Recalling a rev-up for the Treasurer

rufus dinkus

A few days ago I was driving my trusty Hillman Minx through Brisbane streets on my way to one of the city’s major shopping centres.

My trip was to stock up on some essential items including groceries, meat, fruit, but also to treat myself to a new bright white cotton Chesty Bonds singlet and a pair of matching underpants — my current stock being somewhat depleted and showing its age.

In my younger days when newly and briefly married, my good lady wife Devon refused to do any type of “running repairs” on my undergarments if and when they showed signs of wear and tear including the occasional hole in need of stitching.

She declared it was not her job to patch my unmentionables which, by the way, she insisted I always wore in our marital bed — even on our honeymoon — which we shared for only a few days before her close lady friend was also invited to occupy.

I should clarify that it was Devon who issued the invitation to her longstanding friend Leslie, or “Les O” as Devon jokingly, and to me somewhat confusingly, called her since her friend’s surname did not start with an O.

It was just a matter of days afterwards that Devon surprised me by declaring our marriage at an end and decamped with Les.

But, I digress.

While driving that day my radio was tuned as always to ABC Radio National and just as I was trying to find a parking space at the shopping centre a chap reading the news informed me that General Motors in the United States had decided to do away with its Holden brand in Australian market.

As the ABC chap’s words filtered through the now somewhat scratchy Bakelite speaker in my trusty Minx’s walnut veneer dashboard, my mind immediately wound back to two very memorable events in my career.

The first was the occasion in November 1948 when I was working in the office of the then Prime Minister Ben Chifley and accompanied him to Melbourne to mark the occasion of the first Holden rolling off the assembly line (main picture).

It just seemed like yesterday to me, yet now apparently we would see the name Holden eventually disappear from showrooms and ultimately from our streets and roads in years to come.

The second event I recalled while sitting in my Minx was a conversation I had in December 2013 with the then Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.

On the day in question I was sitting in the sunroom of my Brisbane home quietly reading when my phone rang.

It was Mr Hockey who had been given my name by a colleague of his in Canberra who knew of my long career as an adviser to a range of our nation’s political leaders and governments of all political persuasions.

After some initial and brief pleasantries, Mr Hockey got down to business.

He told me that Holden’s managing director had just said publicly that the company had not decided if it would continue making cars in Australia.

Mr Hockey explained that he would no doubt soon be questioned in Parliament about the statement and asked to explain the government’s position.

Now in situations such as that, being unfamiliar with the detailed circumstances of a particular issue, I have always tended to advise that the person seeking my input should stand their ground and not make any concessions. This always offers a chance for me, if needed, to become more informed of the details of the case and to then offer more detailed advise at a later date.

Another matter needs to be divulged.

I have always found that how one offers advice is often just as important as what one says.

In this particular instance, I could never claim to know Mr Hockey personally, but certainly knew of him and had reached the conclusion that he was a knockabout, non-nonsense sort of person — a “blokey bloke” if you like.

So I spoke to him in the somewhat “blokey” manner I have used with certain politicians over my career when I firmly advised: “Mr Treasurer, you should not budge an inch. You should say firmly that your position is basically holdin’ out.”

6ofrir5xkeh41Mr Hockey seemed to quickly absorb my advice and to my mind appeared to agree, but still sought assurance and confirmation.

“Wow, are you sure Rufus?” he enquired.

“Yes,” I replied as assertively as is possible over the telephone before adding: “Holdin’ out is the best position.

“Just stand up and say that. It won’t do you any harm,” I assured.

Mr Hockey said he would do as I said, thanked me profusely, and hung up.

It was only later after reading press stories (pictured) of his parliamentary answers on the matter that I realised he hadn’t taken my advice.

But I was not put out as that is the lot of an independent, professional, and non-partisan adviser.

Rufus Badinage MBE, now retired, is one of Australia’s leading experts on politics and public administration having worked as a senior bureaucrat for various state and federal governments.