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Day to Day Politics: Interviewing Malcolm Turnbull.

June 11 2016

1 The political interview is probably not the most pleasant task politicians perform. It requires, particularly if you are a leader, a quick mind, a broad knowledge of many subjects, an eye for detail and the ability to convey the fact that no matter how arduous the work is, you are doing it for pure reasons. That the nation and its people are the most important thing in your life.

There are exceptions of course like Christopher ‘the mouth that roared’ Pyne who seems to take great delight in being insulting and making a fool of himself. He wears the mantle of Australia’s most hated politician like a badge of honour.

The best politician Australia has ever had in terms of knowing policy detail was John Howard. Even on subjects, he was not directly responsible for.

I can recall the time of the introduction of the GST and remember thinking to myself that he was as much on top of the detail as was Costello and he wasn’t even running with the policy. Detail is important because the media can bring you down on the slightest thing. Julia Bishop for example on Superannuation this week.

Some are better than others at being interviewed. For example Paul Keating could give as much as he got. Bob Hawke could turn them into a chat in the saloon bar at the local pub.

Morrison, Dutton and Cormann are undoubtedly professional motor mouths ‘perceptionists’ who are adept at creating the illusion of truth. They adopt the tactic of over talk. The theory being that if you talk your way through an interview the less questions you can be asked.

Which brings me to Malcolm Turnbull.

Leigh Sales latest interview with the Prime Minister was excruciating. He looked nervously uncomfortable. Here we have one of the brightest minds in Australia seemingly terrified of the preying questions of Leigh Sales.

Goodness knows what he would have been like with Kerry O’Brien who could make knowledgeable minds squirm.

The problem for Turnbull is that over the years he has cultivated an unpolitical image. He placed himself above day-to-day politics.

Now in the cut and thrust of an election campaign in which he is required to be up front with journalists he presents quite the opposite to the image he created.

With Leigh Sales he looked as though he was appearing under sufferance. Why should a man of my brilliance be talking to you?

Three times she asked him why the polls revealed disappointment with him. He evaded the questions with the deftness of Mohamed Ali’s ring craft.

In the end he gave this answer that almost bordered on comedy:

LEIGH SALES: But I think people watching this also want to know that you’re listening to them and what those polls tell you is that there’s something that you’re doing which they don’t like.

MALCOLMTURNBULL: Well why don’t you ask me a question about it?

SALES: Well, I am asking you a question about it. What do you think – what do you think – what do you think has happened that you have lost that ginormous chunk of approval?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Leigh, I am not going to be drawn into that kind of introspection.

She asked him why that if the Governments record was so impressive, as he stated, why then was it necessary to topple Abbott. He gave all sorts of bullshit answers on the Governments remarkable record over the past three years but on Abbott’s removal he simple said “the political issue you raise is a separate matter”.

The imperative requiring Abbott’s removal in his mind was no longer an issue. A remarkable answer given that a few months back after 30 consecutive Newspoll losses and a lack of economic leadership, it was vitality important to be rid of him.

He looked like he was hating every minute of it. The tone of his voice was negative and defensive, even condescending. A politician wanting to say one thing but obliged to say another.

“Do you accept far from establishing a coherent message, your delay in announcing policy and your ‘wishy-washiness’, as one of your own backbenchers put it, has confused and disillusioned voters?” Sales asked.

Without any economic record to fall back on he went for the tired old political nonsense.

“We are seeing strong business confidence, strong levels of employment growth and that is because my Government’s economic plan is working. I need three more years to complete it. That is what I am seeking from the Australian people,” he said.

In playing the typical everyday politician it all just seemed very unnatural. He doesn’t speed talk like Morrison or Cormann and looks bewildered by it all. He needs twice as long to answer a question because he speaks normally. Speaking with political quick-wittedness doesn’t sit well with him. He is an explainer and you don’t get time in television interviews.

Interviewers like Sales and O’Brien can be very testing but a politician in leadership should be able to cope with it. In my view Turnbull is not one in the traditional sense. Whether he can grow into it, is up in the air. He has another interview with Sales before voting day. He would need to perform better in it.

At the time of the interview Mr Shorten was still mingling with his Queensland Town Hall audience. As the tally came through: 57 of the 100 people at the forum were more likely to vote for the Labor leader than when they had walked in.

An observation.

“Our lives have become controlled by the noise of the mass media. The sad thing is that we listen”.

2 I was looking through my 2013 election diaries and came across this. I was writing about the NBN.

“The internet has not even begun to evolve and theoretically may even be replaced some day with something more advanced. Some technologies are yet to be discovered. This can only be achieved with a Rolls Royce ABN not a T model Ford system.

In Traralgon, where I live we are to be hooked up in November 2013 and personally I cannot wait. Morwell is to be connected at the same time. Moe misses out and the NATs federal member FOR Gippsland (Darren Chester) is outraged. He complains in the local newspaper every week.

I have a blue ray player with an entertainment hub which is an exceptional piece of equipment but half of it is useless even with ADSL plus.

Recently I visited the ABN caravan in Morwell and was demonstrated what the NBN will do. Simply astonishing. I suppose I have a close interest because before I retired the business I owned was involved with email marketing and R&D with new and evolving products. Had we had the broadband speeds being predicted I would be a very wealthy man.

I am highly optimistic about the future of the internet and the things it will do in education, medicine and the sciences”.

Now three years on and a couple of weeks ago I was walking my dog when I noticed some work being done at the end of our street. As I approached it was obvious to me that a node was being installed. A subsequent conversation with the technicians confirmed it so. When I enquired as to when we would be connected I was told November 2016. Ah, promises promises.

My thought for today.

“The way you think and feel about yourself affects every aspect of your life. When you love, accept, respect and approve of yourself, you validate your existence”.


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  1. thebustopher

    “Preying” questions of Leigh Sales? I suppose so, John! 🙂

  2. Maureen Walton (@maureen_walton)

    Interesting read and assessment. Both Abbott and Turnbull are terrible when they are being interviewed. Abbott could not even give a proper speech, he was terrible and embarrassing to listen to especially when he was overseas. Turnbull only seems to be able to give a speech when he is in charge. All LNP only seem to be able to give a speech of “Labor did it” very clearly because they must practice it in their sleep that many times. Interesting though I never hear LNP supporters ( I do know many) complain about any of their MPs yelling and screaming. Maybe they are so use to LNP in their psyche, thanks to our Media now that does not matter whatever they come up with they all just accept what ever is said or done. Nor do I ever hear them commenting on any of the dishonesty that goes on within the LNP..

  3. michael lacey

    Leigh Sales has improved she needed to!

  4. Owen

    We might be near the same street John… as the Nbn work you just described has happened near me in the same time frame. ..Well you anywhere close to Stocky?

  5. johnlord2013

    Owen. Grandkids attend Stocky Road. I live in the West End. Rural Drive.

  6. 1petermcc

    I’m pleased to read your assessment of the Sales interview John. I have seen a lot of negativity about it but it seemed to me that Leigh completely undermined Malcolm’s confidence as the interview progressed. The genial mister nice guy fell away as the pressure came on. The smile went brittle then disappeared and the shoulders seemed to slump. I almost felt sorry for him.


    The question that started the collapse related to why does he spoil his message by going so obviously over the top with Labor’s War on everything? It was a great question and one I would like to understand. If he does have a good story to tell, why does he insist on looking like a snake oil salesman?

    That question gave him the chance to deliver on his promise to be up front with the Voters but he simply couldn’t do it and came over as just another pollie. Worse than that, Leigh pointed that out to him and the smile was gone for good. The confidence shattered.

    A lot of complaints stemmed from the questions not asked but there was no way to cover all of those. His campaign is still based on slogans with sod all detail and it’s highly unlikely we will see much of the detail after each attempt getting shredded by experts. The strength of the interview is in the exposure of Turnbull’s lack of real substance. It’s a tragedy that most folk didn’t see it, and some that haven’t have accepted the shallow judgement of others with a different agenda. Of course it can’t top Kerry O’Brien’s “back flip” interview with Tony Abbott but what could?

    A quick note on the NBN. I’m not far from you at Mirboo North and cables are being pulled at the moment. The promise is “by Xmas” which just happens to be the same promise of 1 year ago. I’m more convinced this year now the techs are on site.

  7. helvityni

    I remember Turnbull being interviewed by Kerry O’Brien years ago; he was rattled then too, Kerry, Kerry, let me say this, let me say this…
    I almost felt sorry for him then, not now, not anymore; I know him better.

  8. Arthur Plottier

    Every time that Leigh Sales interview Morrison and Cormann she give to them far to much time to use the space as free political advertising.
    When that are in the 730 I do not bother to watch the interview.
    Sales need to impose her questions and cut short both of them when behave in that manner.’
    IMO the 7 30 is not longer as good as used to be.

  9. John Lord

    Arthur. That’s my point. They speed talk taking away her opportunity to fit in more questions.

  10. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    It seems all the good people live in Gippsland including me. 😛

    Morrison and Cormann come across as bully males who would walk over the top of you. I agree with Arthur’s tactic suggestions for Sales to practice to take the wind out of them.

    Malcolm Muck’s body language was also a give-away that he was overawed because he was leaning forward with his arms on the bench in a slightly submissive manner to Sales.

  11. Michael Taylor

    The most impressive performance, in my opinion, was Julia Gillard’s solo performance on Q&A some years ago. She was across every policy. Every question was addressed and she didn’t stray off the topic. She knew her stuff.

  12. Möbius Ecko

    Or Gillard’s half hour grilling by the media on a doorstop. Never shirked or turned away as Abbott always did.

    For a stark contrast look at the number of times Abbott ran away from interviews, even tame ones with soft questions.

    Turnbull, though not as bad as Abbott, also has a habit of closing down an interview and running away as soon as the questions become unpalatable or uncomfortable.

  13. my say

    Turnbull and his team are treating the public like idiots ,We also have Hendy, Roy ,not turning up for forums, they just cannot answer unscripted answers,
    A forum is the only way the voters get to choose the questions ,,and their answers helps you make choices as who to vote for,They just seem unable to answer a question without blaming Labor,
    Turnbull says its a matter of who do you trust,well if anyone watched The Drum last night its shouldn’t be the Liberals,
    John Adams who was Sinodinos advisor who is now helping minor parties get elected
    said that there is so much disappointment and rumblings with Turnbull,that even if he wins the election ,he will be lucky to last a couple if months
    So who is going to be replacing him ,Abbott or Morrison,
    vote the Liberals out,

  14. Jaquix

    I thought Leigh Sales was good (better than last time when she was all giggly with him) in that she tried several times to get her questions answered, but she allowed him far too long in his avoidance/ waffling. She should have cut him off much sooner. As it was he answered nothing but got a lot of electioneering spin in.

  15. susan bedford

    A couple of points – can you please provide evidence of Turnbull’s intellect apart from his own self endorsement? Howard never impressed me during an interview. As Treasurer under Fraser he talked monotonous rubbish and as PM and even today, he has a monotonous whinging tone and no connection to the truth. Rudd and Gillard both impressed me with their recall of wide ranging events and statistics during interviews.
    Shorten was very impressive at his Qld forum. He knows how to handle antagonistic Murdoch “moderators”.

    I think that even mentioning Kerry O’Brien in the same sentence as Leigh Sales insults O’Brien.

  16. Jack Russell

    I don’t see intelligence. I see rat cunning. They aren’t the same thing to me. I guess it’s the leaning away feeling I always get when faced with a liar.

  17. Backyard Bob

    It’s pretty hard to become a successful barrister without raw intelligence. I mean, seriously.

  18. wam

    A good read, lord. I remember sales embarrassing the rabbott early in her 7.30 career over the report he forgot to read. When he got power, much helped by abc 24, she and the abc slowed down she may now feel time to stiffen up whilst she is not yet a kerry, she is close and might yet take boy’s with their ‘girly man’ attitude.
    As the rabbott destroyed any thoughts that rhodes scholars had exceptional educational and sporting skills.
    This prick reinforced the ‘who you know’ aspect of the scholarship. But his spycatcher episode showed he is smart and his tax schemes show he is just as responsible as a packer.
    But it is funny that a vqaucluse sydney grammar millionaire wants us to think of him as having a disadvantaged upbringing.
    if you love someone else you exist.

  19. redmarkozRedmarkoz

    While the description of Pyne in this article is certainly an accurate assessment with regard his inherent ability in effortlessly expressing his own particular flavour of smarmy irritant imbued stupidity without the slightest acknowledgment of impropriety or sense of shame whenever an opportunity may arise. However distasteful Pyne may seem he cannot help but be the slimy little slavish man that makes people near him want to shower, because this is just his nature, birds fly, fish swim and Pyne just Pynes.
    However when it comes to Identifying the most loathsome and hated politician the creepily effeminate Pyne who no doubt would have willingly embraced such a title in the hope it might lend him a little relevance has now surely been dethroned and is yesterday’s insignificant lickspittle having been thoroughly supplanted as the champion of all things detestable and wrong by Dutton. Unfortunately I am without the clinical qualifications necessary to satisfactorly fathom the dark recesses of Duttons psychiatric condition to conclusion but his unhealthy lack of compassion and callous disregard for the accepted conventions of human decency is disturbing and obviously beyond the norm. This is indicative of how inappropriate it is for him to be to be involved in political life and emphasises how profoundly unsuitable his position in government is, especially so as minister for immigration. After all given his casual attitude to regular acts of cruelty bordering on criminal malevolence I doubt there’d be very many people who would be comfortable leaving their kids with him for the afternoon when it’s plain to see there’s definitely somthing seriously broken and not right inside of Duttons head.

  20. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Might I simply say that hating the LNP alone is not good enough although I understand the feeling.

    We need to hate Labor a little bit too so they get their bums into gear and not take us for granted!

    If they can’t accept responsibility for alternative government then let The Alliance take control, as follows:

    …it means we are expecting The Alliance Government made up of Greens, left/Centre Labor and various reasonable Micro Parties and Independents.

  21. nurses1968

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith
    you really have lost it.Anything on ABC has to be better than this

  22. Backyard Bob

    This could become a cool new drinking game: take a swig every time Jennifer says “Alliance”.

  23. jantonius

    Don’t make it too strong. She’ll be the only one left.

  24. JeffJL


  25. Arthur Plottier

    I am missing something?
    Which it is the alliance?
    Is there an agreement formed that I am not aware of it?
    Is the alliance mentioned The Alliance for Progress ( ?
    If they are them, they are not good, they are not in all states and I am not sure if they managed to have the funds to put all the candidates.

  26. JeffJL

    Thanks Mr Plottier.

    Another four drinks. 🙂

  27. Matters Not

    Arthur Plottier, the ‘alliance’ is but an ‘ought’ constructed and advanced by Jennifer Meyer-Smith and she alone. The ‘is’, (the reality), is far removed. The intersection of the two (the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’) is also far removed from reality. It’s a case of ‘wishin and hopin’. And that’s the best slant I can put on it.

  28. Klaus Petrat

    Hi John,

    I really like your writing but I found 2 thinks where I’d like to provide some input.

    1) In categorically stating that Chis Pyne is the most despised Australian polititian, would have to be seriously challenged by one Peter Dutton.

    2) Malcolm has a degree, true. He is not brilliant, he is as good or bad at his job as every Australian who holds a job. I don’t see sparkling brilliance or vision. I see a man void of policy who doesn’t know how to defend the indefensible. There is no track record to speak of, except cutting and stopping. This is not a vision, this is harmful.

    The man is without principles as most issues clearly point out. I am not sure whether his brilliant mind told him that an NBN with underlying 100 year old copper infrastructure is the way forward, or whether his brilliant mind told him that the Internet has reached peak transmission rates and won’t go any faster, or whether his brilliant mind told him ‘I can do it for 1/2 price and 1/2 speed of implementing’. In which case his brilliant mind would have forsaken him temporarily.

    The last option is of course, that he was plainly told to do as Abbott says, in which case his fragile spine/no ticker (Keating once famously uttered) have left him.

    Are these qualities of a leader when

    a) You can’t actually communicate when challenged
    b) You change your mind more often than a wind hose turns in the breeze

    It is offending from the LNP and MSM when Bill did a back flip. Turnbull should be asked how many back flips he managed in his 9 months as leader. The Cirque du Soleil would give him a career.

  29. Geoffrey England

    Stop the election I want to get off this B/S merry go round.

  30. Jaquix

    Klaus, I enjoyed your additional comments re Turnbull’s so-called superior intellect. No IQ test or record of achievements prove it. He would score seriously low on EQ. He was only a barrister for a short time. He has had more than his fair share of luck, and turned a handsome profit on some financial transactions, and charmed his way around the rich and famous, in search of opportunities. For himself of course. His many failures are conveniently forgotten.

  31. mark

    macolm,a daddys’ boy,me thinks.mark

  32. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Alright, I won’t say the ‘A’ word right now (because I don’t want to encourage irresponsible drinking this early in the day), but I saw Snotty Morrisscum say that ‘A’ word on ‘Insiders’, admittedly in his usual snide and nasty way. 😉

    But the interesting thing was while he was saying it, he was stating categorically that the LNP Degenerates are planning to preference Labor before the Greens.

    OMG! What do you Labor luminaries have to say about that kiss of death!

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