Federal Cabinet, a sheltered workshop.

Lifters and leaners are terms in vogue lately, thanks to Joe Hockey who proceeds to dazzle the nation with his spell-binding oratory. Are you a Lifter or leaner?  is but one of the Federal Treasurer’s many formulations to prove of inestimable service to the public good as he goes about his mission of a meaner, leaner government.

 Lifters and leaners illuminates Hockey’s profound grasp of the social contract. As true leaders must, he shows a rare capacity for incisive thinking.  In two words, he’s illuminated our national discourse. It’s all about ourselves, of course. And it’s us and them. Us versus them. And we love it.

 Pitting lifter against leaner has helped inspire so many ordinary Australians to feel good about themselves. To be more selfish. Intolerant. Resentful of any social responsibility. And to point the finger at others who, invariably, have only themselves to blame. Fully costed and self-funded, this direction is guaranteed to be borne by others.

 In a breath-takingly benign controlled climate, thrives a hitherto unsung mutual support group of disadvantaged Australians which carries on bravely, battling all kinds of adversity. We refer to the sheltered workshop that is the Federal Cabinet. They lean inwards lifting themselves by their bootstraps, pausing only to get the nation to pay their expenses.

 Benevolence flowers rarely in the ordure of the modern world. Incredible as it may seem then, in our dog eat dog, look out for yourself, you bastard, society where markets rule supreme, and men and women count for so little, we can still look after some top dogs. These are a rare group of men (and one woman) who through no fault of their own prove incompetent in their chosen professions and often as people.  They rise to the top like turds in a sewage treatment plant.

 Federal Cabinet enables us to help out those who may face grave personal, social and emotional challenges. Time to take a closer look at a few examples of those we support, those whom we encourage and subsidise to develop vital on the job skills which enable and empower. Those we sponsor to develop vital workplace skills such as lying, denying and putting the boot into other battlers.

 Let’s begin with the runt of the litter, Tony Abbott. Battling a range of disorders including ODD, (oppositional defiance disorder), ADD, (attention deficit disorder), Narcissistic Personality Disorder, anger management issues and many others, little Tone is up against so much that he has been assigned his own integration aide, Peta Credlin.

 Along with being our unelected Prime Minister, running Cabinet, keeping the boys and Julie out of the public eye as much as possible and the odd phone call to Russia, Peta has a special way with this highly challenged individual and has been granted extensive powers of supervision. In particular she manages his delusional states most capably, even allowing him to pose in public as Prime Minister in his favourite dress ups. 

 Tony is, however, a demanding case and left to his own devices has been known to punch holes in walls. A failed seminarian who dabbled unsuccessfully in journalism, before qualifying for cabinet workshop, Tony’s case is under permanent review, given the propensity for other members to band against him behind his back, or say hurtful things about his intelligence, his temper and his lack of coordination to his face.

 The member for Wide Bay, Kingaroy born, Queensland farmer, Warren Truss, is widely held to be Abbott’s deputy leader. A member of the endangered National Party species, sixty-five year old Truss appears headed for extinction. He recently alienated his own generation with his claim that pensioners blow their savings on world cruises and then have to bludge off the rest of us. He also enraged his own constituency when eagerly spruiking Abbott’s PPL. Truss’ claims that the PPL had been shaped by consultation were disproved when both CWA and NFF leaders angrily pointed out that no-one from government had ever consulted either rural association. Severely afflicted with logorrhoea, echolalia, and the capacity to induce sleep in any animal or agricultural worker within earshot, long-winded Wokka is kept safely away from any livestock in Cabinet and is rumoured to be working on his memoir ‘Talk to the animals.’    

 Like Wokka, George Brandis is in the public eye for the wrong reasons. Clearly Brandis is a battler on so many fronts. Consider the damage he might do if he were permitted to practise law again. Or practise any form of public service. Helping others? You wouldn’t even want him anywhere near a computer. The thought of anything more technologically advanced than a fountain pen makes him ill. Defamation cases? Forget it. Unless you are looking to settle out of court. George could be of service in patting plaintiffs on the head and counselling that we all have a right to be a bigot.

 Our survey is limited only by time, space and decency. Many other cases clamour for attention. All are deserving causes worth of future attention. In the meantime, the nation can relax in the sure knowledge that the key decisions affecting our nation are taken by those outside cabinet. Indeed, they are outside politics. Australia is a nominal constitutional democracy ruled by an oligarchy whose power is greatly assisted, if not nurtured by the sheltered workshop of Prime Minister in Cabinet.

 

whatever it takes

Pumped by his recent rabid attention-seeking overseas, Prime Minister Abbot has wasted no time in getting down to business at home. The big picture is not pretty. Abbott knows we need to rescue ourselves from Howard and Costello’s economic mess.  Experts would have told him.

 The Liberals squandered the mining boom on buying votes. They missed a golden opportunity for structural reform. They helped increase economic disparity and social division in the process. In turn, they helped prepare for Abbott’s unlikely rise. Tear up any social contract. Every man for himself. Do whatever it takes to get and keep power. Enable the rise of the right wing.

 Like a rat up a drain pipe, Abbott has bolted up the track on his party’s inside right. Moderates are marginalised. Ministers are gagged and bound. The Office of Prime Minister runs the show. Forget consensus. Just follow the leader. Team Abbott is defined by coercion and control.

 In public, debate is dumbed down to numbing mindlessness. Threats, scaremongering, spin, petty recrimination and blame are this government’s dominant discourse. That discourse can be hard to follow. Talk up the economic crisis today. Talk it down tomorrow. Reversals of direction reflect its pragmatism and betray its lack of a coherent set of principles or plan.

 This week, we are told to fear terrorists. Secondly we are to be bullied into accepting the mess of inconsistencies, lies and sheer incompetence that characterise his government’s first budget. Team Abbott has quickly fallen in step with their leader’s hectoring, scare-mongering style.

 Warning that we could see beheadings in the streets of Australia, Abbott is happy to frighten us into submission and to distract us from the mess that is his government’s first budget. He shamelessly beats up our fear of terrorists. In the process, he continues his astonishing, redefinition of the office of prime minister.  The tone is increasingly high handed and dictatorial . Do as you are told. Don’t disagree or you will be punished. If we don’t get the  budget through, we will  have to raise taxes. 

How long will he last? It is well to remember Abbott’s rise to power. Who thought this weedy, brash, ex-seminarian would claw his way to such exalted heights? Few in his own party. ‘Not yet,’ was Howard’s understated doubt. ‘God help us all’, were Paul Keating’s words. Long dismissed as another clown from the loony right, Tea Pot Tony’s startling rise took many Liberals by surprise. The surprise has abated only slightly, to be supplanted by mounting anxiety. What will Abbott do next? What won’t he do? He’s a skyrocket without a stick.  

There were warning signs, it is true. Abbott  would do anything, he said, to be PM. Except, as he sensitively and tastefully put it, sell his arse. Yet if Abbott’s naked ambition was on the public record. So, too, was a lot of other embarrassing, underwhelming stuff. He freely confessed to saying whatever came into his head. You needed it in writing if you wanted to hold him to account, he said. His parliamentary antics, plumbed new depths of decorum. His behaviour seemed more symptomatic of oppositional defiance disorder than any rational plan of action. 

 The next two weeks will be critical as the government tries in two weeks what it has failed to do since the budget was brought down. Don’t expect any change of tack, any new spirit of compromise or negotiation. Instead, get ready for a meaner, narrower Team Abbott to fight tooth and claw. To do whatever it takes to stay in the game. To do over whoever gets in the way.

Morrison’s moral burden

Scott Morrison’s performances on television are disturbing, disgraceful and delusional. Even for a member of the Abbott Cabinet, his performances exceed all reasonable standards of propriety. Granted, he has yet to follow the barking Christopher Pyne in the use of the “grub” word but as a Minister of the Crown, he is an alarming spectacle. Is he mad? Is he a deluded, paranoid megalomaniac? Does he suffer an extreme narcissistic personality disorder? The jury is still out. It could be all of these. And more. This week, however, Morrison revealed a vital clue. He has a great moral burden.

Now a great moral burden in itself would cripple many of our best-adjusted. But tip this into the mix of other the other toxic ingredients in the noxious brew that is Morrison’s peculiar psychopathology and you can expect a monstrous horror show to result.    

A great moral burden. What does Morrison’s latest utterance signify? Let’s unpack the phrase a little. What he’s saying is that stopping the boats is a moral crusade. His moral crusade. By putting the fear of God into would be asylum seekers, he is sparing their lives. If they don’t try to cross the water, they won’t drown. If they know they could be moved to Cambodia, refugees will never darken our shores again. Let one or two be beaten to death in camp. It’s all part of the same humanitarian plan. Morrison’s sword of moral righteousness protects desperate refugees from themselves. Asylum seekers’ feckless desire to flee persecution, starvation and death will no longer lead to their drowning. They will stay at home and safely face torture, rape, genocide and starvation.

Morrison’s oafish intransigence, his obduracy, his sophistry, his captious reasoning all make sense now. He is taking it all upon himself.  Worried that the cruel, wilful inhumanity of turning back the boats has made Australia an international pariah? Worried that we have overstepped the mark of decency? Concerned that our lack of charity is nothing more than a cynical attempt to win votes amongst the talkback electorate? Fussing over the diplomatic ruckus our antics have caused us? Fear no longer. Morrison has capered to our rescue. He is our scapegoat.

In Biblical times, a goat would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the flock, giving rise to the word scapegoat. Surely this is a clue to the nature and function of Morrison’s moral burden. Little wonder that the man can’t think straight. In his mind, he’s under sentence of excommunication. No wonder he can’t answer a question. He’s saddled with the burden of his party’s moral turpitude.  That look he gets when he is ignoring the question, prevaricating or point blank shunning the responsible exercise of authority is the look of a goat about to have its neck severed by a righteous blade.

Morrison’s discourse can be baffling. He’s talks out the back of his neck. He froths at the mouth. He talks over the top of questioners. He lies. Or he refuses to say anything. But you get that when you take upon yourself the sins of the whole nation. You get that when you spend too long in the company of Abbott’s cabinet. Let Morrison keep his ear turned to talkback and Murdoch’s tabloids. Let him maintain that by making life hell for boat people, he is exercising his duty of care. His moral duty. If they don’t come to Australia, they won’t drown. Expect further rabid nonsense and similar messianic delusion.  Until one day when its purpose is served, Abbott inevitably eases Morrison’s burden. Puts him out of his misery in a flash as he kneels beside a busy road.

To Buy A Chook

To buy a chook

Buying a few chooks is not a simple matter. In the country, there are complicated twists and turns and unexpected delights in most transactions. Few things are ever straightforward. You would be crazy to want it any other way. We have long learned to put aside any passing frustration. In the end, we know we will be enriched by the process.

Isa Browns. POL. It’s the first ad we Google. When I call the number in the local paper, Neil tells me to meet him in the car park next to the local BP station. He’s coming into town around mid-day. I offer to make things easier. Drive to his place. He won’t have any of it. He’ll be driving a white XF ute.

You will need some layers he adds. Red Hen, Darling Downs, any of those but not Golden. They hate it the Isa Browns. They are on point of lay, he adds helpfully. You want to give the right feed.

Fifteen minutes passes pleasantly in the sunshine. A wide blue sky betokens vast horizons of possibility. There are touches of spring in the air. Lambs gambol in a nearby paddock closely watched by some ewes whose vigilance and care inspires me. As it always does. The scent of acacia blossom mixes with the unmistakeable odour of cooking oil and diesel. A welcome swallow swoops fearless across the face of the day’s commercial trade. I feel like an undercover agent on a clandestine mission as I await my appointment with a complete stranger.

I look to see an old milk bar nearby which has been refurbished and repurposed. ‘George and kids fish n chips the newly painted signwriting on the shop. We are a long way from the sea. No doubt they will get around to painting the grey and peeling weatherboards when they prosper but at the moment the sign makes the place look flash. The old girl’s got her lipstick on.

I don’t know how long George has had to wait to realise his dream but we have waited years to get our own chooks. Waiting fifteen minutes is no big deal but I reach for my mobile in case there’s been an emergency. Secretly I am hoping to be redirected to Neil’s place but just as I squint to read the phone in bright daylight, a man in a scruffy white ute hangs a bold right turn and flashes across the stern of our parked Camry. I see the pen of chooks on the deck alongside the kelpie cross bolt upright beside it. They are a splash of russet against the rust of the ute’s tray. They glow health and wholesomeness.

Neil bounds out of the cab. He’s easily in his sixties and exudes an infectious vitality and cheery goodwill. He bustles with purpose. He wants to know where I’m parked and whether I have any containers. Have I bought the layers? I tell him I have bought some Red Hen from Mark at Farm Supplies. He is greatly cheered. Mark will look after you he tells me. I never met Mark before today but it boosts your spirits to be told that you are in good hands.

I have an old wicker hamper which I offer to bring across. I have also a cat basket and a cardboard box. For three chooks, it turns out, I am over-prepared.

Neil tucks one set of chook’s feet between two fingers of his left hand, adds another set of feet to his palm and grasps the feet of the third in his right wrist. The birds appear to fall asleep. He swings their bodies as he jogs to the Camry. I half expect him to throw them into the cabin.

Ideal! He beams when he spies the wicker basket. With one deft move, he’s opened it and deposited three birds inside. The chooks murmur contentedly.

Ideal, he says again. Don’t lose that! He makes me feel good about my basket. I am already feeling good about getting the chooks, finding a new fish and chip shop only half an hour away and enjoying the approach of spring and now there is his good will and proficiency. Life is rich. Now he is making me feel good about our choice.

You won’t have any trouble with them. He makes me feel we have made exactly the right choice. No fuss from these girls. Good layers. Very easy to deal with.

I can see he’s busy but venture that he must have more than a few chooks for sale.

Hundreds, he beams. But I’ve given away the eggs.

By this he means that he’s stopped producing eggs and now concentrates on breeding birds for sale.

I give him sixty six dollars in cash. He gives me his home laminated card.

Call me if you have questions. But these girls will be no trouble at all. He gives me a quick spiel on what Isa Browns like to eat and stresses the importance of protein and grit.

Then he jumps back behind the wheel, slamming the driver’s door with the crook catch. He just broke it this morning trying to open it when it was locked, need my bloody glasses for everything now, he tells me.

He drops the clutch and he’s off in a shower of roadside gravel, expertly picking a gap in the traffic and gunning the old Ford down the highway.

I turn the Camry to head home and the hens murmur a gentle communal warble. They quickly sing themselves to sleep. When I stop for a right hand turn they wake up only to coo reassurance.

I am intrigued. It’s a new experience. I have never driven a car with a chorus of chooks in a basket on the back seat. One hen relaxes into a soft warbling. Like Neil, she’s happy with the direction of events. Like me. Travelling home, with simple certainty of purpose, secure within the natural order, happily counting my blessings.

Team Australia

Tony Abbott is no fast talker. To fix this, he is slowing his speech down. Craftily, he’s turned his natural lack of fluency into a deliberate strategy.  He temporises. He repeats himself. He drags things out. Part of this is a running repair job. Abbott has developed a much slower speaking rate because its repetitions and its slower pace gives himself time to think up the next thing to say. It also puts the brakes on the meandering sentences that come naturally. A larger and more worrying part of it, however, is his determination to slow down debate.  On the one hand this could be seen as admirable almost heroic if it were not futile. Abbott is trying to slow the flow of information. Canute-like, hand upraised he steps into the path of the information age juggernaut. On the other hand he seems to enjoy the wilful obstruction of the public’s right to know what the government is up to.

 

Abbott is not gifted at persuasion. Instead, in his set pieces, he sounds like a tabloid headline. With perverse delight, it seems, in annoying the listener, he repeats the same slogans. He’ll wear you out rather than win you over. At base is a crafty evasiveness. Abbottspeak is not about sharing information. It’ s about power and control. It’s about withholding information and obstruction. And it defines his government’s style. Other senior members have quickly picked it up. The long-running surrealist soap opera of Border Security, starring Scott Morrison is a bravura performance of the Abbott government’s house style. Worried about the apparent cruelty, inhumanity or irresponsibility of stopping the boats? We have nothing we can tell you. The message is move along: nothing to see here. We will tell you only what we want you to know. On immigration that’s next to nothing. It’s a tactic that Goebbels would have been proud of. But for a contemporary Australian prime minister and his government it can only ultimately erode both authority and credibility.

 

Abbott clearly views communication as transmitting a signal. For him, communication is primarily about getting the message out. It’s not an attempt at dialogue. Dialogue entails listening. And mutual respect. And it leads to compromise, the quicksand of the weak-willed. Of course you may ask questions. But voice your question and we will make you sorry you ever asked. The hapless listener feels as if she’s been harangued by uncle at a family gathering .  Ear bashed, patronised and held prisoner.

 

Ultimately, Abbottspeak is less about changing minds than massaging the prejudices of those already converted. Abbott’s glib phrases, simplistic logic and his judgemental approach have more in common with the shock jocks of talkback radio than any more enlightened or elevated discourse. And more than any other prime minister, Abbott is side coaching our transformation from democracy to shock-jock-racy. The nation’s infatuation with echoes of its own popular prejudices and its affection for simplistic, reductive thinking is nurtured, fostered by those who know it yields them power. 

 

Enter Team Australia. A new phrase is not a bad thing in itself. With Abbott, there’s plenty of room for expansion. And a new idea would be welcome. But there’s nothing new about Team Australia. Don’t frighten the horses. Abbott does not in any way a resemble a deep or even an original thinker. Nor is this his intention. Like Howard he understands the need to keep us comfortable if not relaxed. In place of ideas we are given recycled, threadbare hobby horses and clapped out rhetorical clichés of talkback radio. The kindest thing you could say is that in some way the man is representative of the comfortable middle class, and he trots out familiar prejudices as he signals for allies amidst the great unthinking complacent public of his fan club. The most worrying thing is his dog-whistling to conformity and group think, the signal to his audience to exercise their prejudices, let them off the leash.

 

Is Team Australia a new nag in the race to the bottom? It doesn’t look or sound that new. It’s a cryptic phrase and you won’t find any definition offered by its creator. Nor is one needed. What does Team Australia mean? What does it stand for? The context is instructive. It lies in the demise of Brandis’ proposals for ‘reform’ of the Racial Discrimination Act. For a while, it looked as if bigots would be protected. In Brandis’ notorious phrase, a bigot has a right to be a bigot. Yet, the Abbott Government ultimately and one senses reluctantly backed down. No doubt at some cost of support from Abbott’s right wing power base, proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were shelved. Ironically, it came at the cost of support from the Muslim community.

 

With typically jerky timing and co-ordination, Abbott wheeled out a new horse, Team Australia. urging us all to jump aboard. Abbott said changes to 18C had become ‘complicated’. At the same time, however, he unveiled a new anti-terrorism package. Abbott said it was a “leadership call” that aimed to help in “preserving national unity on the essentials”. It was … ‘time for all of us to come together to be part of ‘Team Australia’ in order to combat the threat of terrorism.

 

The team sounds less like a call to unity than a shrewd attempt to further division and promote intolerance. It boosts fear and anxiety. When he followed up by saying that extremists could be carrying out beheadings here in Australia in future, Abbott clearly signalled that he intends to continue to frighten the electorate into giving increasing power and information to the state whilst at the same time reducing or constricting its citizens’ right to know what their government is up to. Their right to a government that is answerable for its actions and responsible in its conduct. Worthy of their trust.

Steak knives for the caravan

Got these for ten dollars, says Peter, proprietor of our local post office. I have called when he is busy elsewhere. He has seen me arrive from where he is outside staking young nut trees. He quickly chases after me into the shop.
Plenty of time. No need to rush back to your post, Peter.

A pun to ease his embarrassment and my awkwardness. Wind’s getting up again, he says.

Last night there were gusts to 120 km shaking our little cabin in the woods. It’s a compact house which we like to call our cabin. A transportable, it was built in a factory and placed on site twelve years ago. When the wind blows like this at night it stirs as if it has further voyaging in mind.

Bits of broken tree are strewn across the Post Office drive. The winds have tossed a sprig of grey gum leaves, a trophy of chaos theory down like a gauntlet on the ferrous door mat. Peter need say no more. We are already united manfully in the battle against the elements. And a certain bending of the rules of duty are, it is tacitly agreed, are to be expected in the circumstances. It’s every man for himself in the fight against nature.

I have dropped in to pick up our shoes. I show him the red printed card, retrieved from our post box at the end of the road that cuts across our road. It feels good to be doing this. We are lucky to get a delivery in the bush. The card lets you know you have an item to collect. You have ordered it, you have paid for it but it seems like a gift.

Peter bobs down under the counter and surfaces with a large parcel to his chest. Too large, I fear. We are moved to put our heads down over the mystery item yet it is an uneasy moment. It is too big and too wrong not to be a type of rebuke. Neither of us can manage a word of banter.

We peer at each other over the barrier. The size of it on the counter our own brown paper Berlin wall. I read aloud the name on the parcel. He reads it aloud too. It is not my name. But it is similar. I point out that the addressee is lucky enough to have my surname as his first name. Apart from that I don’t know him from a bar of soap. It is the wrong parcel. Peter gets the picture. Not your name is it, he says after an owlish moment. I can see that he, too prefers, bargain bin reading glasses. His would do Woody Allen proud.

Peter then finds the correct parcel. It is much smaller and is the right shape to be containing two pairs of comfortable planet shoes. I can tell without needing to read the label that this one is our parcel and not someone else’s. Other people’s mail always looks and feels a bit strange. It is safely put out of the picture. Peter brightens. Yet there is some other redemptive business to be done in the nether regions.

Peter looks down, puts one knee forward and points to a brown trouser leg, as if preparing a stage bow. Got them from Vinnies. Cost me ten dollars.

Love Vinnies, I return. In fact, I love op shops full stop, I reply. Nothing wrong with recycling. We have bonded over the storm threat. Now we are recruited into admiring the trousers. King Gee khaki, still stiff with the dress in the cotton and shiny with the sanforising. I am aware that Peter is not a big man. There is something elfin about him at this point. Yet this is a serious trouser. I admire his industry and practicality. This needs no words. Besides, we are headed for agreement over bargaining and the battle to save the planet.

Work trousers, he says. Second hand but never been worn. Didn’t go looking for trousers. Went in to get a set of steak knives for the caravan.

He makes a little step forward on to his toes as if to dance.

Nothing worse, I say than a steak in a caravan without a steak knife. Takes the edge right off it.

Drives me crazy, he confesses. Of course, I found the knives I wanted.
Got a set for $2.50.

I point to the flouro top I am wearing. Two dollars in the same shop I tell him. Now we are brothers in the battle to stretch the dollar, save the planet and donate to charity.

It feels good to have the right parcel under my arm. Peter skips off, happily, his new trousers cracking, to return to his saving of the nut trees. I leave feeling happy to be in a right priced world where a man gets the right knife to eat steak in his trailer. And the right priced pants to tend his garden. Happy to be in on the bargain. Happy to live in the bush where the local post office is a place where such marvellous exchanges are possible.

Ease up on Joe Hockey

joe swts

Ease up on Joe Hockey.

Ease up on Joe Hockey. Give him a break. He’s not travelling well, lately. Under constant attack for things he’s said and done. Just look at him. Wounded? He’s bleeding all over the place. And it just gets worse. Just look at his recent fulsome apology on his mate’s radio show in Sydney. Someone needs to rescue him from himself. Someone needs at least to tell him: Joe, the way you show you are a life-long defender of the poor and needy lies in the things you do, not in the word you choose when you think you have to say sorry. Words don’t cut it, mate. If you don’t even get that, Joe Hockey, you are really in serious trouble.

Now it is true, many of Hockey’s wounds are self-inflicted. Dancing in your office on Budget night, however, nimbly, creates an image unhelpful to your long-term career prospects. Similarly, acting like a fat cat, kicking back with a cigar doesn’t help you sell budget austerity measures. Nor is it helpful to seem thin-skinned or to cry foul too often. And getting a book out is unhelpful – a distracting and disturbing form of stroking your own ego in public.

Hockey’s self-pitying attempts to defend himself only dig him deeper into a hole. Claiming you’ve been taken out of context only add insult to injury. In brief, it is clear so far, Hockey’s manifest talents amount to a gift for self-sabotage.  But don’t put the boot in.   Hockey is not entirely to blame for his predicament.

Some have already dismissed Hockey as incompetent. They say he’s gaffe-prone, innumerate and not across the detail. That’s harsh. And unfair. These things haven’t stopped his boss’s career. But it’s wrong to kick a man when he’s down and it confuses the man with his office. True, there are many ways in which Hockey hasn’t helped his cause. He is not selling the budget. He shows he has limited understanding of key terms such as progressive taxes. He asserts that poor people don’t own cars. It’s a long list. Yet all it goes to show is that Hockey is struggling to get his act together. He clearly still has a fair bit to learn both about his job and how to go about it. Special knowledge is required and that’s not all. The job comes with clear expectations about appropriate and effective behaviour.

Hockey is taking a while to get a handle on his portfolio. But let’s be fair. Let’s look at the bigger picture. It hasn’t been easy. He’s had no real apprenticeship. No real mentor. And you can’t really count his performances as shadow treasurer as work experience. The truth is that Hockey has come to greatness a little unprepared. And greatness was thrust upon him in difficult times and circumstances. He can’t even count on the cupboard love of the business world. The cupboard is bare. If he can hardly seem to take a trick these days it is because of the hand he was dealt in the first place. And the rest of the players in the game. 

Making Hockey Treasurer was one of Abbot’s wild cards. The appointment surprised many, Hockey included.  Nothing he’s ever done then or now has given the impression that he’s good with numbers. This includes his failure to calculate his numbers in the party room when his healthy ego had him tilt at the leadership. But as a way of containing Hockey’s rivalry and taking care of his greater popularity, making him Treasurer was a shrewd career move on Abbott’s behalf. Shrewd but as with many Abbott moves it was neither thought through nor in anyone else’s interests. And ultimately it has come at a high cost to all. Even to Abbott.

Even if it were not a setup, being made Treasurer was a huge step up. The job seemed bigger than the man, from the outset. And there was no real job description. No detailed performance plan. Nor time to make one. And Abbott’s leadership has never been nurturing. Nor could it ever be said that ideas were its long suit. The long time in opposition was squandered on sloganeering, negativity and hollow promises. In place of careful strategy and preparedness for government appeared an arresting complacency and arrogance bred of a misplaced sense of entitlement. Hockey was left to fall back on the only trick up his sleeve. Just a Commission of Audit scaring everyone with its dire prognostications. He was left like Chicken Little telling the village that the sky was falling. But Chicken Little did not have a bad press. Just a credibility problem.

While it may have been a shrewd time saver in place of a plan of his own, and while it may have been a cunning scare tactic to make the following Budget cuts appear not too deep, the commission of audit did more to alarm than advise. Alarm is not always easy to control. Blend in a layer of self-generated hysteria about the mess Labor left us in and no wonder it’s been hard to sell himself or his budget. Hockey is left with no breathing space. No room to move. Add the many ways his Budget appeared to cut deeply and unfairly. Add the lack of logical consistency. Little wonder since, it’s been a series of stumbles for poor Hockey. Now he’s waffling on radio, pointing the finger at debt-deniers.

Hockey’s mentors have taken to telling us to ease off. This is unhelpful. Recent efforts by Julie Bishop, for example, and Amanda Vanstone have been misguided. Indeed, their ‘ease up on Joe’ line may prove fatal. Such efforts mark Hockey as a failure, a man whose colleagues have to bail out when he is trouble. Worse, their tone makes Hockey appear to need special protection, like some pet favourite who deserves to be cossetted at home, not kicked by the big boys in the playground. The enfant terrible, only mothers could love. Disturbing is the implication that we should make allowances for Hockey. Not only does this further disempower him, It contrasts alarmingly with the way Hockey appears to treat everyone else.

Defending Hockey is counterproductive on several levels. Others are wasting their breath telling critics they are being unfair to Joe. Hockey is pretty good at doing that himself. Attempting to protect him now, moreover, merely serves to extend the sense of privilege and entitlement which have dogged so many of his attempts to communicate his capability for the job. And blinkered his apprehension of the facts of life.

What Hockey needed was good advice from the start and some decent role modelling. Instead he had Tony Abbott’s empty rhetoric, sloganeering and contempt for evidence, be it scientific, moral or economic. No. Abbott was not a good role model. Not even for himself. Instead he gave Hockey the poisoned chalice of a job he was ill-suited to and poorly prepared for. Beyond this he conferred the tactical handicap of Abbott’s attraction to underestimating the electorate and skimping on detail. Ever economical with the truth, Abbott may well have seduced Hockey into acting as if the facts don’t really matter. The subtext appears to have been too well-heeded by his acolyte.

“Don’t overestimate their intelligence or their attention span Joe. Keep it simple. Keep repeating it. Frighten them, Joe. Look at the run I got with the carbon tax. Look how we stopped the boats.”  Yet following his leader could well prove lethal to our would-be Treasurer. As many have noted Hockey has an image problem. But it’s deeper than that. His substance is also deeply problematic. Yet could anyone reasonably have expected otherwise? Raised in the hothouse atmosphere of an opposition which never had to account for anything, trained by a party leader who was never a positive role model yet buoyed beyond all reasonable expectation by his own unfettered ambition, Hockey is the enfant terrible of modern Liberal politics. He is the Treasurer we had to have. But not the treasurer he or his party or the country needs.