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Mr Hockey goes to Washington: Top posting a curious reward for political flame-out

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull embraces former treasurer Joe Hockey after Mr Hockey’s valedictory speech. Photo: Andrew Meares Former treasurer Joe Hockey delivers his valedictory speech in October. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mr Hockey receives a standing ovation from colleagues upon his farewell speech. Photo: Andrew Meares

Joe Hockey announced as next ambassador to the USJoe Hockey’s thirst for revenge

Ever noticed how the loudest advocates of free enterprise culture can be the most reluctant to leave the public sector?

The Parliament is positively brimming with such adherents – people whose careers have been made on the public purse even as they present as self-made men.

As Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz, and Ian Macfarlane cling to their positions, despite their careers having clearly peaked, it seems that even their generous parliamentary pensions are not enough to ease their transfer to retirement or a private sector job.

Some are lucky enough to stay on the public books even after they leave politics.

Take Joe Hockey. The erstwhile treasurer has been rewarded with the nation’s top diplomatic posting – quite a result given that his two years as economic chieftain were characterised by a governmental nose-dive caused by the least subtle, and most poorly explained budget in decades. It was the very antithesis of diplomacy.

The man whose troubled term in office ended in ignominy after colleagues grew tired of the lapses of judgment, and an ill-advised defamation claim, says he had to leave politics because to stay would have meant getting even with those who brought him down. These are the same people incidentally he will now be reporting too: Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull now says “Joe is a great n” and that he will be perfect because has extensive contacts in the US. This commendation should be seen for what it is. After all, he has recently described Tony Abbott as “a great prime minister”, raising the obvious question, why roll him?

As political flame-outs go, Hockey’s was pretty remarkable. Not so long ago he was regarded as future prime minister material. In the first six months of the Abbott government, the new treasurer was seen as the policy spine in a show that, amazingly, was already showing signs of drift.

His 2012 speech on ending the age of entitlement had offered a narrative core that, axeing a few taxes aside, seemed strangely absent. But then it all turned to custard.

Hockey’s faults as a treasurer however, may well be useful as a diplomat. If, as Hockey’s defenders say, his first budget was really Abbott’s, it shows his willingness to put the team first, even if the plan is bone-headed.

In a funny old way, Hockey’s strengths as a personable, instantly likeable person with strong values and an intellectual foundation, might position him better for the role he’s entering than the one’s he’s leaving behind.

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