The revelations in Phil Coorey’s column that the Coalition’s own Laurel & Hardy Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey had engaged in corridor sledging of the Prime Minister in Parliament House don’t reflect well on either of them.
It was raining heavily in Canberra on Wednesday so, after question time, Julia Gillard walked the corridors back to her office rather than cut across a courtyard as she usually does.
As she strolled past opposition MPs’ offices, Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey, like two schoolyard ne’er-do-wells, trailed about 10 paces behind, heckling. Hockey was bellowing the Engelbert Humperdinck lyrics: “Please release me, let me go, ’cause I don’t love you any more …” Pyne, doing his best to affect a menacing gravitas, was taunting repeatedly: “You’re drowning Julia, not waving, you’re drowning.”
By any measure, it was disrespectful behaviour towards a prime minister but Gillard, whose government has plumbed record depths in unpopularity, is getting used to such treatment and ignored her tormenters.
VEXNEWS has learned that this was not an isolated incident and while the PM is apparently unfazed by it (a background in student politics and in representing various union rough-heads probably made Pyne/Hockey’s efforts seem rather limp) it is not smart politics by Hockey and Pyne.
Parliament House sources say these antics – directed at the nation’s first female PM – usually flare up when the Coalition has had a bad day in the chamber. That itself is rather damning as it reveals the behaviour is not even a political tactic so much as a venting of frustration and rage.
It seems unlikely the leaders of many nations would be subjected to this kind of thing. President Obama, while attacked by some as foreign-born, the Devil and an over-enthusiastic leisure-time seeker, is unlikely to be heckled by even the loopiest members of the US Congress in private in the stupid way of Pyne & Hockey.
Politics at its best is passionate. But the Coalition’s lesser performers – perhaps inspired by their hyper-aggressive and highly effective leader – rarely seem to get the tone right.
Hockey has more identity issues than a schizophenia convention.
Desperate to be loved, and naturally apparently a conflict-averse chap, he plays out of position when he tries to be the tough-guy.
His recent muscling-up on fiscal policy, where he apparently leaked against himself plans to make $70 billion on spending cuts, was calculated to make him look like the tough-guy.
Instead, most of his colleagues immediately knew he’d done it and instantly knew why. He was desperate to assert his fiscal manhood. Even if it set a trap for the Coalition at the next election where one of Labor’s best cards to play is talk up the consequences of cuts to services etc. A high price to pay for Hockey trying to pretend to be something other than what he is: a nice bloke who is probably not a natural Shadow Treasurer/Treasurer.
That job needs a tough-guy, not a nice bloke.
And there’s one big b*stard just waiting for the call. Malcolm Turnbull.
While his political ineptitude as Leader scaled new heights of folly, it did reveal his Keating-style determination to get his own way.
And that’s the quality successful Treasurers need to have. Strong communications skills but also an unreasonable level of self-belief. Turnbull certainly has it. Hockey doesn’t and never will.
Abbott is a risk-taker in external politics but is reputedly very risk-averse in the management of his colleagues. But he’d go a long way to sealing the deal on his election if he boned the nice-guy Hockey and put up Turnbull in the Treasury role.
It would be a self-confident move that would send a strong message to the business community that occasionally wonders about the statist reputation of Tony Abbott who loudly opposed pretty much every economic reform ever discussed in his time in the Howard cabinet.
The broader truth that to be effective in any area of human activity you’ve got to play to your strengths, and be true to yourself. The only effective muscling up we’ve ever seen Hockey do is on the Rugby Union field. He’d be well advised to leave it there.
We’ve left out Pyne from this analysis because Coorey pretty much said it all:
Pyne, doing his best to affect a menacing gravitas…
If everyone else around you is laughing, and you’re not sure why, then you can reasonably surmise that you are, in fact, the joke.