His grandmother was born a Kiwi, he’s packed down in the front row of an All Blacks scrum of sorts, and he considers New Zealanders ‘‘family’’.
He also happens to be one of Australia’s most powerful men. As Treasurer in Tony Abbott’s new government, Joe Hockey has just delivered one of Australia’s toughest Budgets in years, and is tasked with restoring the lucky country’s midas touch.
Hockey’s trip to New Zealand this week has been a reminder of how closely our two economies are intertwined – plummeting confidence in Australia and soaring confidence this side of the Tasman has turned the Kiwi exodus across the Tasman into a trickle.
But Hockey applauds the turnaround.
‘‘It’s good they’re coming home.’’ That is one reason why he labels his trip to New Zealand a learning experience – Australia needs to soak up some of the lessons from the Key Government, Hockey says.
‘‘It’s a strong economy, diverse, the Government is getting into surplus; it has excellent trade agreements, there’s been a momentum and all the effort put in over the years is starting to deliver the dividends that Kiwis want to come home. That’s a great sign of confidence.’’
His trip included a visit to Peter Jackson’s film-making facilities in Wellington and there were lessons for Australia there too.
‘‘Producing films and video games for the world out of Wellington is a great story. I was really impressed and I kept asking myself ‘why haven’t we gone this far’?’’
Hockey and his New Zealand counterpart Bill English go back years – it was English who revealed Hockey’s ‘‘All Black’’ experience during a speech to a trans-Tasman business audience. It turned out the front row comprised Hockey and former All Blacks Sean Fitzpatrick and David Kirk in Kirk’s lounge during a 50th birthday party. Kirk is Hockey’s neighbour in Sydney.
Hockey, whose Liberal government has quickly lost favour with Australians over some of its tough budget decisions, says one of the lessons for his government is the way the Key Government has built the case for change over several Budgets.
On the other hand, English said the Government here modelled its approach on the Australian success story built around slow and incremental change over many years.
But mutual admiration aside, Hockey is not about to let his affection for his trans-Tasman neighbours override domestic considerations – and he was careful during his trip not to overcommit himself on two vexed issues in the relationship, welfare entitlements for Kiwis and mutual recognition of tax paid on company dividends.
Combined they carry a price tag of billions – a tough ask when Aussies are being asked to tighten their belts.
But Hockey has committed to further investigation on both issues, and is sympathetic to another cause – streamlining trans-Tasman travel.
‘‘Personally I’d love to see the end of the paperwork from flying across the Tasman. It’s annoying for me as well ... ... .I’m going to speak to our immigration minister about it.’’