Treasurer Joe Hockey is keeping his leadership embers burning as an ill-timed biography hits the streets.
The book, Hockey – Not Your Average Joe, was written by Fairfax media columnist and former ABC broadcaster Madonna King and launched in Sydney today.
It has exposed tensions and distrust within Coalition ranks and reveals Mr Hockey would have gone further in the May budget if not held back by the Prime Minister.
The Treasurer co-operated with the author, but admits the timing of the book’s release, especially as the Government has been trying to get its budget measures through the Senate, was not the best.
“I in no way apologise for the book, obviously the timing and so on is not of my choosing,” Mr Hockey said.
It is understood some in the Coalition have questioned the wisdom of book, particularly the timing of its release.
But the Treasurer has revealed, despite reservations by his wife Melissa Babbage, he took Prime Ministerial advice to co-operate with the author.
“Madonna approached me more than a year ago in opposition and asked me to cooperate with the book and Melissa’s instinct kicked in and said ‘no way, you never co-operate with these things’. I sought the advice of Tony Abbott and he said ‘you should cooperate’,” he said.
The book has re-opened leadership speculation, with Mr Hockey seemingly anointed by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Peta Credlin as Tony Abbott’s most likely successor.
“Joe’s absolutely a contender and he probably has his head above every other contender,” Ms Credlin is quoted as saying, although she went on to note he was not yet the heir apparent.
Mr Hockey says whether he becomes prime minister or not will not be up to him.
“We’ll leave that to destiny, whatever it may be,” he told reporters.
The book reveals a school-age Mr Hockey voiced prime ministerial ambitions, but the older Mr Hockey is not so sure.
“Everyone seems to have recollections of me when I was eight years of age, that I don’t have,” he said.
It was revealed that Mr Hockey believes Mr Turnbull wronged him in the 2009 leadership ballot that led to the election of Mr Abbott.
When pressed today, Mr Hockey declared: “Well I trust Malcolm Turnbull, yes. I work closely with Malcolm. I speak to him regularly.”
The Treasurer confirmed he wanted a tougher budget in May, despite having trouble selling the current heavy cuts to health, education, welfare and foreign aid.
Mr Hockey says the May budget is “about right”.
“The bottom line is every treasurer, as you would expect, would prosecute the case for greater savings. Every treasurer worth their salt,” he said.
“The problem was under Labor they did not do it and they just increased taxes and dressed them up as savings.”
It has also been revealed in the book that Mr Hockey was caught out by the way Mr Abbott launched his signature Paid Parental Leave (PPL) scheme proposal.
The book says Mr Hockey was “irked and offended” that the then Opposition leader announced the scheme after previously only briefly describing it to him.
It is claimed Mr Abbott received media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s endorsement for the PPL before taking it to his party room, with Mr Murdoch considering the idea “visionary.”
Hockey ‘should get back to work’
The Opposition’s treasury spokesman Chris Bowen says Mr Hockey should get back to work.
“I think the Treasurer needs to focus a little more on his budget and on listening to the anger of the Australian people about the deep cuts and the tax increases contained in the budget,” Mr Bowen said.
He says a spectacle is now surrounding the Treasurer.
“Where you have got a Treasurer who is backgrounding against his Prime Minister. You have got leadership speculation encouraged by the Prime Minister’s office,” he said.
“I mean no wonder Liberal MPs are being quoted in the newspaper this morning expressing their despair.”