Hockey’s farewell draws elite of US industry and politics
Joe Hockey is not leaving Washington quietly.
A stunning who’s who of American political and business leaders will pay tribute to Australia’s outgoing ambassador at a gala farewell party on Saturday.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have accepted invitations to join some 400 American and Australian powerbrokers who plan to attend the big Washington bash.
Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, is among those who will speak and a long list of Trump cabinet ministers and advisers from Steven Mnuchin to Stephen Miller are also expected to attend as well as leading American CEOs.
On the Australian side, former prime minister Tony Abbott and golfer Greg Norman will speak, while other attendees will include billionaire businessman Anthony Pratt and News Corp co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch and his wife Sarah.
Donald Trump was also invited but couldn’t attend so instead he has invited Mr Hockey, a semiregular golf partner of the President, into the Oval Office for a personal farewell on Wednesday (AEDT).
The attendance of so many powerbrokers reflects the close ties that Mr Hockey has forged, especially with the Trump White
House, but also more broadly in the US during his four-year term as ambassador.
Mr Hockey’s stint in the country’s most important diplomatic post has been widely praised for helping Australia maintain a close relationship with Mr Trump and his key advisers — something that many other US allies have failed to do.
Under Mr Hockey’s watch the US-Australia alliance survived several potential storms including the angry phone call between Mr Trump and then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull over the refugee deal in early 2017.
In 2018, Australia was one of the only countries exempted from Mr Trump’s steel and aluminium tariffs while Mr Hockey also played an important role last year in defusing potential diplomatic tensions over Alexander Downer’s role in triggering the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Asked what his proudest achievement was in Washington, Mr Hockey said “navigating this uncertain world with twists and turns everywhere”.
“The greatest legacy I can leave is the thought that you can’t take the US alliance for granted,” he told The Australian.
“You just need to keep working really hard at it more than ever.”
Mr Hockey says that in an era where the US is more transactional with its alliances, Australia needs to keep closely and constantly engaged to ensure it protects its own interests.
“In this world there is no regard
for traditional allies, there is no regard for traditional partnerships, there is no regard for any great historical alliance,” he says. “Decision-making comes down to country-specific relationships in a way we’ve never seen before and that means you can be defined as a close ally but then end up on the wrong end of a trade announcement or something else and it is the relationships that hold it together.”
Mr Hockey has got to know Mr Trump better than most ambassadors in Washington, having played golf with him and having also developed a close relationship with the President’s acting chief of staff, Mr Mulvaney.
Last year, Mr Trump granted Scott Morrison the first state dinner for an Australian leader since John Howard’s in 2006.
So after four years, what are Mr Hockey’s observations about this mercurial and unconventional President?
“He is an engaging and curious person,” he says. “You never think of it when you see him on television or social media but he actually asks a lot of questions. He is curious and he is incredibly street smart. He is canny and he is intelligent.
“I think he likes provoking people and he is ‘America first’, which rubs a lot of countries up the wrong way. But we would expect our Prime Minister to be ‘Australia first’ so you can’t deny America’s right after all these years to put their country first,” he says.
Mr Hockey’s term finishes at the end of next week and he will be replaced by former senator Arthur Sinodinos. But Mr Hockey will remain in Washington for much of this year, doing part-time lecturing on public policy at the American University while he works out his next move, which is likely to be a corporate role in the US.
Mr Hockey has said that despite serving 20 years in federal parliament, including four jobs as a minister and now a four-year term as ambassador in Washington, he wants to keep working.