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Now that Smokin’ Joe has left the ring, we want to know: between Joe Hockey and Wayne Swan, who was the better Treasurer? Rob Idol explains.
As the dust settles from last week’s leadership spill and the subsequent cabinet reshuffle, the biggest casualty on the field is the one and only Joe Hockey. Many are cheering and are possibly justified in doing so. In the interests of being objective, let’s have a look at the larger than life Member for North Sydney and pose the question: was he really that bad?
When talking about a Treasurer, the easiest place to start is with the numbers. Did Joe Hockey improve the economy? Was he better than the champion he deposed, Wayne Swan?
Let’s took at the tale of the (ticker) tape:
According to a poll undertaken by Essential Research in late 2014, Smokin’ Joe only amassed four percent of the vote when people were asked to rate the best treasurer of the past 40 years. Wayne Swan doubled him with eight percent and the usual suspects of Costello (30 percent), Keating (18 percent) and Howard (12 percent) topped the list. It’s fair to say that in the eyes of the public, Hockey has been left wanting.
But what about the raw, hard facts?
Well, let’s ring the Bell.
Early on it looks like The Swan has started faster. Round One points to him.
Australia’s debt crisis has certainly been the catch cry of both Hockey and former-PM Tony Abbott; it could be argued they won an election on the back of a promise to solve it. The numbers from last quarter indicate that Australia’s current account deficit rose some 41 percent to $19,033 million in the June 2015 quarter. If we have a look at the current account deficit at around the time Joe Hockey took the reigns, it had climbed to 7 percent in the June quarter 2013 to $9,350 million.
Round Two goes to Swan.
Or for a statistic more recognisable to the masses, the budget deficit. Joe Hockey’s most recent budget delivered a deficit of $35.1 billion. This compared to Swanny’s last budget which came in with a deficit of $18 billion.
You have to admit it’s not looking good for Smokin Joe. He’s out on his feet, stumbling for his corner. The wiry Queenslander has a long lead on points, so under (spin) doctor’s order’s we’ve stopped the fight. We at TBS declare Wayne Swan the winner.
But before we raise his hand to make it official, are the results all they seem?
I’m not an economist; I’m not even close to an economist. Whilst I have a general idea of what the above figures mean, I’m by no means qualified to make an in-depth analysis of what these figures’ differences mean in real terms. After all, treasurers are a clever bunch and can be quite good at deferring spending to make a deficit position look better. But, in many ways, that’s exactly the point.
Most everyday Australians don’t have an expert level of knowledge where the economy is concerned.
We rely on politicians and independent experts to break it all down in a language that we can understand. Unfortunately, more often than not, that lack of knowledge also means that we can be easily manipulated with doublespeak surrounding the numbers.
One year Hockey told us there was a debt crisis that required us all to tighten our purse strings, abandon our economically burdensome elderly, and pray to whatever deity we believed in as we prepared for the debtpocalypse. The next year, despite our debt position being worse, the debt crisis was nowhere to speak of and Joe was handing out presents in exchange for votes. His biggest problem was in the sell – not only did we not believe him, it didn’t feel like he believed himself.
Let’s also not forget the Abbott factor. During his tenure, Tony proved time and time again that he was the leader, and thusly, called the shots. Any reasonable reform suggestions from Hockey would have been ignored if they didn’t align with Abbott’s master plan. Whether he had any or not we will never know (until. Joe pens his memoirs).
So, in making a flat, brass-tacks comparison between Joe Hockey and Wayne Swan, the truth is, you can’t. Nor can you really make a comparison between any two treasurers. There are simply too many variables in play. It would be impossible to know how any treasurer throughout our history would manage any economic situation throughout our history as no two are remotely similar.
Hockey inherited debt. He inherited a public that had been convinced by Tony Abbott and Hockey himself that Labor had absolutely stuffed the economy. He walked into a hostile Senate that were blocking his austerity measures at every turn. It would not have been an easy job for anyone, but he put his hand up for it. More than that, he and Abbott convinced us that they were the economic messiahs we needed.
There are many legitimate reasons (most out of his control) for Hockey not performing as well as he promised. I’m sure he could rattle off every single one for you; from lower commodity prices, falling trade on the back of a strong Australian dollar to a Senate determined to not let him pass anything, to name but a few.
To the Australian public, it doesn’t matter. You simply cannot over promise and under perform in the modern political age. You cannot put yourself up as the solution and then solve very little. If you want to play politics, then be prepared to have politics play you.
Did Joe Hockey do a terrible job? Not really.
Thanks to the hostile Senate that kept him up at night, very few of his attacks on low-income earners in this country ever saw the light of day. He also tried to do some good with an attempt at a crackdown on tax avoidance from large multinationals.
Despite his many public gaffes, his heart was probably in the right place. If I learned nothing else from the big fella, I now know that the key to buying a house in Sydney is simply to earn more money and that I probably shouldn’t be driving a car.
Valé, Joe. We won’t miss you, but we don’t hate you.