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Rejected Hockey looks headed to Washington

HockeyIt seems likely that former federal treasurer Joe Hockey will be named as Australia’s ambassador to Washington when the present incumbent, Kim Beazley, returns home in December. Beazley, a retired former Labor minister, will take on the unpaid job of national president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, operating from his home city iof Perth.

There are mixed views in Australia as to whether or not Hockey will be an effective ambassador. Born in North Sydney to a Palestinian father and Australian mother, he is a sociable and amiable man, generally well liked and intelligent.  His wife, Melissa, is a successful investment banker.

As treasurer in the Abbott government, he had mixed success. His first Budget in 2014 was ill considered and a failure; it was heavily influenced by Abbott. In an editorial, The Australian newspaper called him ‘a very average Joe’ and said he is leaving Parliament with a sad legacy as a below average treasurer. Columnist Janet Albrechtsen went further, questioning whether this “good and affable bloke” is the most suitable person for Australia’s most important diplomatic post. “This gig is not for the faint-hearted or the faintly interested”, she says, carrying the implication that Hockey’s work ethic may fall short of the high demands of working within the Beltway.

That may be unfair. One of the criticisms of Hockey as treasurer was that he spent too much time In Washington at the IMF and World Bank, reflecting his (and his wife’s) interest in global economics and finance. For a year he was also chairman of the G-20 finance ministers, and effective in that role. He was assiduous in OECD work, taking action on profit shifting and tax avoidance by large multinationals, leading to legislation now before the Australian Parliament.

Hockey can be expected to handle the economics and business side of the Washington mission well. Dealing with foreign policy may be tricky for him.  However, it will probably be to his advantage that there will be an election and a new U.S. administration within his first year.

Hockey was the most senior Australian Cabinet minister to push back against Obama and Kerry when exercised influence on Abbott and foreign minister Julie Bishop to boycott  China’s Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Hockey, along with trade minister Andrew Robb, later persuaded Abbott to embrace the bank. Relations between China and the United States (and Australia’s role in that relationship) and the traumas of the Middle East are likely to demand a great deal of the new envoy’s attention, and will provide a real challenge to Hockey if he is appointed.

Ambassador to Washington is a plum job. According to the doyen of Australia’s diplomatic corps, now-retired John McCarthy, being Australia’s ambassador in the American capital is not all its cracked up to be. John has been envoy to Washington, Tokyo, Delhi, Jakarta and other cities, and sent an open letter to Hockey.  You can read it here.