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I’m not sure that I’m really suited to the democratic process

In 1971, Malcom Turnbull was in fourth form at Sydney Grammar. Writing for the school newsletter, he said the Liberal Party was full of “men averse to change of any sort – men whose interests lie solely in the system as it is”.

He said the Liberal approach was “hardly the material needed for a progressive government, which is what Australia as a nation needs above all else”, as he called for higher taxes on the rich. “Twenty years have seen many changes in Australia and the world, but few in the Liberal Party.”

Turnbull was particularly critical of the Liberal’s foreign investment policy which he claimed enticed foreign companies to exploit and own large chunks of Australia’s mineral wealth. More taxes and tariffs would have solved that, he said.

He labelled the twenty year reign of Menzies as “an exceptionally long period in office” producing, “with a few exceptions, nothing original.”

The headmaster of Grammar said of Malcolm, “When he bossed people around he did it in an abrasive way people didn’t like. He makes it clear that he thinks people are perfect fools and haven’t got a brain in their head – that’s not how to make friends and influence people.”

A few years later, while describing then-PM Gough Whitlam as an arrogant egomaniac in an article for the Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit, Malcolm lauded the Labor Party as a “wealth of opinion and class…diverse and less likely than the conservatives to blindly rally behind one great leader”.

Menzies’ Liberals, on the other hand, had “warmed the treasury benches” for 23 years with “the steak-fed bottoms of the sons of Toorak and the champions of Double Bay”.

Malcolm was so busy writing that he rarely went to class, paying a friend $30 a week (plus carbon paper) to take notes for him.

In the mid-1970s, Turnbull, then 21, told radio broadcaster David Dale he wanted to be Prime Minister by the time he was 40.

“For which party?” asked Dale.

“It doesn’t matter,” responded Malcolm.

Turnbull, in a 1978 article titled “The Vicious World of Student Politics” for The Bulletin magazine, attacked a young conservative Sydney University Student Representative Council member named Tony Abbott, saying:

“The leading light of the right-wingers in NSW is twenty-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS [The Australian Union of Students] in the Australian [newspaper] and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve… While he can win support from students because of the shocking state of affairs in AUS, he cannot take the next step because of his conservative moral views.”

In 1991 the Good Weekend did a profile on Malcolm. In researching the article, they “encountered fear among business people” for what they say are his threats to sue them if they speak about him. Packer once quipped to a friend that Turnbull frightened even him. (He told the same person he would never stand between Turnbull and a bag of money.)

When asked about his future, Turnbull said he had given away any political ambitions: “I’m not sure that I’m really suited to the democratic process.”

We shall see.


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  1. Felicitas

    We have swapped a buffoon for an egomaniac. Now if only Shorten will bow out and let someone else, anyone else, have a go, we might even begin to climb back out of the hole we have dug ourselves into.

  2. Bronte ALLAN

    Seems like “our” Malcolm Talkbull was a Labor thinking person before he got talked or “persuaded”, into going with this mob of right wing, tea party, flat earth conservative crones! Sadly, with the very ineffective opposition we currently have, he may be in power for a while now, bugger! If only the inept Labor mob could find someone who could really “lead” them. It is a pity that Shorten is so “milque toast”, he seemed to be a very capable leader in the making when he was involved in the Beaconsfield mine disaster, but that bloke seems to have been replaced by this excuse for a Labor leader we now have.

  3. keerti

    Great article. sets out clearly who and what this “pm” is about…self agrandisement at whatever cost.

  4. Kaye Lee


    Malcolm did say it didn’t matter which party. Was that his application to get in Clive’s kennel?

  5. Matters Not

    When he bossed people around he did it in an abrasive way people didn’t like. He makes it clear that he thinks people are perfect fools and haven’t got a brain in their head

    Sums up Rudd to a tee as well. Be interesting to see what Turnbull is now like behind ‘closed doors’ as well. Be also interested to see how ‘liberal’ he is re ‘national security. – Border Force and the like. In the US the head of Homeland Security (the blueprint for our Border Force) had this to say:

    In 1950, Truman asserted in a statement to Congress:

    Everyone in public life has a responsibility to conduct himself so as to reinforce and not undermine our internal security and our basic freedoms. Our press and radio have the same responsibility. . . . We must all act soberly and carefully, in keeping with our great traditions.

    This assertion is timeless, and I agree with every word.

    All of us in public office, those who aspire to public office, and who command a microphone, owe the public calm, responsible dialogue and decision-making; not over-heated, over-simplistic rhetoric and proposals of superficial appeal. In a democracy, the former leads to smart and sustainable policy, the latter can lead to fear, hate, suspicion, prejudice, and government over-reach.

    This is particularly true in matters of homeland security.

    I repeat owe the public calm, responsible dialogue and decision-making; not over-heated, over-simplistic rhetoric and proposals of superficial appeal . Can’t imagine that speech delivered in Australia. In fact, we engage in the polar opposite. How will Turnbull proceed?


  6. Kaye Lee

    Knowing which way Malcolm will go is almost impossible. Three years ago he said this….

    “While the purported intent is that only metadata – data about data – will be available to law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies, there is no explanation of how metadata will be distinguished from data (the two are often commingled, as in the ‘subject’ line of emails), why both would not be readily available once a message has been handed over and decrypted, and indeed how readily in an IP world it is possible to keep a record of the time, date, size, sender, receiver and possibly subject of an email without also retaining the contents.

    Nor has there been an explanation of what costs and benefits have been estimated for this sweeping and intrusive new power, how these were arrived at, what (if any) cost was ascribed to its chilling effect on free speech, and whether any gains in national security or law enforcement asserted as justification for the changes will be monitored and verified should they be enacted.”


    But that didn’t stop him introducing metadata retention when it was his turn to bat.

  7. kizhmet

    “Will the real Malcolm Turnbull please stand up”. Unsurprisingly, we are seeing many different aspects of our new PM. Early socialist leanings, who would have thought?

    Could one say that Turnbull’s seeming inability to commit to any particular political ideology in fact epitomises a true liberal?

    If VOTERS, not the party, voted in the leader all the shenanigans with the revolving door PMs over the past few years would be non existent … It highly unlikely Abbott would not have been voted PM in the first instance. Yes, I know. I can dream though can’t I?

    Early days, but I don’t like what I am seeing/sensing. I hope and pray I am seriously, misguidedly wrong.

  8. diannaart

    Good point from Kerry Packer – although I wouldn’t be caught standing between any Packer and a bag of money either.


    I used to believe I was a liberal… now I really don’t get liberals at all (small elle) – if they are so about individual freedom and rights, WTF are they so frequently aligned with authoritarian conservatives?

    I do believe for the likes of Turnbull and his ilk that some people are more liberal than others or more self-entitled than others this would explain the faction ridden Liberals (big elle).

  9. Peter Llewellyn

    I note that an almost identical blog appeared a couple of days ago on the pro-Abbott anti-Labor far right site http://stopturnbull.com – with a bit more invective. We need to choose our enemies carefully.

  10. silkworm

    Correction: in 1971, Turnbull was in fifth form.

  11. Christian Marx

    Just saw this piece. Hardly a ringing endorsement for Malcolm. I always suspected he was plastic.

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