Joe Hockey ‘was just himself’, says Trump chief of staff
Jacob Greber

Washington | Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mick Mulvaney paid a heart-felt tribute to outgoing US ambassador Joe Hockey, declaring him one of few friends he has made in Washington.

Speaking to a party of around 400 guests – including a raft of big name Washington figures, diplomats and business leaders as well as dozens of Mr Hockey’s personal friends from almost three decades in public life – Mr Mulvaney delivered a warm-hearted roasting of the Australian envoy’s middling golfing prowess while lauding his down-to-earth approach.

Businessman Anthony Pratt, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, and Ambassador Joe Hockey at his farewell party. 

“Joe is good at his job because he’s Joe,” Mr Mulvaney said. “Here, you don’t have to say ‘ambassador Hockey’ – he’s Joe.”

“Most of the folks in this room are extraordinary people. But really what they are is ordinary people in extraordinary jobs, and I think Joe understands that.

“Joe didn’t treat any of us any differently because of our position and he didn’t act any differently because of his position. He was just himself.”

Sponsored by billionaire Anthony Pratt, the event at a hip warehouse space in Washington DC’s Union Market district reunited many of Mr Hockey’s closest allies from politics to business and beyond.

From left, (L-R) White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former US ambassador to Australia John Berry, Australian golfer Greg Norman, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, Ambassador Joe Hockey, Fox News reporter Bret Baier and wife Amy. 

Tony Abbott, who flew in fresh from batting bushfires in the Snowy Mountains, said Mr Hockey “never got the appreciation he deserved for being a fine treasurer”.

“So it’s good he’s getting the appreciation he so richly deserves for being an absolutely outstanding ambassador to the United States.

“It’s not often noted but it is a fact that Joe’s 2014 budget was the last Australian budget that actually attempted some serious structural economic reform.

“ It wasn’t just economically sound, but it was morally sound as well because it was based on the notion of people taking more responsibility for their lives.

“And it was that budget which set up the return to surplus, which at last we’ve just seen this year in Australia delivered.”

Mr Abbott said Mr Hockey’s honesty was one of his greatest strengths.

“Joe was one of those people who would never say one thing to your face and something else behind your back.

“And I’ve got to say in contemporary Canberra that made him of a very rare quality, and I suspect that makes him here in Washington someone of very rare quality.”

Joe Hockey and wife Melissa Babbage at his farewell party. 

Mr Hockey’s achievements during his four years in Washington include helping negotiate exemptions to Mr Trump’s steel tariffs, preserving access for Australians to 10,500 unique professional visas per year and overseeing the first state visit by an Australian prime minister since John Howard in 2005.

“As the often-referred to Trump whisperer you’ve been an invaluable bridge between Australia and America,” said Mr Pratt. That was “because of your relationships, the most important one perhaps with Mick Mulvaney, the best chief of staff I’ve ever seen”.

While Mr Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka and Jared Kushner, were no-shows despite reportedly accepting invitations, the audience had plenty of heavy hitters.

Former Australian ambassador to Washington Michael Thawley was there, as was the Japanese ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama.

Other notables included former Abbott government cabinet minister Jamie Briggs, golfer Greg Norman, former Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev, Fox News anchor Bret Baier, PwC managing partner Joseph Carrozzi, and former US ambassadors to Australia Jeff Bleich and John Berry.

Mr Mulvaney acknowledged that he hasn’t made a lot of friends since coming to Washington DC.

“Once you get here it’s sort of hard to do because you never know when people like you for who you are or for what you do.

“Joe Hockey is my friend.

“And it’s a tremendous honour to be here tonight to thank him for what he’s done.”

Mr Hockey will be replaced early next month by Arthur Sinodinos.

Jacob Greber writes about American politics, economics and business from our Washington bureau. He was previously our economics correspondent based in Canberra. Connect with Jacob on Twitter. Email Jacob at jgreber@afr.com

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