Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Hockey should stop making threats about the future and try to manage the present

Hockey should stop making threats about the future and try to manage the present

Professorial Fellow at University of Canberra

Hockey should stop making threats about the future and try to manage the present

Joe Hockey should be trying to negotiate passage of as much as possible of the budget, not threatening the Senate.
AAP/Joe Castro

Treasurer Joe Hockey, just back from holidays, seems to be suffering from a nasty bout of tin ear.

With the Senate in logjam, querulous, and with many budget measures
still to be debated, or even introduced, Hockey on Wednesday was already
getting out a new big stick.

If the Senate didn’t co-operate in fixing the budget, the government
would just have to make more cuts, he said. Ones that didn’t require
legislation (as, he pointed out, those already made in foreign aid do

Such a threat is bad tactics, on a couple of fronts.

The multiple savings and imposts announced have managed to alienate
almost every section of the community. Are voters, already offside,
likely to be impressed by the prospect of more, unspecified, cuts? The
senators whose arms he is trying to twist won’t be - they have their own
political agendas.

And by warning that if the Senate doesn’t co-operate he’ll need to
resort to savings that don’t require parliamentary sanction, Hockey just
appears to be showing disdain for the legislature at a delicate stage
of budget deliberations.

The immediate fallout from Hockey’s threat was that Labor had the
opportunity in question time to stir up fresh fears of what might come.

Hockey should be moving one step at a time, trying to negotiate
passage of as much as possible of the budget. As things stand, the
bottom line will take a big hit. But the government should wait to get a
better idea of the damage before it suggests it will stride on to a new

Its handling of its budget program so far has been unimpressive, and
it can’t put all the blame on the Senate. It has seemed remarkably slow
in getting its bills onto the parliamentary treadmill.

Hockey’s political deafness was also evident when he was talking
about the government’s changes to Labor’s Future of Finance Advice
(FoFA) legislation. The regulations it has brought in will stand, thanks
to a deal with Clive Palmer. But the changes remain under fire from
seniors groups and other consumer representatives.

When pressed on the FoFA changes Hockey defaults to the fact that
Labor “introduced 16 amendments to their own bills in the parliament”
and the relevant minister, Bill Shorten “had five different explanatory
memorandums for his own bill”.

As was pointed out to Hockey in his Sky interview, the issue that consumers care about is getting good advice.

It’s all very well saying Labor had a messy process in finalising
FoFA and left (the Coalition claims) a system with too much red tape.
The outcome of Labor’s efforts made consumers without expertise feel
more secure in dealing with their superannuation and other investments.

Now their representatives, especially in the seniors' sector, say
these people are worried (an Essential poll this week found 49% had
little or no trust in financial planners to give them independent and
appropriate advice). People do not want a rant about how Labor handled
FoFA. They will need to be convinced about this government’s changes,
and there is little sign it is making any progress with that.

At the same time, Labor’s performance on Wednesday also slipped up.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, due to lead a matter of public importance
debate in the House, couldn’t do so because he’d been thrown out, so it
had to be pulled.

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop relishes ejecting Labor MPs. Even taking this
into account, it is a mystery why senior opposition members think it is
sensible to give her excuses to do so. They presently have so much
ammunition against the Coalition that you would think they’d want to
stay around in the chamber to fire it.

Listen to the latest Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, with guest Senator Sam Dastyari, here.

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