Will Joe Hockey’s populism come at a price?
In his new role as the self-styled Salvador Allende of the Lower North Shore, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey has had an interesting couple of weeks in his battle with the banks.
He’s been teased by his opponents, white-anted by his colleagues, endured the accidental embarrassment of being labelled part of the “lunatic fringe” by Liberal backbencher Don Randall, who mistakenly assumed the call for government intervention on bank profits had come from the Greens.
Yet out there in punter-land, Joe Hockey is being hailed as a hero. Say what you like about cheap populism, it’s certainly popular.
As of 5pm on Thursday, there were 332 comments on the news.com.au report on the criticisms ANZ chief executive Mike Smith had made of Hockey’s remarks.
The comments were running about 10 to one in Joe Hockey’s favour - which isn’t really that surprising, given that Mr Smith had just announced that the ANZ had made a $5.1 billion cash profit, a lazy $200 million beyond market expectations.
If anything, the readers were of the view that Joe Hockey had not gone far enough and that what was really needed was an immediate government-sponsored seizure of bank assets, with fines for any banker who would dare to raise the standard variable home loan beyond any increase in the RBA’s official cash rate.
You can understand the sentiment. Annoying, niggardly, penny-pinching fees make up a significant portion of the ANZ’s thumping $5.1 billion profit. The same goes for the Commonwealth’s $5.6 billion. And the NAB’s $4.2 billion. And the $6 billion Westpac is likely to unveil this week.
These huge numbers also make it much harder for bank chiefs to explain why they feel the need to stump for increases in mortgages when interest rates haven’t actually gone up.
So Joe Hockey might be a figure of fun for the government, and a source of discomfort for many in the Opposition, none more so than Tony Abbott, who wanted the ground to swallow him up the other day rather than answer the simple question of whether he supported his Shadow Treasurer’s nine-point plan to combat the rapacious Big Four. But on talkback and on websites he is a true man of the people.
The question which Joe Hockey should ask himself is what good this new Robin Hood status will actually do him and his party in the long run.
There are two issues at play here for Hockey. The first involves disunity. The second involves delivering on what he has actually said.
While people might passionately endorse Hockey’s sentiments about bank profits, they are just as likely to conclude from the political backdrop to his remarks that the Coalition is all over the place on this issue, that Hockey is some kind of lone ranger, taking a stand which does not have the formal backing of his leader or the party room, and with which many of his colleagues clearly disagree.
There’s also a sense that he is being oppositionist in his stance. Sure, he’s getting a dream run on commercial television and in the popular press, across talkback radio, by jumping up and down on the issue. But it’s an issue which the Liberals, as the traditional party of business, would never pursue in government, unless they have suddenly decided under Citizen Joe’s influence that the socialisation of corporate profits is their new ethos.
Voters are wise to this sort of stuff. They have a good radar for telling when a politician who has done one thing in government does something else in opposition. That is the territory Hockey is in.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been bandying about the term “economic Hansonism” of late to suck up to business and ridicule the Coalition. If you’re looking for an example of what this term could mean, Labor’s period in Opposition between 1996 and 2007 provides a few good examples, such as the stand the party took against tariff cuts in the car industry in John Howard’s first term. It was a bit rich coming from the same people who brought down the Button car plan. And while it might have won them plenty of empty cheers on talkback in South Australia and Victoria at the time, it didn’t win them a seat.
For his own long-term credibility with voters, and his own standing within the Liberal Party, Joe Hockey should probably reflect on that. Populism might be cheap but it also comes at a price.
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In which I make easily the world's worst pun in the second last line http://t.co/lUMiXYNAJe
@PompousGoose Noted criticism. Are you the former MP nicknamed Dorrie after a TV character who would whine,' I never know what’s going on'.
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