Joe Hockey 'trajects' his credibility right over the cliff

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(Image by John Graham)

Why all the stuff and nonsense from Joe Hockey about returning the economy to surplus? David Tyler (aka Urban Wronski) says it's time Joe 'fessed up' to making impossible promises to get elected.

Joe Hockey on ABC Insiders 19 April 2015:

“We never put a date on returning to surplus. We just need to show we have a quality trajectory, a quality trajectory back to surplus and that we are getting the budget under control. Now, you will see that in the budget…”

"NO WAY" will the Coalition be “putting a date on the surplus” Joe Hockey roundly declares on ABC Insiders. It is no backflip, the federal treasurer suggests. He never set such a date. Yet it’s not what the record reflects.

Last election, Joe Hockey promised a “guaranteed return to surplus within one term”, a promise that voters certainly heard as “putting a date” on the surplus. It was upbeat, it was encouraging and it was ongoing.

Before the 2013 federal election, Hockey not only pledged a surplus in his party’s first year in office but "every year after that". Voters would have heard him “put a date on” a surplus at that time, too, even if he was quick to step back from his commitment at the last minute. 

On the eve of the election, Hockey downgraded his pledge of a guaranteed surplus in one term and forever to “an ambition” to be “on-track” for a surplus at the end of Coalition's first term.

Retreating even further, now Hockey is scuttling away like the white rabbit leaving nothing behind but his “trajectory”, meaning he’ll get Treasury to give us some beautiful figures showing expenditure going down and income rising over the forward estimates. It will look good but Nostradamus would be about as credible a guide to how the economy will perform and what future budgets will be like. Experts consistently got it wrong in the past.

Why all the stuff and nonsense about a return to surplus?

Fiscal consolidation has been abandoned. Why all the stuff and nonsense about a return to surplus when he clearly doesn’t mean it and he certainly can’t achieve it? Is it an “in joke”? Have we missed a punchline somewhere?

Hockey and Abbott are morbid jokesters as far as taxation promises go according to Peter Costello, who should know given the fun he had at our expense with not taxing super and squandering the profits of a minerals boom on tax cuts to buy votes.

Perhaps Joe expects us to realise that he was only making a prank call back then. Perhaps he also, not unreasonably, supposes only a fool to expect his party to keep any of its election promises. Or even remember them.

Perhaps Joe considers that his promise was automatically redacted or cancelled once “the coals” won office and the myth of Labor’s delinquent financial mess, its debt and deficit disaster was trumped up and down the land. After all, this is the government where rhetoric fixes everything.

Perhaps, again, we just didn’t read the fine print as we failed to see the strings attached to Abbott’s “no new taxes". Huckster Hockey’s phrase this time is beguiling. Could he be invoking the rise of “quality”: the rich and the privileged as trickle-down economics ensures their ascendancy over everyone else’s decline, in a “quality trajectory”? Or has he gone completely ballistic?

Who's telling porkies? Hockey or Abbott?

Certainly the Hockster’s trajectory conflicts with the PM’s. Only last month Tony Abbott said it would

“take five years to achieve a budget surplus”

One of them has to be telling porkies. Could Joe’s “quality trajectory” refers to all the dodging and weaving he’s been doing to dodge his own Prime Ministers as well as all his own promises of a return to surplus?

“We just need to show we have a quality trajectory back to surplus.”

If only it were that simple, Mr Hockey, you would be dancing in the street and blowing kisses to Wayne Swan across the chamber. Swannie certainly had extra virgin quality in a winsome budget trajectory. So, too, the now failing South Australian economy once had some fine figures in its budget forecasts. But a beautiful set of figures cannot stop the ever changing game of a real economy making you look like a mug.

Time to fess up, Joe. Your party made impossible promises which ignored all reasonable probability, all reality. Ignored trends in terms of trade and export earnings. Boom commodity prices were always going to return to normal. An ageing population? People were always going to grow older. Local manufacturing has never looked flash. Then you had to drive the car makers out of the country. How could this help anyone put the brakes on the deficit?

Come off it, Mr Hockey, any fool can forecast smaller deficits with surpluses around the corner or over the horizon of the forward estimates. But the economy always has a mind of its own. Like Sam Goldwyn’s verbal contract, a quality trajectory isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

Putting a date on the surplus like pinning the tail on the donkey

“Putting a date on the surplus” sounds increasingly like the parlour game of pin the tail on the donkey. There are other similarities. It is a game for starters and participants must wear blindfolds. You play it at kids’ parties. No wonder you are begging off now that the “grown ups” are in charge, Joe.   

Tragically, for all parties, the more party-pooper Joe Hockey opens his mouth the less we pay attention. We tune out, turn off, leave the room, do the dishes or weed the garden; anything to escape his empty bluff and bluster; his punishing injured, self-righteousness tone; his petty, political point-scoring.

Curbing corporate tax evasion? All bluff and bluster

Bluffing that you are curbing corporate tax evasion by setting up talks with Britain, “a plan to have a plan”, to take mutual action doesn't cut it, Joe. Even Sam Dastyari has achieved more than that. Blustering that Labor buggered the budget by not playing ball won't shake off the sense of unfairness your government created all by itself. By contrast, squaring off to snatch tax-deduction status from environmental groups looks politically motivated and only serves to underline how soft you are by contrast on the big end of town. 

What's that? You tried to do too much too quickly? Spare us. Show us what you've done about tax instead of peevishly claiming to beat Costello to voice bracket creep concern. None of your petty excuses will help you rebuild your authority; your program of “reform” is just a joke, Joe.

Of course, a lot more would have to change before we could take the morbid jokester Hockey seriously. It’s not impossible, but it’s a big call now. Something to say and the means to say it would be a good start. So would telling the truth. And having a real plan.

A swill of half-baked neo-con rhetoric, porky pies and baloney 

Instead, however, the treasurer continues to serve up a swill of half-baked neo-con rhetoric, porky pies and baloney boosted by the odd piquant dash of jargon be it “disintermediation” or “quality trajectory”. In the coalition’s far-right fantasy, wages must come down so that opportunities may be created and wealth can trickle down. No matter that wages are at a record low. No matter that inequality is growing. The party’s wealthy backers in business must be appeased.

The coalition’s record of economic management since it misled voters into electing it is in tatters. His “quality trajectory” is but the latest whimper of retreat as Hockey backs away from commitments he should never have made; promises he could never deliver as he discovers to his cost, he must deal with the real challenges of an economy in downturn; his own credibility sunk; his government’s political capital now well and truly all spent.

You can follow David on Twitter @UrbanWronski

​You can order John Graham's original cartoons from the IA store.

Joe Hockey embarrassed on BBC TV - Didn't know Australia was the highest emitter in the OECD

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