Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Goodbye to not-so-great Uncle Joe



'There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.'

— Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Joe Hockey might not know his Shakespeare well but he would probably agree. Timing is all.

Hockey gave his farewell speech in parliament yesterday. He had resigned — after being ousted as treasurer by Turnbull — to take up a plum, taxpayer-funded ambassadorial position in Washington in the New Year, replacing the greatest ALP prime minister we never had, Kim Beazley, as well as gifting Malcolm with a by-election in his first weeks as prime minister.

Joe HockeySo many chances, so many slips. After building a reputation as a good guy politician on Sunrise with his 'good mate' Kevin Rudd, he blew it by rescuing Rudd from drowning in a flooded river on their well-publicised Kokoda Trail expedition in 2006. Kevin 07 went on to prove he could win an election but not run a government very well, culminating in his removal by Julia Gillard, and hers in Kevin's counter-coup in 2013. As he mused today, the leaders' revolving door shows no sign of not swingeing.

Kindly Uncle Joe, the most popular politician in Australia in 2009, missed another chance when he threw his hat into the ring to become leader of the opposition after Malcolm Turnbull lost the confidence of the right wing of the Coalition over the emissions trading scheme. Joe favoured this to, yet suggested to the crew on 1 December that it should be left to a conscience vote, and ended up being eliminated on the first ballot. Abbott then beat Turnbull by just one vote, presumably his own.

Hockey's next chance was just after the 2013 Coalition win when as treasurer he introduced his first blunderbuss budget. It's normal for incoming treasurers to bring in tough financial measures and unpopular cuts at the early stage of a new government but Hockey, we gather with Abbott's support, ushered in such a savage budget, with such a focus on the young, aged and vulnerable, and breaking so many pre-election promises, that the people's trust in 'the man of the people' was irreparably broken.

It didn't help that he issued a self-aggrandising biography shortly afterwards which claimed not only that Hockey thought he should be the next prime minister but that he had wanted to bring in an even tougher budget. As the ill-judged book recorded, Hockey was not only a family-made multimillionaire but also one who had acquired his Canberra home at a rock bottom price by misrepresenting by omission his and his father's bona fides to the vendor. Not, perhaps, such a good uncle at all.

From this point on it has been downhill. He notoriously claimed that poor people don't drive cars much; that the 'age of entitlement' was over, while he was claiming daily living-away-from-home allowances in the house his wife owned; and even that housing was not unaffordable because all that was really required was to get a really good job. Joe's toes were clearly picking at his teeth.

It is tempting to imagine that on the day that Abbott was voted out of the leadership in favour of Turnbull, the drinks party in the PM's office might have included the ghost of Mr Hockey, who might even have danced on a certain marble table top.

There was genuine goodwill for the Hockey who, in parliament yesterday, remembered introducing the fairness test to work choices 'too late' while acknowledging that it had gone too far. But some commentators noted he now rued the loss of benefits brought in under the ALP such as well subsidised medical costs, and environmental and superannuation protections, which he denounced as treasurer.

Which is the real Joe? In my not particularly humble opinion his metamorphosis from genial giant (albeit one with a multi-million dollar property portfolio) to a lead-footed fiscal Scrooge is entirely due to his ill-judged and unreciprocated loyalty to Abbott who, whatever his skills and talents, has no sense for an economy or what makes economics a very fine art.

In memory of the kindly smiling television entertainer he once was, let us hope Hockey's diplomatic success will turn on his need to be liked, not misplaced personal loyalty to those who do not deserve it, or his native political acuity. Outside politics, let him find his true self, and be whatever that is.

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. 



Topic tags: Moira Rayner, Joe Hockey



submit a comment

Existing comments

It's OK for us to go a little wobbly at the knees as we farewell this man, cuddly and funny as he is,but let's not go wobbly in the brain. The 2014 budget was unbelievably bad policy, not just bad politics. And the politics was not only bad, it was dishonest.

Jim Jones | 22 October 2015  

A succinct and very good summary of Joe's place in the last decade of politics. The mojo was lost in that conscience vote moment and never really regained. The difference with Turnbull appears to be, at this early stage, that he does make an effort to keep in touch with all levels of society.

Andrew Chinn | 22 October 2015  

The only Shakespearean play I had the opportunity to study at school was "Julius Caesar". Of course, I loved it. Hockey's fortunes in politics were tied so closely to Abbott's that this goodbye was bound to happen soon after Abbott's departure. I'm unsure how Joe will fit into the diplomatic scene in Washington. The winters in that great city can be very brutal, but Joe has honed his skills in one of the colder places in Australia. Best of luck Joe.

Pam | 22 October 2015  

A true and kind reflection on the political naivete of one Joe Hockey - in my opinion he simply didn't understand the job.

Mark Dowell | 22 October 2015  

Why is everyone so confident he will make such a good ambassador? Hockey looks and sounds a bit like Beasley, but that's where it ends. I don't get it.

Bill Venables | 22 October 2015  

The comparison with Kim Beazley is distasteful. Beazley had his faults and was helped by powerful sponsors, but intellectually he is streets ahead of Hockey. That's is the crucial issue with Hockey, for all that it might be seen in Shakespearean terms: to be PM requires -- apart from cunning, ego and a political nous -- high intelligence. People who were at school with Hockey have told me that intellect was not his conspicuous strength then; and it hasn't been during his political career, either. This is no time for "rose-coloured glasses" however much people might be tempted to say (another quotation", "de mortuis niln nisi bonum".

John CARMODY | 22 October 2015  

I seem to recall that Howard called him a lovable, colourful bear of a man, rather than advert to any political aptitude or skill. (Amanda Vanstone, another ambassador, was colourful too).

Julia | 22 October 2015  

One of my great good fortunes in life is that I never discovered Sunrise, and thus never fell under the spell of kindly Uncle Joe. It's good to see one more greedy politician depart the scene, but I will always begrudge the money we will lavish on him in his new diplomatic career.

Vin Victory | 22 October 2015  

What then are his credentials for being an Ambassador? A self aggrandizing, failed treasurer, a man who knows how to manipulate systems, a genial buffoon with scant connection to the people he was supposed to serve - yes, I guess Jo has them all!

Kay Bushnell | 22 October 2015  

In how many careers can you fail at your job, and then get a promotion overseas? Maybe in the church.

AURELIUS | 22 October 2015  

It is un-Australian to kick a man when he is down (or kicked out of parliament), so I appreciate Moira Rayner's 'Good-bye to not-so- great Uncle Joe'. I once, in my naïve youth, cheered on another political Uncle Joe - our rave Soviet ally against Nazi Germany, Josef Stalin. Once the war was over not-so-nice Uncle Joe was revealed. In my should-have-known-better old age I cheered on Jolly Joe Hockey as a perceptive critic of the shambolic ALP. But once he won office not-so-perceptive Jolly Joe emerged. His first budget lacked any regard for social justice principles and yet up to his valedictory speech he defended it as getting the principles right, but getting the politics wrong. Joe, it was a national budget not your wife's and your income and expenditure for the financial year 2014/2015. it was for the whole nation and that means a fairer distribution of wealth to those most in need.

Uncle Pat | 22 October 2015  

Uncle Pat, I usually agree with your comment but in this situation I'm surprised you used the term "un-Australian" which suggests only Australians have a sense of fairness and empathy and the rest of the world are barbarians. Secondly, I'm not a Jesuit groupie and my parents haven't spent exorbitant amounts of money on my education. I am however one of the less fortunate members of Australian society who would suffer from Abbott/Hockey style legislation and feel no sense of loyalty or lack of "Australian-ness" for my criticism of his motivations and lack of integrity. For me, Hockey was "un-Australian" because he pretended to be the common man, but tried to create policies to screw the lifeblood out of them.

AURELIUS | 22 October 2015  

Do anyone else wonder why we are being governed largely by the NSW 'dries'? Joe Hockey's performance in government was a blatant exercise in gaining personal political power - why should we care about him at all?

Jennifer Raper | 23 October 2015  

"Uncle Pat": Mr Hockey is hardly "down", at least if the reports are correct that he's soon to go to the USA. And he wasn't "kicked out of Parliament" -- lucky to get there in the first place (recall, when Ted Mack was the Independent member for North Sydney, the circumstances of Mr Hockey's Liberal pre-selection), he has CHOSEN to resign. I don't think that there has been much public kicking, deserved though it might have been for a man who, as Federal Treasurer, was so plainly stretched beyond his capacities.

Dr John Carmody | 23 October 2015  

I'm with Aurelius: I'm not enamoured of this man who clearly did not give a stuff for, or understood, the ordinary person. As far as I can see, he has no qualifications to be an ambassador in the national interest, and is just another example of "jobs for the boys". Joe Hockey is perhaps no worse than any of us in potential, but it was he who wanted to punish the weak and vulnerable, and not us.

smk | 23 October 2015  

Hockey and Abbott brought this country to a very dark place. Hockey was completely clueless when it came to his job. He has lived off the Australian taxpayer for many many years without doing anything to earn his salary. I for one do not have any empathy for this man who, despite his woeful career, now gets to be our ambassador to the US!

charlie | 24 October 2015  

I want to thank AURELIUS, and Dr John Carmody for picking me up on my use of the adjective 'un-Australian'. It was meant to be a dig at the tepid nature of Moira Rayner's 'obituary' on Jolly Joe Hockey political life. I was hinting that Moira was pulling her punches because we Australians don't gloat over someone else's misfortune. It was a great catch cry of John Howard's that was impervious to all argument. 'It's un-Australian not to support our American allies' for example. It serves me right for trying to be a narky critic of Moira's puff piece. Thanks guys! And if I err again don't hesitate to pull me back into line. I always read your comments with relish and delight. They are uniformly informative and frequently humorous.

Uncle Pat | 24 October 2015  

Similar Articles

Australians dogged by Pavlovian politics

  • Justin Glyn
  • 21 October 2015

While running a Royal Commission into domestic violence and a $30 million campaign against it, ringing the bell marked 'asylum seekers are queue jumpers' has allowed successive governments to abuse alleged rape victims with barely a word of protest from the public. Insofar as any feelings of empathy for asylum seekers exist, we tell ourselves brutality is inflicted 'to stop deaths at sea'. So successful has this Pavlovian policy been that Australian refugee policy is now the toast of German neo-Nazis.


Kids need care not cruelty to avoid radicalisation

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 23 October 2015

A particular issue in Australia is the age of criminal responsibility, which varies in different states between ten and 12. Research into brain development suggests that people cannot fully take responsibility for their actions until they are 15 years old. Responsible policy must respect the human development of the child and ensure that the response to their wrongdoing takes into account their age and does not place them in processes they can neither understand nor properly participate in.