The man who seems poised to hold Australia’s economic future in his hands needs to try harder. At the least, he needs to read more extensively, more deeply and of a better quality of title. As does his researcher.
An excellent place to start would be within the annals of his own political hero and patron, John Howard.
In denigrating Euromoney magazine’s awarding of its prestigious Finance Minister of the Year gong to Treasurer Wayne Swan, Hockey took particular relish at sticking it up the 2001 recipient, the then finance minister of Pakistan.
One can’t speak to what Hockey had in mind when he let fly that particular spray. His office refused to reveal what he found ”extraordinary” about that gong to Pakistan. Maybe in Joe and his boss Tony’s dog-whistling world, Pakistanis can’t be capable of anything more than boarding a people-smuggler’s rickety Australia-bound boat. Or perhaps strapping some explosives to their chest, or fixing a cricket match.
More likely, his research was no more scientific than googling Euromoney‘s Wikipedia pages, seeing the word Pakistan and thinking that will resonate in middle Australia as a synonym for basket case. And aren’t they Muslims too? An electoral bonus in the heartland swing seats!
True, Pakistan isn’t China (awarded in 2008) or Canada (last year, and a Tory too, inconveniently for Hockey). But had Joe browsed deeper he would have discovered the 2001 gong went to a man called Shaukat Aziz.
He would have discovered that Aziz was an expatriate career banker, at one point tipped to head Citibank in New York, when he was asked by Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharraf to come home and fix the economy.
Aziz ushered in the most far-reaching program of economic reform in Pakistan since its 1947 independence, progress more profound than even the celebrated 1984 Keating reforms were for Australia.
Aziz later became prime minister, presiding over several boom years when Pakistan was second only to China in its buoyancy.
Under Aziz, Pakistan’s economy doubled while the stockmarket and its foreign exchange reserves grew fivefold. Aziz stepped down in 2007, the first Pakistani PM to see out a full parliamentary term, some achievement in that difficult country. Now retired, he is a director of a big Singapore-based international hotel chain and the US private equity giant Blackstone.
Based on the economic evidence presented thus far, the Liberal member for North Sydney is a pygmy next to Aziz, and that’s saying something. But all Joe really needed was to consult his political patron, John Howard, who knows Aziz well.
This was the gushing Howard, meeting Aziz in Islamabad on November 22, 2005. “I’m impressed, if I may put it that way, Mr Prime Minister, with the great emphasis placed by your government, particularly under your leadership and with your business background, of the significance of economic growth and foreign investment,” Howard said. ”Pakistan is winning herself a well-deserved reputation for being a country that beckons foreign investment and creates a transparent environment for foreign investment.”
As for the Nigerian recipient Hockey slagged, that’s the Harvard-educated economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who became finance minister in the second reformist term of Olusegun Obasanjo. On her watch Nigeria’s economy roared.
Her crowning achievement was not the landmark Paris Club debt write-off she negotiated for Nigeria in 2005 but that she left office, alive, in 2006 without a corruption trail dogging her, a very rare thing in Nigerian political life. World Bank president Robert Zoellick appointed her managing director of the bank, a job she did until July this year when she returned to Abuja for a second term as finance minister. But these seem mere details for Joe and his team. The key word here is Nigeria, the black and corrupt land of the online scam.
Euromoney does not make its award based on politics. Its editorial panel consults the world economy’s great and good in sifting through candidates. What struck me, in assembling the magazine’s editorial package, was how little politics entered their determination.
But what also struck me was how narrow, petty and ill-informed the subsequent debate was framed after Euromoney made its call.
For an economy so dependent on exports and the sustained health of the global economy, there was precious little discussion of how Swan, along with five of his finance minister colleagues, called for firmer and real action by global governments to fix this malaise the (mostly Western) world is mired in.
Also, how Australia’s defensive approach after the 2008 meltdown was noted and followed in economies more important than ours.
These would have been good topics for Joe Hockey to tackle, to cement his credentials as economic manager-in-waiting with the right stuff.
But he chose a different, lesser, way.