SYDNEY (Reuters) - Cigar-chomping former Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey was named ambassador to the United States on Tuesday at a time of intense cooperation on issues from the fight against Islamic State militants to Chinese assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.
Hockey resigned from parliament following a September party coup that saw conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott ousted as leader of the ruling Liberal Party in favor of Malcolm Turnbull, a progressive former investment banker.
Australian media speculated that Hockey was given the position in Washington, considered perhaps the best diplomatic posting, to sideline him from domestic politics.
Hockey’s tenure as treasurer was a rocky one that will probably be best remembered for a politically disastrous austerity budget handed down in 2014, from which many felt Abbott’s government never fully recovered.
Although Hockey inherited a slowing economy, he was seen by many to have performed poorly in the role, leading to criticism in the media that he may not be qualified to manage Australia’s most important diplomatic relationship.
“Our Alliance with the United Sates is the bedrock of foreign and defense policy and we are working closely together on shared regional and global security, strategic and economic interests,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement announcing Hockey’s appointment.
Australia is currently conducting air strikes against Islamic State militants in both Iraq and Syria as part of the U.S.-led military coalition against the radical group, which has seized large swaths of territory in the Middle East.
Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Michael Perry