Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says Australia’s economic woes are the fault of the whole Abbott government, not just its treasurer.
Mr Bowen was responding to a Fairfax Media story that Treasurer Joe Hockey will be dumped should the Liberal Party perform badly at the September 19 by-election in the West Australian seat of Canning, previously a coalition safe seat.
Mr Hockey’s colleagues were quick to throw their support behind him, while senior Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos warned that ministers should be working hard to win the by-election rather than backgrounding against a colleague to scapegoat a potential loss.
He said the two unnamed cabinet ministers who are reportedly urging Prime Minister Tony Abbott to dump Mr Hockey and calling for a March federal election should be sacked for engaging in such “deliberate leaking and destabilisation”.
“Holding out the prospect of a reshuffle and even a double dissolution election smacks of defeatism and a lack of focus on the substantive issues of governing,” Senator Sinodinos said in a statement.
Mr Bowen said Mr Hockey does have an appalling economic record, including an unemployment rate at a 13-year high and more than 800,000 out of work for the first time in 20 years.
But he said getting rid of a treasurer “even as bad as this one” would be a blow on confidence and the economy.
“The treasurer should be replaced but he should be replaced at the next election with the election of a Labor government,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney.
“That’s the way you replace a treasurer, not by the backstabbing and backgrounding we see from the highest levels of this government.”
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said instead of criticising Mr Hockey people should recognise the enormous task he has in repairing the budget that was so “trashed” by Labor.
“Not only does Joe have to deal with repairing the budget, he is also dealing with irresponsible Labor senators who are refusing to pass measures in the Senate,” she told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
Asked to rate Mr Hockey’s performance as treasurer, Ms Bishop thought that was a “ridiculous question”.
“I don’t go around rating performance of journalists, I don’t rate performances of actors, I’m not going to rate the performances of my cabinet colleagues, it’s nonsense,” she said.
Senior cabinet minister Scott Morrison, who is cited in the Fairfax article as the replacement treasurer, said the story would be better placed in Who magazine.
“Joe’s a great bloke, he’s doing a tremendous job,” Mr Morrison told 2GB radio.