While American politics provides more hilarious and hilariously painful quotes from politicians than any pundit could ever hope to cover, that does not mean it has a monopoly on people saying stupid things. This week Australia provided a perfect example of why some politicians should always use cue cards when speaking to the public. The time honored tradition of cocking the head and asking incredulously, “They said what?” is alive and well in the Land Down Under as the conservative Coalition government, comprised of the Liberal Party and the National Party, has finally come into power. And with it, quotes like “poor people don’t drive very far,” proving that politicians everywhere are capable of unintended humor.
One of the most important and embattled positions in the Australian government’s administration is the Treasurer, an office held by the honorable Liberal party member Joe Hockey. His maiden budget effort hit the shelf early this year and has been nothing but trouble ever since. It was that budget that led to the disastrous plummet in the approval ratings for the government, but the Coalition and Hockey are sticking to their guns. Since the budget was released, the government’s ministers have been stumping across the country, on television and on radio, in order to sell their budget. Hockey is the lead man in that effort and he went on ABC Radio the other day to discuss the fuel excise. The fuel excise is a tax on fuel which the government argues will only affect higher income families, but opponents have been vociferously attacking it as an extra strain on lower income families.
Opponents in the Australian parliament and the senate are keen to point out that an extra fuel tax will adversely affect lower income families. The Labor Party and the Greens as well as some other crossbenchers who are not affiliated with one of the big parties but who represent a swing-vote minority all oppose the fuel excise. It was in response to their criticisms that Hockey tried to speak when he offered up one huge ostrich egg of a quote. According to him, the fuel excise is okay because “the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases.” Almost as soon as he said that, an Aussie sized, blooming onion of a firestorm commenced.
Twitter, one of Australia’s favorite political commentary engines, immediately had a hashtag trending. The #OtherThingsThePoorDontDo tag has racked up thousands of tweets from disaffected Aussie voters. Out of the options for what poor people do not do “become the nation’s object of ridicule” and “vote for this government ever again” are both prevalent. Another popular option is that poor people don’t “chomp cigars” and “complain about the price of cigars going up,” both of which are jibes at Joe Hockey directly. He is known for his love of fine Cuban cigars and as one of the nation’s richest politicians, he can afford the habit. At this point, if the current Australian government thought it was unpopular in the polls, it has now added unpopular on Twitter to its list of places that do not like them.
Right now, however, Hockey is sticking to his guns as he tries to fight against the backlash. According to him, he was not denigrating or insulting poor people. Instead, he was offering the facts of what the budget does. Opponents, however, are already using his words against him. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, the primary political leader standing against Hockey and the Coalition, has called him “the cigar chomping, Foghorn Leghorn of Australian politics” in a throwback to the classic cartoon character. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, who is supposedly on the same side as Hockey, took a more real-life approach when he said, “Those in the lower social economic group tend to spend more as a percentage of their income on transport… than those who are wealthier.” He took it right to the heart of the argument and pointed out that Hockey’s facts about who the tax will impact are just plain incorrect.
It is always a nice thing for America to look at other countries and see that they are not alone in the stupid politician quote sphere. This week, Australia has offered up a fine example of what happens when politicians try to talk without a script. More quotes like this one from Hockey will surely sink the Coalition government even further into the mire of unpopularity. But for everyone else, “poor people don’t drive very far” is a hilarious tidbit that makes them feel better about their own politicians’ stupidity.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury