I first met Joe Hockey in Canberra in 1996. It was late in the week, and Joe was hosting a group of staffers in his office. Laughter and banter abounded. In an instant I found him approachable, and I felt comfortable in his presence.
As the afternoon wore on, I was sitting across from him at his desk. We discussed politics and sport. At one point, our discussion caused him to pause and reflect. He then pushed back into his chair and placed his customary R. M. Williams boots on the edge of his desk. With his hands clasped behind his head and looking to the ceiling, he said, "Andrew, did you know I cannot walk down a street in my electorate without having roses thrown at my feet?"
I laughed. Hard. It was obvious he was pleased with himself. He was in a good place. Why not? He was a young federal member of parliament. He was self-confident. Ambitious. Blessed with an infectious sense of humour. His outlook on world affairs belied his youthful appearance. His electorate loved him. Bigger things beckoned for Joe Hockey.
A few years later, I found myself again sitting across from him. This time he was seated behind his ministerial desk in Parliament House. In addition to advocating for small business and tourism, Joe was acting Minister for Industry and Resources (during Ian Macfarlane's ill health in 2003) and I was an energy adviser. Joe made it clear to me he was not going to simply sign briefing papers presented to him. He was determined to leave his mark on the portfolio. His message was clear.
Weeks later, sitting at a café in his electorate, we ate breakfast and drank (a lot of) coffee as I briefed him ahead of his first energy ministers' meeting. I sensed he was agitated, even nervous, about what was before him. He seemed restless. Why waste a day in a meeting, he asked, when he can simply pick up the phone and sort these issues with his state colleagues? I appreciated his eagerness (and did not doubt his abilities) but gently coaxed him into making the most of the meeting. He did well. Enduring a full day's meeting looking out at a sea of state Labor energy ministers must not have been easy. But he managed the room with aplomb. He was pleased with his efforts. Little did he know, however, he was witness to the initial stages of a decade-long civil war in energy and climate policy in Australia. He was to feel the full force of "energy politics" in December 2009, when seeking to lead the federal parliamentary Liberal Party. In offering a conscience vote on an emissions trading scheme to assuage his colleagues, he tried and failed. It was not for the last time.
Hockey was again to have his lifetime ambition of being prime minister denied by his colleagues some six years later, when a deal done by newly elected prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to appoint Scott Morrison as treasurer hastened Joe's exit from Parliament. Turnbull offered Joe the chance to leave behind his career-ending disappointment and start afresh as Australia's 25th ambassador to the United States. Hockey agreed, and would go on to relish this opportunity.
Hockey received a standing ovation from his parliamentary colleagues at the end of his valedictory speech, delivered on October 21, 2015. He was leaving with nothing but good wishes from both sides of politics. A new chapter in his public life was beginning. One he would end up sharing with us.
For people interested in politics, international diplomacy, and public leadership, Diplomatic: A Washington Memoir offers readers a smorgasbord of insights and lessons learned across Joe's 25-year career in public life. Much like Christopher Pyne's hilariously funny and engaging The Insider (Hatchette Australia), Hockey's memoir is peppered with humorous events and larger-than-life personalities. Hockey's accounts of his political and diplomatic life are equally refreshing and honest. Refreshing in that a reader occupies a front-row seat as he provides a peek into the demands (and fun times) of life as an ambassador. Honest in the way Joe reveals his mistakes, emotions, and shortcomings as a husband, father, son, politician, and diplomat.
Diplomatic: A Washington Memoir is a 306-page reflection on Hockey's time and efforts advocating Australia's national interests in the age of presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden. As the cover blurb rightly says, this book covers an important period in the US-Australian relationship, across a time of heightened political turmoil, and at the dawn of a new administration promising hope and renewal.
It is an important contribution to the study of public leadership and is a credit to its authors.
Diplomatic: A Washington Memoir, by Joe Hockey with Leo Shanahan, HarperCollins, 2022.
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