Joe Hockey’s political form slump over the past fortnight is approaching a Tiger Woods-style meltdown.
His arguments have been clumsy. He’s made Wayne Swan sound like Abraham Lincoln. And Hockey’s growing frustration with trying to win over public opinion for his budget is starting to sound like petulance.
Last week he was calling a core constituency, business, weak for not cheering him loudly from the sidelines.
This week it’s his “poorest people don’t have cars or actually drive don’t drive very far”. While Hockey defended himself from criticism by saying he was just offering facts for people to debate, he now finds trouble brewing on the home front, with the Prime Minister and a senior colleague, Chris Pyne, distancing themselves from his comments, while the backbench is getting nervous too and as The Australian reports “there are growing signs of frustration that Mr Hockey has caused another distraction”.
Tony Abbott’s leadership stature has only improved as he’s dealt with the MH17 disaster with statesman-level class, but today he was back in Canberra and repudiated Hockey’s comments on the driving habits of the poor, saying “Well plainly, I wouldn’t say that.”
Ouch. Discipline on the messaging was something Abbott’s mentor, John Howard, drilled into the troops when he had the top job.
Abbott didn’t leave the nation’s bean counter dangling completely in the wind. He can’t. The government’s economic credibility is riding on Hockey and his budget.
“Whatever people may think about the way Joe expressed himself in a particular radio interview, he has a plan to ensure that all Australians are better off in the long-term,” Abbott said.
Politics is perception and while the ALP is making mischief portraying Hockey as the “cigar-chomping foghorn Leghorn of Australian politics”, the Coalition’s growing disquiet was apparent with one MP telling The Australian that the treasurer is “no longer seen as compassionate or friendly Joe”.
Even education minister and the leader of the house Christopher Pyne refused to support the treasurer’s comments, despite being asked six times, in an interview on Channel 9.
Instead, Pyne deflected the blows, saying “I am not going to cop criticism about Joe”, adding that he was “doing an inspirational job as treasurer.”
“Joe has been standing up for low-income workers and middle-income workers his whole political career,” Pyne said.
Both the prime minister and education minister said the treasurer had their full confidence, with Abbott saying he was “proud” of the budget the government is struggling to get through the Senate.
Joe Hockey has been working hard to win over Clive Palmer’s senators in a bid to get his budget measures through, flying to Perth to meet with PUP senator Dio Wang, as Christopher Pyne shared Toblerone mousse with the party’s leader and fellow ministers Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton also line up for dining dates with Palmer.
But one crossbench senator, David Leyonhjelm, from the Liberal Democratic Party in NSW, thinks the government would be better off trying to find middle ground with the ALP, telling Lateline last night that Palmer’s more interested in revenge fantasies and “doesn’t like individual members of the Government and he’s out to poke them in the eye”.
If Palmer keeps poking the garrulous treasurer in the eye, you can’t help wondering how long it will be before Hockey shoots from the lip again, and the Government is forced into damage control and once again distracted from the important economic reforms it’s seeking to implement.
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