Hung out to dry: Joe Hockey. Photo: Andrew Meares
Come on people, give Joe Hockey a break. The poor man has been hung out to dry by his leader and his colleagues, left on his own to sell a budget that no one likes and has grenades put in it by his fellow ministers.
Think of paid parental leave. This was originally a thought bubble by Tony Abbott at a time when he badly needed to be seen to stand for something. The media were saying he did not understand women, even though he was surrounded by them at home and in his parliamentary office, all telling him what to do and when to do it. So he gave them the PPL scheme and left it to poor Joe to find the money for it.
Or consider the co-payment for visits to the doctor. The electorate had a feeling that Medicare was too expensive and would soon be unaffordable. There were too many people sucking the one teat: doctors and specialists kept putting up their fees with no shame; hospitals had to deal with a union led by people like Kathy Jackson.
Then someone had the bright idea that the co-payment would be put towards research into things like Alzheimer's disease. The electorate was not convinced because they already experienced politicians saying one thing in September and the opposite in December. Besides, they could see that the subset of medicine that had the best lobby would get the lion's share: diabetes or breast cancer or obstetrics or obesity or whatever happened to be trendy. As for Alzheimer's, those people do not even vote.
Anyway, poor Joe had to stand up and look us in the eye and tell us, over our laughter, that Australia would soon be the top country in the whole world for medical research.
Then Christopher Pyne told us that he was going to deregulate the universities. Actually, it was not quite clear what he was going to do with them except that it would SAVE MONEY. Women would become nurses and teachers, while men became dentists and doctors and lawyers. What this had to do with anything was not clear, but the idea that it would somehow save money appealed to Joe so he went along with it.
I bet he is sorry now, as he is sorry about the 40-applications-per-month grenade that Kevin Andrews managed to sneak into his backpack. Young people were not happy and businesses were wondering how their HR departments would cope with the queues of young people applying for jobs for which they were not even remotely qualified.
Then there was the business of the few-cents-per-year increase in the excise on petrol. Joe must have felt that at least he was on a winner with that. Wrong.
On Tuesday, petrol at our local servo was selling at 136.9¢ per litre; the following morning it was 158.5¢. Nobody noticed. Instead, the papers were full of rage at the 2¢ that Joe wanted to put on so that the excise kept pace with inflation.
The fuel companies, the retailers, Coles and Woolies could add more than 20¢ overnight – more than half what the government gets – and no one says boo. Poor Joe tries to add 2¢ and he is crucified.
It got worse when he tried to make a point that the big end of town spent more on petrol than the rest of us. This was the cue for the economists and the statisticians to pause their computer games and show how this would affect low-income earners more than the doctors and dentists and lawyers we met earlier.
Terms like "proportional" and "regressive" were used and we wished we had paid better attention to arithmetics at school. Joe's office was not much help: "In terms of spending over the income distribution, average weekly expenditure on petrol in absolute terms increases with household income, from $16.36 at the lowest-income quintile to $53.87 at the highest-income quintile." Well, that cleared the matter up.
So, here is my suggestion for Joe. Arrange it so that the new excise applies Wednesday to Sunday only. That way, it will not be noticed as part of the the extra 20¢ the petrol companies add each week. The poor who Cory Bernardi and Ricky Muir are so keen to help can get their petrol on Monday and Tuesday.
Joe will, of course, have to put up with the outrage of the petrol companies, who will claim their weekly increase has nothing to do with profit; that it happens – without collusion – by some mysterious, as-yet-unknown law of physics that affects an entire state. It is just business, after all. And the PM said the country was now open for business.
Frank O'Shea is a Melbourne writer.