Outback helps Hockey find his way

18 Sep, 2014 04:00 AM
Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce.
Comments to media during the tour were well calculated but also displayed a man in transformation
Treasurer Joe Hockey and Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce.

JOE Hockey’s tour of drought ravaged communities in Queensland and NSW last week was more than just a listening exercise targeting potential government support.

It was also an important, measured step along the pathway towards political redemption and voter reconnection for the recently humbled Treasurer who had seemingly lost his way.

Well-publicised comments last month, saying the poorest people don't have cars or actually don't drive very far in many cases, suggested the Liberal powerbroker was running dangerously short on empathy towards Australian voters and their families, further down the social chain, impacted by the government’s policy-making hand.

It seemed the once popular and affable Treasurer was content to belligerently blame Labor for the nation’s entire fiscal woes and turbo-charge severe budget measures in the name of national interest, regardless of the personal fallout.

Opposition MPs, including shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, pointed out that fatal mistake of generic reasoning by slamming the Treasurer’s errant media commentary on the budget’s proposed petrol tax changes.

Mr Bowen described his counterpart’s comments as “insulting and inaccurate” – an analysis many critics were reluctant to disagree with.

Mr Bowen also accused the Coalition Treasurer of subsequently going into denial for days, being slapped down by the Prime Minister who said it wasn’t something he’d say and eventually issuing a humble apology.

“I want to make it perfectly clear to the community that if there is any suggestion that I don’t care about you, or that I have evil intent towards you, I want to say that couldn’t be further from the truth and I am sorry for the hurt,” Mr Hockey said on radio several days after his petrol tax comments.

However, if one week is a long time in politics one month is almost an eternity.

Joe and Barnaby's tour

Last week, Mr Hockey partnered with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce at meetings in Walgett, NSW, and Charleville and Mitchell in Queensland to share compassion with rural Australians suffering prolonged drought impacts.

Far away from the filtered comfort of his air-conditioned Canberra and Sydney offices, along the dusty back-roads of regional Australia, Mr Hockey shifted gears and indicated he’s capable of putting the brakes on dry economic rationale.

By his own admission, Mr Hockey declared he wanted to go on the tour with Mr Joyce – a fierce advocate for rural Australia - to measure how bad the drought conditions are first hand.

While remaining proud and humble, those communities are also seeking some form of genuine government assistance in a time of genuine need.

Subsidy may be a dirty word in Liberal ranks but the provision of government support to assist people battling the ravages of natural disasters is something altogether different.

If the federal Treasurer and Prime Minister are serious about making agriculture one of the nation’s five key economic pillars, looking farmers in the eye and sharing an affinity for their ongoing challenges is an essential ingredient for developing robust government policy and understanding the industry’s subtle differences and needs.

Hockey's outback 'transformation'

Mr Hockey’s comments to the media during the tour were well calculated but also displayed a man in transformation with a somewhat renewed political compass.

“We have been to Walgett and Mitchell (and) Charleville and really it is about listening, not just turning up when you know it is an absolute end of the road crisis but actually you know, being a participant on the journey,” he said.

Mr Hockey said the communities he visited are “doing it pretty damn tough” but they are also resilient and with targeted assistance, “you can make a big difference”.

He said if a community experienced a massive drop-off in its income that affected not only the community but also the tax office.

“I think there are ways we can try and smooth over some of the peaks and troughs of revenue collections in some of these communities,” he said.

“A drought is something that is not uncommon but I just think we can be better at managing it and I think what we’ve got to do is work with the people that are feeling it but also with the people that are trying to address the issues.

“I think we have close relationships with the banks that are already there and we can have closer relationships with local government but ultimately, if a farmer hasn’t got money it affects the whole community not just the farmer and I think that is lost a bit in the city, sometimes.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Jock Munro
18/09/2014 6:38:30 AM

Expecting anything of a Liberal in regards to good agricultural policy could be described as wishful thinking. The Liberal Party is the bastion of the big end of town and has been at the forefront of reducing grower equity in the market place to the benefit of the corporate sector. Joe Hockey sat with his Liberal colleagues and the Rudd Government in parliament and laughed and jeered as they abolished the wheat single desk.
David Fleming
18/09/2014 7:03:58 AM

Joe,thank you for visiting Walgett.Please don't forget the families that provide services to the farmers.Frankly, if our farm business loses our spraying contractor we will have to find $500,000 to buy a machine that will take his place .If our business loses our contract crop planter we will have to find another half million.If our business loses the header contractor another half million needs to be found.If these contractors families leave Walgett there becomes an even larger business and social void that will take a very long time to fill.
18/09/2014 3:51:44 PM

Good publicity for Hockey, but he should have visited more towns in both NSW and QLD. Just because one town has a problem, doesn't mean another has the same issue (although most of QLD is drought declared, so..)
19/09/2014 2:12:33 PM

Nice to see Hockey has 'compassion and empathy' for one sector of the economy, and none for anyone else. Could it be that his cattle interests are at stake? Where do the rest of the country's 'battlers' get such consideration? Ask him if he's still claiming over $270 per night to stay in Canberra in a house owned by his family, and google Barnaby Joyce travel rorts.Meanwhile the rest of us will battle on to pay for this 'extra support' for the agricultural sector.
20/09/2014 9:55:50 AM

Stop TAC (the animal cruelty), who do you think you are fooling? You and your extremist fringe groups, of animal farmer haters, care nothing for agriculture. If you had your way, you would send every farmer to the wall with ridiculous bans and regulations. And where do you think all the money comes from to fund the welfare subsidies your and your ilk scream for under the cover of inflated award regulations and payments to people who are very often not entitled or eligible. You could not afford anything if it was not for money from wealth creators like farmers, miners and business generally.


Screen name *
Email address *
Remember me?
Comment *


light grey arrow
Forward selling grain is always a risky proposition and we are now seeing further evidence of
light grey arrow
A big old debt bomb globally. The farm sector will not be immune.
light grey arrow
budget update the other day ... we will be going backwards after we have banked this record