Last night, Australian time, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gave a speech where he openly welcomed the fact that the US economic growth momentum was “gaining traction”. It was an optimistic outlook for the US which is only now genuinely emerging from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 which was brought on by a collapse in banking, insurance and the housing market.

In looking at the challenges ahead Lew noted, in comments oozing decency and empathy, that for the many people who were unemployed and those whose wages have stagnated, “this hardly feels like a recovery”.

“The ultimate test for all of us will be how inclusive tomorrow’s economy becomes and how widely our economic gains flow,” he said. “The crisis we face today is the need to make sure the economy is expanding fast enough to support a growing middle class.”

At about the same time Lew was discussing these issues of a stronger economy and fairness and equity, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered a speech which could not have been more at odds with Jack Lew’s themes. Indeed, Mr Hockey’s speech could have been penned by the US Tea Party fringe given its assault on equity and the contempt he showed for the less well off in society.

This morning’s headline from the Australian Financial Review, no less, sums it up. “Joe Hockey slams welfare state”.

Mr Hockey’s speech included the bizarre fact that average Australians are working more than one month each year to support the nation’s welfare recipients. While factually correct, it is strange that Mr Hockey did not bother to note that the average Australian is likely to have a parent, uncle or aunt on the age pension; or that they are likely to know someone on disability support; or that the one in the 16 working age Australians unemployed could be a family member, friend or neighbour; or that someone nearby is a war veteran in need of welfare payments as they adjust back to society; or indeed, the person currently working a month a year to cover these welfare costs is one day, likely to be a recipient of temporary unemployment benefit payments, the age pension or some other welfare payment.

Contrast these comments from Mr Hockey with those of Jack Lew: “Payments are too broadly available to too many people”, adding, “Only in a closed economy, based on old-style socialism, can a government hope to deliver uniform equality of outcomes. We have moved on.”

In a message that a Tea Party elder would be proud, Mr Hockey noted, “Whilst income tax is by far our largest form of revenue, just 10 per cent of the population pays nearly two-thirds of all income tax.”

Let’s have a look at what the Tea Party in the US say about these sorts of things. According to the Tea Party Patriots, “When given the choice between paying higher taxes and receiving fewer government services, a vast number of Americans chose receiving fewer government services”. There is no source for this claim.

The Tea Party platform then notes that “Excessively high taxes are a burden for those exercising their personal liberty to work hard and prosper.” It continues, “A bloated bureaucracy creates wasteful spending that plagues our government. Reducing the overall size, scope and reach of government at both local and national levels will help to eliminate inefficiencies that result in deficit spending which adds to our country’s debt.”

Whoa Joe – you couldn’t have said it any better!

And then there is this, from Phillip Dennis, a member of the Board of Directors of the Leadership Tea Party and an adviser to the National Tea Party Coalition. “We have gone from a nation of self-sufficient producers to a nation divided between overburdened taxpaying producers and some non-producers who exist on welfare from cradle to grave.”

That guy is surely a friend of Mr Hockey’s. 

Finally, from The Tea Party Tribune: “It has become all too easy today to receive government assistance…According to a Heritage Foundation study, means-tested welfare has grown faster than every other part of government during the past two decades, including Social Security, Medicare, education and defence. The problem is that welfare is not just provided to the handicapped and unemployed; it is distributed to the lower middle working class and their children… Americans must rid themselves of the entitlement mentality when it comes to jobs.”

There is a lot of Joe Hockey in these Tea Party themes.

The Tea Party mantra shows up in Mr Hockey’s opposition to increasing the debt ceiling when in Opposition and it shows up in more recent policies on universities, health and debt.

It is not a good trend to have the government in Australia not only mouthing the policies of the loonie US Tea Party fanatics, but starting to implement their policies.