The homily of the three wise men and the Royal Commission

And behold, a star shone in the East and it shone upon a manger which was called the Royal Commission into Child Abuse. Many rejoiced and gave thanks. And three wise men, Pell, Hart and Callaghan saw the star and journeyed towards it. (Actually one of them couldn’t be bothered journeying and appeared by video link). They did not bring gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh but rather evasions, legalisms and weasel words. And when they laid the gifts in the manger, even the animals turned it faces from them.

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See also Annabel Crabb

Excuses big enough to drive a truck through

An antidote to idiocy: what is wrong with the arguments being put at the World Congress of Families

There is a problem with giving the lunatic fringe oxygen such as The Sunday Age did today. They print the views of people like World Congress of Families managing director Larry Jacobs without an informed commentary to form an antidote to the idiocy that is being pedaled.

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“We have to find the truth, and the truth says that statistically there is no better place for a child to be,” said Mr Jacobs, the congress’ managing director, Ninety per cent of poverty can be solved simply through the affirmation of marriage.”

So here is the antidote to this piece of long-distance nonsense: Statistics can tell us when two (or sometimes more) things occur at the same time. It’s called statistical correlation, but it does not indicate causation. The fact that two things occur at the same time does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. they need to be a logical argument that establishes the nature of the causation, by its very nature statistical correlation does not do this.

The case that Mr Jacobs makes is a good example of this. The first caveat about this discussion is that without seeing the data that Mr Jacobs is referring to, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions. But I suspect his sample is affluent, God-fearing families in middle America.

The Global Issues website estimates that 50% of the world’s 2.2 billion children are living in poverty. So we can assume that Mr Jacobs thinks that 90% of this 2.2 billion will not be living in poverty if their parents simply “affirm marriage”. Unfortunately, he doesn’t argue what the causal relationship between the affirmation of marriage and eradication of poverty actually is. This is mainly because there isn’t one, the causes of poverty are multifaceted but certainly the marital status of the parents is not one of them.

So we’re left with some lack of clarity about how nearly 1.8 billion children are going to be lifted out of poverty by their parents saying “I believe in Christian marriage.” It’ll be a miracle no doubt.

You have to hand it to Mr Jacobs at least to try is to prop up his argument with some pseudoscientific logic and spurious statistical evidence. It’s more than Catch the Fire’s spruiker Daniel Nalliah did when he blamed the Black Saturday bushfires on Victoria’s abortion laws.

Danny Nalliah  believes that abortion laws cause bush fires

Danny Nalliah believes that abortion laws cause bush fires

Another one who is adept at confusing statistical correlation with causation is Dr Angela Lanfrachi who argues, despite almost universal condemnation from the informed scientific community, that abortion causes cancer.

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The frightening thing about this situation is that some people clearly believe this pseudo-scientific drivel. The more frightening thing still is that they vote and elect conservative religious bigots like Rev Fred Nile to Parliament. Even more frightening is the number of Liberal party politicians who are lining up to speak at this conference until it became clear that being associated with this lunatic fringe was going to be politically damaging with an election coming up. But the fact still remains there are a lot of people in our current Victorian State government, and there is one sitting on the cross bench holds the balance of power, who believe this nonsense.

Renewable Energy Targets: a no-brainer

You wonder who the Prime Minister thinks he’s kidding when he sets up independent inquiries like that under climate sceptic Dick Warburton to examine renewable energy targets. Low and behold look what we get

And them to prove that we are all really mugs, Warburton ascertains

Dick Warburton says climate sceptic views did not influence report recommending slashing of renewable energy target

Unfortunately this is yet another example of the manner in which serious debate about the impact of climate change can be railroaded by the people who set the agenda. What appears to be up for grabs at the moment is a 20% renewable energy target by 2020.

What we should be debating is how quickly we can move towards total dependency on renewable energy. At some point in the future, the coal will run out and the polar ice caps will melt. What we have at the moment, is the opportunity to start the debate about how quickly we want to mitigate these catastrophic effects.

We should not be having a debate about a 5% reduction in carbon emissions, nor a 20% renewable energy target. Both are far too low.

We can draw some comfort from the fact that Labor, the Greens and possibly PUP would oppose lowering the RET targets but will properly wait in vain for either Labor or PUP to start arguing for higher targets.

At least Christine Milne was on the front foot this morning in response to the findings. It will be interesting to see if Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten squibs yet another opportunity to take a leadership role

One simple measure that would make a difference is to renew the subsidies for solar panels on homes and to allow consumers to feed their excess electricity back into the grid at the retail price. The manner in which the government has kowtowed to the power companies over the use of domestic solar panels is an absolute disgrace.

It’s not Tony-bashing, it’s PM bashing.

Bill Shorten should be careful what he wishes for

Bill Shorten says Tony Abbott ‘unfit to govern’ after entitlements leaks

He has also publicly challenged Tony Abbott to bring on election which, if the polls are indication, the Labour Party would win easily. But as Bill Shorten joins in the increasingly popular sport of Tony-bashing he should pause to reflect that once he is in power, the name of the game will change to Bill-bashing. It is wrong to think that people are criticising Tony Abbott simply because they don’t like him. The Australian public and the Australian media are settling into pattern of Prime Minister bashing and at the root of this is a deep-seated cynicism about the quality of our political leadership.

The relentless attacks on Julia Gillard by Tony Abbott and his rednecked cronies has created an environment of scepticism about political leaders that Bill Shorten seeks to take advantage of at his peril. His shrill attacks on Tony Abbott being “not fit to govern” over leaks from Cabinet is verging on the hysterical.

With the government’s budget strategy in complete disarray, Shorten has an opportunity to articulate a more humane and encompassing vision for Australia’s economic future. To date, he’s letting this opportunity slip because he appears to be adopting a “small target” approach.

The time is ripe for a political leader to create a policy circuit breaker, to articulate a vision and to explain it clearly to the Australian public. Tony Abbott has failed to do this and Joe hockey has demonstrated that he cannot do it as Treasurer and would never have been able to do it as PM. It also seems that Bill Shorten is pulling up short on this as well.

Susannah: from biblical heroine to pop pornstar

The story of Susannah and the Elders has been portrayed by hundreds of painters including Tintoretto, Rubens and the Picasso. The interpretation of the story has shifted over five centuries. The classical depiction highlighted the assault of the Elders on the chaste Susannah and in many cases saw her hemmed in and trapped by these lascivious men.

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In Lamberti’s painting the arms of the Elders form a pincer around Susannah, their faces are remarkably descriptive of what they are saying. In Pompeobatoni’s painting one of the elders looms over Susannah as he points to the tree where they will accuse her of committing adultery.

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These two particular paintings form a body of work which focuses on Susannah’s reaction to the proposition that the elders are put to her: either commit adultery with them or be accused of committing adultery with someone else. In those days, the penalty for a woman for committing adultery was death by stoning. Her shock and disbelief at this repugnant suggestion are obvious in all of these paintings. Many of these paintings also depict Susannah looking to heaven for guidance and inspiration

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The body of work that these paintings represent focuses on the “naked” Susannah and her response to the elders. But there is another contemporaneous body of work that focuses on the “nude” Susannah. These paintings capture the moment before the elders approach and while Susanna is bathing in her garden. Here the emphasis is far more on Susanna’s sensual beauty and her pleasure in bathing. This particular moment was one that Tintoretto captured in a number of his paintings.

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Over time, there has been an increasing emphasis on the sensuality of the central character as successive ages every interpreted this particular moment in the light of the artistic perspectives and social attitudes of their particular times. The emphasis moves away from the religious themes the painting towards the sensual beauty of the heroine.

Théodore Chassériau, a 19th-century painter, captures Susannah’s powerful sensual beauty in his depiction.

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Chassériau’s depiction of Susannah can be seen in the context of two of his other paintings female nudes.

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In Pierre van Hanselaere’s painting the emphasis is very much on the delicate skin tones of the central figure.

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This subtle shift of perspective adds a new dimension to the way we view these paintings. Susannah becomes objectified as the religious connotations of the story begin to fade and the emphasis shifts to her physical beauty. This has the effect of making the modern viewer of the paintings a voyeur just like the elders in the biblical story and this idea is backed up by many of the artists. We see, as they saw, the sexual and sensual beauty of the heroine. We’re not complicit in the crime that they committed unless we believe, like President Jimmy Carter, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:28). Poor old Jimmy, he got into a lot of trouble for that and was a pretty stupid thing to say, well at least for an ex-president. But it was a refreshingly honest assessment compared with Buba Clinton’s assertion “I did not have sex with that woman.”

The idea of the viewer as voyeur is captured admirably in this self-referential photograph (from a New York Times review) of two men looking at two men looking at a painting of two men looking at a woman.

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There is a series of paintings, mainly from the 19th century which emphasise the erotic beauty of Susannah. Jean-Jacques Henner’s painting emphasises Susannah’s lush sensuality against the dark forest in which the elders lurk. The portrayal here is of a passive and submissive woman, a sexual stereotype of the time.

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Eugene Ansen Hofmann uses soft flesh tones to highlight the sensuality of the bath scene. Susannah’s sensual beauty is contrast to the gnome like appearance of the elders.

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Again it is useful to see the portrayal of Susannah in the light of the artist’s other works. Old Eugene a was pretty keen on the idea of the submissive woman being forcibly carried off into some form of sexual slavery, usually accompanied by someone of middle eastern looks.

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It’s probably fair to say that you wouldn’t go to Hoffman if you’re interested in studying religious themes in art, it’s more about male fantasies of dominance and sexual slavery.

Ebenezer Crawford again emphasises the passive sensuality of Susannah in a painting where the elders have all but disappeared into the background. This Susannah is very much aware of her beauty and The emphasis has turned, this particular painting, to Susannah’s carefully detailed nipples and blush of pubic hair. It’s Victorian soft core porn at its best.

(c) Jersey Heritage; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

And so is the version by van Stuck, where Susannah looks over her shoulder towards the elders while modestly protecting herself from the gaze of the onlooker.

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It’s all very cute and reminiscent of the two paintings, La Cigale (in the NGV) and Chloe (at Young and Jacksons) by Jules-Joseph Lefebvre.

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Twentieth century versions of the story place Susannah in a more modern context. Igor Samsonov’s Susannah is a figure symbolising peace set against a bureaucratic and militaristic backdrop. The male figures in the background formally dressed in military uniforms and Susannah herself is a formal and symmetric figure, naked from the waist down rather than traditionally from the waist up.

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This particular formalism is characteristic of Samsonov’s work where his women subjects appear to be participants, willing or otherwise in some formal ritual.

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In another version of the story by Samsonov, Susannah is a slender anorexic young nude being observed by a group of seemingly disapproving elders.

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These paintings seem to drain the sexuality out of the central figure and place them in the social and political context which defines the role of woman in some ritualistic and formally passive relationship with male authority figures.

There are two interesting versions by American painter Thomas Hart Benton who was painting in the 1930s. The first painting created a stir in 1938 when it was first displayed; a retelling of a Biblical story but featuring a nude with clearly depicted pubic hair, was a little over the top for the good god-fearing folk in Kansas City.

Thomas Hart Benton

He is also painted another version which typifies the approach that is taken in the 20th century and the shift in emphasis in the portrayal of Susannah.

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This pose would later be recaptured by one of the great beauties the 1950s and 1960s in a series of cheesecake photographs.

Marilyn Monroe from her series entitled "Red Velvet"

Marilyn Monroe from her series entitled “Red Velvet”

The comparison of these two images serves to emphasise the shift towards the portrayal of the narcissistic element in Susannah. This is a woman who likes posing for men and this change of emphasis represents a significant shift away from the original story.

Ben Morales Correa wrotes “In my own concept of Susanna and the Elders, I synthesized the essential formal elements of the subject within the context of present day perceptions of the nude female body. The old men are mere faces, half hidden behind the body of their prey. A few leaves on the upper left suggest the garden setting. A single drop running down Susana’s torso, with its erotical charge, is enough to imply the bathing ritual. The lilies tattooed on her abdomen are symbolic of her name, Susanna, from which the Spanish name of the flower (azucena) is derived. As for the lady herself, only the intimate aspects of Susanna are represented, and this with utmost realism, as if we as spectators are also participating in the voyeurism act. The image is life size in the actual painting, adding to the illusion of physical presence. The two faces look at us with opposite expressions, one inviting us to join in the invasion of privacy and the other with somber shame.”

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Eoin Laeatar’s (1955)portrayal also makes the viewer complicit in the elders voyeuristic act. Here Susannah is in the act of covering, or uncovering herself, and her gaze appears to be confronting the viewer, almost daring him to look.

Eoin de Leastar (1955, Irish)

There is a subtle shift in the relationship between Susanna and the elders in the next image. The three appear to be meeting in a bar and negotiating some deal which does not appear to be at all abhorrent to Susannah.

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This is a powerful and such subtle rendition of the original story. There are suggestions in many of the earlier paintings that Susannah was offered money and jewellery to have sex with the two elders. This appears to be the case here but from the expression on Susanna’s face appears that she is very much in control and slightly amused by what was going on. The emphasis has now shifted to the woman controlling the situation and exploiting it to her benefit.

This is also an interesting painting in that, without its title, the viewer would be hard-pressed to recognise it as a portrayal of Susannah. Once we understand the reference, it is easy to interpret the painting but without knowledge of the backstory this could be a painting of any transaction in a bar between two old men and an attractive young woman. The back story allows us to provide the overlay of meaning of the shift in the power balance between Suzanne and the two elders.

The idea of this trans-action is also the central theme of Alexander Gurevich’s portrayal where Susannah is seen as a dancer in a bar performing for the rich and powerful.

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The emphasis on Susannah’s sexuality is explored in a portrayal where the central figure is a male, surrounded by the business suit he has just shed as he begins dressing as a female.

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The next portrayal of Susannah is perhaps the one that heaps the greatest indignity on the biblical heroine. Jayson Bimber’s autobiographical note says that all His current work employs appropriated imagery from magazines, weekly advertisements, and the web to comment on imaging in the media and art history. Jayson really likes soccer, bikes, hot dogs and whiskey.

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As a concluding commentary on the extent dead artist strength form that biblical story to their own specific context, there are two paintings by Arthur Boyd with Susannah and the elders have been transferred to an Australian context and are typical figures from Boyd paintings.

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See also

The naked and the nude: Tintoretto’s Susanna and the Elders

The moral ambiguity of Alessandro Allori’s Susanna and the Elders

Sex and power: the sexual predator in art

Vatican retreats behind legalism (yet again)

The Roman Catholic Church has retreated behind the law (this time international law) to deny access to information about child abuse cases in Australia.

Vatican refuses to hand over files on priests to abuse royal commission

The argument is that the Vatican is a sovereign state and would not provide documents in line with “international convention”.

Cardinal George Pell, now working in Rome, was asked if he sought an assurance from the Vatican that any document the royal commission needed would be provided.

“That is correct,” Cardinal Pell told the commission via video-link today.

“I suppose in retrospect there would be some discussion over what ‘any document’ meant.”

Weasel words again. Surely the meaning of any is absolutely clear.

The meaning of the word is, according to the Oxford Dictionary Used to refer to one or some of a thing or number of things, no matter how much or how many

When will these old men, who are arguing the Church’s case, realise that there needs to be a cathartic response to the allegations of child abuse. Nothing short of that leaves the reputation of 2000-year-old organisation hopelessly mired in a squalid scandal.

The Australian public and indeed the laity of the Catholic Church deserves nothing less.

Encouraging the poor to be grateful: the mantra of Team Australia

Tony Abbott has defended the $7 co-payment saying that pensioners and children will have to pay it:

because people had to pay for something “to appreciate what you’re getting”

Apparently, is not enough to be old and sick or young and sick and need medical treatment, you have to be grateful as well.

Why should vulnerable people have to be grateful for subsidised medical care?

It’s very simple actually. If you expect to be protected from some of the ravages of a rampantly capitalistic society and supported by the more wealthy of the community, you should feel grateful because that’s the natural order of things. And the best way to make you feel grateful is to take your money away from you.

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More weasel words from George Pell

The insensitivity and arrogance of this man beggars belief:

Pell compares priests to truckers as victims given apologies

Apparently, George Pell is too busy to grace the Royal Commission into child sex abuse with his presence because he’s too busy looking after the Catholic Church’s money. As he did when he offered Christine and Anthony Foster, parents of abuse victims Emma and Katie, $50,000 compensation. The Fosters later won $750,000 in compensation from the Melbourne archdiocese. That’s 15 times the original offer. Pell’s view was that this was a good offer in the light of what other culpable organisations were offering.

Anthony and Christine Foster with daughters Aimee and Katie Both of whom were abused by a paedophile priest.. Emma took her own life at the age of 26

Anthony and Christine Foster with daughters Aimee and Katie Both of whom were abused by a paedophile priest.. Emma took her own life at the age of 26

But the most amazing and outrageous element of Pell’s defence, reported in The Age, is that the Catholic Church is like a ”trucking company”. If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, he said, ”I don’t think it appropriate for the leadership of that company be held responsible.”

After all this time, the evidence presented at enquiries, the testimony of victims, the conviction of paedophile priests, he still doesn’t think that the Catholic Church is at fault. And he certainly doesn’t think that he bears any responsibility as the head of the church in Australia i.e. “the leadership of that (trucking) company”.

He is still resorting to weasel words. Argument by analogy is always dangerous. In this case the choice of analogy is ineffectual and insulting to anybody with an intelligence above about 85. The church is not like a trucking company and a hitchhiker. He argues that the trucking company has no responsibility to the hitchhiker. That is, George, until the driver picks the hitchhiker up in the company track.

But the case of the church is different. It had a responsibility for the care and protection of the children who were abused and this is what makes Pell’s appallingly badly chosen analogy so profoundly insulting. He still doesn’t think the church bears any responsibility and he keeps reiterating this point in a tribunal that is getting national and possibly international coverage.

This man is a Cardinal, a prince of the church so we can only assume that his version is the official version and response of the Vatican to the allegations of child abuse, not just in Melbourne but everywhere: it’s not our fault, it was the truck driver

It is a pity that Cardinal Pell cannot be subjected to the legislation covering mandatory reporting of child abuse. He is safely tucked away in the Vatican where he presumably enjoys diplomatic immunity.

You wonder what the Catholic Church could possibly do to make things worse

UPDATE: George Pell’s truck driver analogy veers into hostile territory

The Age reported that Trucking association chair Noelene Watson hit back at Cardinal Pell: “Cardinal Pell must realise that he cannot solve these problems by insulting Australia’s hardworking truck drivers, who deliver the goods we use every day.”

More froth and bubble from political Lala land

PUP owner and chief Pooh-Bah of political Lala land is surely going to run out of stunts to keep himself in the media. Surely it’s going to be hard to find anything that beats insulting a global superpower and one of Australia’s major trading partners. Whatever the aim of Palmer’s intemperate outburst on Q&A, it was quite clear that it would be interpreted as an attack upon the Chinese people. This is despite Palmer’s claim he was only referring to his training partners with whom is engaged in a legal dispute about him apparently purloining funds to support his election campaigns. well, no Clive, if you say things like “they shoot their own people”, we can only assume that you’re not referring to your training partner CITIC.

And certainly his off-sider, Jacqui Lambie directed to a broadside that will only be regarded as deeply offensive by the Chinese. She really is shaping up to be another Pauline Hanson. What have we done to deserve this?

We are only just beginning to realise the impact and consequences of the failure of our politicians to reform the voting system for the Senate. Unless Abbott calls a double dissolution, we’re going to have Lambie behaving like this for nearly 6 years.

And spare a thought for Penny Wong, surely one of the most respected politicians in the federal parliament. She had to sit next to Palmer during his anti-Chinese rant.

Did Palmer not pause from moment to think had deeply offensive what he was saying would have been to an Australian-Chinese citizen Who happened to be sitting next to him on a television panel, those in the audience, those watching the programme and those in the broader community?

And what of Palmer United Party’s Chinese-born Western Australia senator, Dio Wang? He must have been appalled and insulted by what has happened. Clearly, Clive has not given much thought to maintaining party unity. Has he given any thought to how he can maintain the loyalty of Mr Wang While continuing to insult him?

If Wang and the super-silent Brick-with-eyes defect from PUP and become independents, Clive’s influence in the Senate will be limited to the vote of the highly erratic Jacqui Lambie.

The most disturbing aspect of this disgraceful performance is it indicates how Palmer is leveraging his carefully orchestrated position in the federal parliament to further his own commercial interests. Before the Q&A programme, there was a Four Corners program discussing the Abbot Point development and the devastation of the Great Barrier Reef.

It is important to remember that one of the major partners in this development, approved by Minister Not for the Environment, Greg Hunt against all scientific and environmental advice, is none other than, yes you guessed it: Clive Palmer.

Joe Hockey: redefining “slow learner”

Poor old Joe, he simply doesn’t get it.

A few days ago, he was apologising for what he said, now it is not his fault. The media misreported him. You can run either of these two lines but not simultaneously. This is another example of Hockey’s deeply flawed political judgement.

If he reads this morning’s Age, he will find most of the editorial comment centrefold is devoted to him (and to Amanda Vanstone’s hopeless defence of his behaviours). All unrelentingly negative. He also scored a Tanberg cartoon, putting to rest the theory that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. Then, over the page is a full-page commentary by Peter Martin, the economics editor for The Age that was far from flattering and Spooner cartoon that was even less so:

It’s not everyday that you get a cartoon by two of Australia’s leading satirists on the same day. Well done, Joe!

The sad fact is that now Hockey’s credibility is so badly shredded that he’s only ever going to be subjected to ridicule in the way that Julia Gillard was before she was hounded from office. His chances of “selling” the budget rank alongside snowballs in hell. It is time for the hard heads in the parliamentary Liberal to make the call on Joe. He’s simply not up to the job and every day that goes by makes situation worse.

Hockey’s difficulty is that hockey bashing is now approaching the proportions of a national pastime and any cross bench senators who wants to have a moment in the media limelight can easily get this by putting the boot into Joe. A poll conducted in The Age indicates Hockey’s credibility problem.

Joe needs some time on the backbench to consider his options and if possible to reinvent himself. This will be a difficult process from a man who only narrowly missed out on the leadership of the Liberal party when they are in opposition and who must have aspirations for being more than Treasurer.

It’s a pity that someone who is probably one of the most talented and capable people to fill the job of Treasurer has been consorting with some of the scumbags of the NSW Labor Party. I’m certain that George Sinodinos would have done a much better job than Joe but, like Joe his credibility is now in tatters as well.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has a real problem. He needs to get rid of Hockey and be prepared to wear the short-term pain, ridicule and criticism that this will involve but then he needs a new treasurer.

And look at the choices he has:

Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss (given that he is Minister for infrastructure and regional development it’s clear that he doesn’t have the capabilities to take on a major portfolio),

Julie Bishop (doing too good a job in foreign affairs to be shifted),

Eric Abetz (currently in a minor portfolio but too much of a head kicker to be any use in negotiating with the Senate),

George Brandis (now George is a QC so must be pretty smart but his performance over the vilification legislation leaves his political judgement in question),

Barnaby Joyce (I’m sure he would love to be treasurer but he might not be improvement on Hockey and he’s a National),

Christopher Pyne (he may be the most acceptable pick for Abbott but he has no economic credentials and he’s probably wildly unpopular)

and then there’s Greg Hunt but he appears so out of depth in his current portfolio that he may be a real risk that the Treasury.

Oh, and I forgot. There is Immigration Minister Scott Morrison who would bring his own particular skills of compassion and humanity to the role of being treasurer.

And then we get down to the obvious choice: Malcolm Turnbull. Why wasn’t he Treasurer to begin with? Silly question. But if I were looking for someone to replace Hockey, Turnbull would be my choice. His economic credentials are probably second only to those of Sinodinos and is likely to have the negotiating political skills necessary to work with a fairly hostile Senate.

We certainly live in interesting times.