Treasurer Joe Hockey was once one of Australia’s most popular politicians. With a net positive score of 22 per cent, he was politically left of the NSW Liberal Party and aligned more with true liberals, such as Malcolm Turnbull, than with true conservatives such as Tony Abbott or John Howard. Hockey’s public persona was that of a jovial, reasonable and principled politician, regularly appearing alongside Kevin Rudd on Channel 7’s Sunrise program.
Since ascending to Treasurer, Joe Hockey has become a loyal warrior in one of the most ideologically conservative governments Australia has ever seen. He’s the man responsible for depositing ‘lifters and leaners’ and ‘the age of entitlement’ into the Australian vernacular.The jovial man is gone, apparently replaced by a harsh and scornful cigar-chomping plutocrat.
Following #Budget2014, Hockey’snet approval ratinghas sunk to negative 14 per cent. This is a remarkable fall from grace.
The Guardian published an article suggesting this could be attributed to a phenomenon known as the ‘asshole effect’. The article cited a study Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior to demonstrate that increasing wealth and social status generates feelings of superiority, with measurable impacts on behaviour.
Joe Hockey is one of Australia’s wealthiest politicians. This is due largely to his wife’s successful career with Deutsche Bank. To suggest that wealth has made Hockey an asshole seems convenient, but it doesn’t hold water.
Yes, Joe Hockey has changed, but money hasn’t made him asshole – politics under Abbott has made him a pragmatist.
Hockey also once threatened to cross the floor on treatment of asylum seekers, until he won personal assurances from Prime Minister John Howard that the most vulnerable asylum seekers would be protected under the Coalition.
I fought with the previous Prime Minister, my Prime Minister, about Nauru. I opposed it until the moment he assured me that at all times Australians would be able to supervise the people who were sent there, that they would be protected, that they would have health care and education support—until he could assure me that those most vulnerable would be protected. That was when I agreed with him.
Joe Jockey, Hansard, 27 June 2012
In parliament to date, Hockey has been a man of principle. In 2009 he rejected support to become party leader from Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott, because it came with the condition that he abandon support for a Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Incredibly, Hockey changed his mind on an ETS, after canvassing opinions on Twitter. The political pragmatist under Abbott was born.
Joe Hockey is now at the peak of his career. He appears not to have made any public statement about the death of asylum seeker Reza Berati on Manus Island – a crime that not only remains unpunished, but clearly demonstrates that the safety of vulnerable people cannot be assured in offshore detention. This alone should be enough for a man of principle to demand a more humane policy for asylum seekers.
Hockey has also avoided being drawn into the conflict in the Middle East, despite his Palestinian heritage. Unlike others, Hockey has not allowed the historical circumstances that forced his father to seek refuge in Australia to detract from his political aspirations. Even as the Abbott government shifted its language towards a more pro-Israel position, Joe Hockey has not broken ranks. It must make for interesting discussion in the Hockey family.
Joe Hockey is not an obvious ideological fit for the current Liberal Party, but thanks to circumstance he finds himself atop a government that leader Tony Abbott has steered to the hard-right. Hockey’s political career now depends on the support of Abbott’s hard-liners, such as Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison and George Brandis.
This was a lesson he learned in 2001 when he was demoted from Finance Minister. There’s no room for doves in a room full of hawks.
Senator John Madigan said Joe Hockey feels he’s one of the most disliked people in the country. Senator Jacqui Lambie said she felt Mr Hockey had been let down by his party: “while he’s out there trying to sell the budget, the rest are doing a runner on him”.
This, it seems, is Joe Hockey’s real problem. After years of balancing authenticity with ambition, his ambition won the day. He compromised himself and his values – voters barely recognise him. Perhaps even Joe Hockey doesn’t recognise himself.
Hockey delivered the budget he thought the party wanted him to make, but was left out on a limb selling the unsellable.
His party may have abandoned him, but at least this time nobody will say that he’s too soft.