 

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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