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Joe Hockey gives government much-needed direction

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Sydney Morning Herald political and international editor

View more articles from Peter Hartcher

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"The age of personal responsibility has begun": Joe Hockey.

"The age of personal responsibility has begun": Joe Hockey. Photo: Peter Braig

Joe Hockey is supplying something the Abbott government has been lacking — a purpose.

In its first months the government had trouble graduating from opposition to a ruling footing. It campaigned for office on the promise to get rid of Labor; once there, it struggled to find any other purpose or agenda. Hockey is providing both.

The purpose is to impose the virtues of the Protestant ethic of work, thrift and self reliance. The irony is that it's being done by a Palestinian-Armenian Australian Catholic. "The age of entitlement is over," Hockey said on Monday. "The age of personal responsibility has begun."

He'd talked about the perniciousness of the age of entitlement while in opposition. It was interesting in a hypothetical kind of way. But Hockey is turning it into reality.

Already we see the Treasurer leading the government in resolute decisions. The end to Holden's taxpayer-funded death throes was an act of political bravery. The decision last week to deny SPC Ardmona a government handout showed this was not merely a matter of money. The fruit canner was asking for $25 million, less than previous governments have given to renovate footy fields in marginal electorates. This was a decision about a principle and precedent.

Hockey was unmoved that the firm, owned by Coca-Cola Amatil, was the dominant employer in a marginal electorate: "This is not the proper use of taxpayers' money," Hockey told ABC radio.

On Monday the Treasurer confronted the demands of farmers. Hockey rebuffed the public campaigning of his cabinet colleague, Barnaby Joyce, to give farmers help with restructuring their bank debts: "They should speak to the people that they owe the money to as a starting point."

Hockey has so far stood firm against major employers, their unions, agriculture and his own colleagues as guardian of the public purse and spokesman for private virtue. And he has prevailed. Of course, it's the traditional role for the treasurer to be the hard man. Some never manage to achieve it. Wayne Swan, for instance.

But Hockey can only succeed with the acquiescence of his Prime Minister. So far, Tony Abbott has been fully supportive. Hockey's big test, his first budget, lies ahead. His credentials will be defined by it. So will Abbott's government.

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250 comments

  • Hockey's made some pretty good calls so far. The looming farm support debate will be a tester though.

    It's going to be a big year for Joe with the CoA and budget to set the scene for potentially the next six years of government fiscal direction. The deficit and debt are the big budget issues, as well as reversing the slowing growth and rising unemployment that Labor bequeathed him.

    Hopefully he's up to it - so far so good.

    Commenter
    Hacka
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    February 04, 2014, 6:40AM
    • Hacka, well said.
      It is good to see a responsible adult government at the helm.

      Commenter
      Pistol Pete
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:08AM
    • CoA is just a ploy to play for time - nothing new will come out of it other than cut cut cut as was predicted last year. Joe has noting in him just waiting to be spoon fed by his ex-Howard Ministers.

      Commenter
      Mais51
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:14AM
    • Hacka
      Of course the age of entitlement is over. It doesn't start again until just before the next election.
      Until then, we have to fill his coffers to fund the pork barreling.

      Commenter
      Steve
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:18AM
    • Maybe he could reverse his earlier decision to hand 30k of Australias richest people legal tax evasion through super deductions?
      Or, end tax evasion though trusts?
      Or, end GST evasion through personal purchases made by companies?
      Or, reverse his earlier decision that allows company car rorts?
      Or, tax company benefits received by directors.
      Plenty of options there but i bet ya he focusses on those who can least defend themselves like single mums, unemployed or disabled. What a team . . .

      Commenter
      Danger Ranger
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:20AM
    • Most of the 'budget deficit' are structural and the result of the continuation of Howard era tax cuts.

      Commenter
      hyperstimulated
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:23AM
    • The scenario painted by Barnaby on Q&A was of struggling families on the land staring down the barrel of financial ruin and mental anguish. This is going to be a very testing time for Joe where emotions are threatening to overwhelm economic rationalism.

      I don't think that Swan could have withstood the pressure. The Libs would not have allowed him to be seen as taking a hard stand to curb debt; and he would have wilted.

      The way the farmers' plight was presented last night was as if Barnaby had only just learned this from recent discussions. One wonders what he and Abbott were talking about for the three years they were running around the bush, posing with struggling farmers and promising things would be fixed when elected. They must have only been hearing the sound of their own voices instead of formulating policy.

      Commenter
      Gelert of Birrong
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:28AM
    • This is rubbish ! For weeks before the last election the media was full of the drugs in football scandals. It was simply a smoke screen which helped Abbott avoid getting into discussions about his one line slogan policies. He is now in power and creating policy on the run with the help of his hopeless off-siders. Last night on Q&A, the ABC was accused of being left biased - of course they are. The simple fact is that they are not extreme right wing like the LNP and don't subscribe to their flawed ideology. The alterrnative - Rupert Murdoch is a danger to democracy. We now have a PM who is as inept as George Dubya Bush - the man who gave us the GFC, and who is reponsible for the global economic mess. I don't take any notice of anything Hockey says, he simply sings as directed.

      Commenter
      brutus
      Location
      Indi
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:33AM
    • Hacka the mere fact you endorse something means it got to be wrong. You always take such a narrow view on issues, you can't be taken seriously.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      Drummoyne
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:35AM
    • 'The age of entitlement is over'

      Except if you are a high earning woman who decides to stay at home and look after children.

      Hollow words Joe Hockey!

      Commenter
      Liberal National Middle Class Welfare Party
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 04, 2014, 7:43AM

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