Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Night of Two Joes

Just an hour or so after commentator Joe Hildebrand's epic rant on Sky's Paul Murray Live last night, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey held his own television moment, live via satellite from London on ABC's Lateline. The two Joes' rants were about as far apart as you can get in style - as far apart as the two Joes themselves.

Any yet, there were moments when the two red faced men would have found themselves in loud and violent agreement, if either one of them took the time to listen. They are both smart men. Never forget that simple truth.

I usually go out of my way to avoid Joe Hildebrand. He makes me want to stick my fingers in my ears and sing LALALALALA until he stops speaking. It's not always about what he says; it's the affected way he speaks...Like, yew know, those teenaged girls who talk too fast? At least there's no inappropriate upward inflections. Yes, today, I am shallow. 

You might be better able to handle a crazed political rant from a scruffy thirty-something Journo than I am. If so, I recommend you experience this cracker of a rant.

If, like me, you'd rather hear fingernails on the proverbial blackboard, here's the summary. Joe's rant is an emphatic statement about the ALP's tangled relationship with Twiggy Forrest, and with themselves, and about how ultimately, pride and internal distrust are dragging the ALP into an abyss from which they might never emerge. That's a scary thought.

Meanwhile, Joe Hockey had his bit to say. He's in London to talk about money, a subject close to the heart of our Struggle Street Shadow Treasurer and his meagre salary of just $231K plus allowances.

The title of Hockey's speech: The End of the Age of Entitlement. The title doesn't lie, although to be honest, the substance of the speech is so rooted in big ideas, grand theories, global concepts, that it becomes an exercise in economic wankery. In order to buy into Hockey's conclusions, you have to accept the premise that debt/deficit is bad. I don't accept that. Then, you have to agree that not all wefare is necessary. That's brutal stuff, and even Joe has trouble with that, as we see on Lateline.

But there's this:

"As a community we need to redefine the responsibility of government and its citizens to provide for themselves, both during their working lives and into retirement."

That sounds sensible to me. Daunting, yet I'm attracted by the opportunity to look at what we expect of ourselves, of each other and our government. Challenging the norm is good. It forces us to compare the existing structures against present needs, a projected reality, and an idealised future. 

The real thrust of Joe's address was that debt is bad, and because our welfare bill is apparently so large, we have to borrow to sustain it. Solution: roll back welfare. Follow the lead of our friends in Asia, not our traditional economic role models in the Northern Hemisphere.

Then, Oh Gawd. Enter Lateline. Our Shadow Treasurer has been overseas, talking about rolling back welfare to lower debt. A man who never performs well when (a) talking about money, and (b) under pressure, was about to try to turn those grand economic concepts into bite-sized chunks of relevant policy. 

Welcome to Joe Hockey's nightmare.

Tony Jones, hosting Lateline, asked the question: "If - let's bring this to Australia straightaway. If the age of entitlement is over, which entitlements would you like to see reduced or gotten rid of?"

Joe answered that we need to be ever vigilant. 

I don't know what that means, and I'm pretty sure that Joe doesn't know either. It sounds entirely practical, until you realise that it would entail making some people worse off. Those people who would lose entitlements are unlikely to be the Joe Hockeys of the world, who can afford it. 

Just remember, this Joe is the Joe with the meagre salary of $231K, plus allowances, who agreed with Treasurer Wayne Swan's assessment that means tested  'middle class welfare' should cut out at $150K. So, $150K is well off, unless you're Joe Hockey, when a well-off $150K is more than $80K less than 'meagre'. An answer to Tony's question about which cuts he had in mind was never found. With maths like this, I'm not surprised.

Just today, Joe's Coalition colleague Kevin Andrews has shot Joe down, stating flatly that no, it wasn't coalition policy to tighten welfare spending. In light of Barnaby Joyce's minor policy blip last weekend, on doubling the baby bonus for stay at home Mums, I'm literally losing track of how many Coalition positions exist from day to day on welfare reform. 

As much as I hate to admit it, Hildebrand won the battle of the Joes last night. Unlike Hockey, Joe The Younger had a point to make, and he made it. Maybe Joe Hockey could learn something.

I'm as surprised as you are.

1 comment:

  1. Joe Hockey seems like a nice bloke who is just out of his depth. He just doesn't think things through. If he wasn't expecting follow-up questions about parliamentary pensions and Howard-era middle class welfare, then he's in the wrong job.

    Joe has his own views and he is (dare I say it?) entitled to them, but he's not doing anything to have it adopted as Liberal policy and folds every time he's reminded (usually the next morning) that it isn't.