Tony Abbott came to the Prime Minister ship with a mixture of negative malevolence, callous misogyny, lying, cheating and creating crisis when none existed. With the support of Rupert Murdoch he successfully deceived the Australian public into believing that the country would be better in his hands. The evidence of his unconscionable leadership is open for all to see.
Conversely, Malcolm Turnbull will it appears, obtain the office with a calculated mixture of personal charm, reasonableness, and consummate diplomacy. He presents a façade of calm confidence and understanding in stark contrast to Abbott who shows all of the traits of a man who has lost control of his emotions.
In December The Saturday Paper said this of Turnbull:
“He has worked up a lovely public persona: as cultured as Keating but blessed with a kinder sense of humour; as intelligent as Rudd but far from as malevolent. And somehow, with his green-froth-drinking diet success and his endearing leather jackets and business shirts, his Stephen Fry-like adoration of gadgets and mastery of social media, his raffish smile and mellifluous voice, he has formed the perfect personality for most popular, and probably most trusted, politician in the nation.”
It seems inevitable that one will replace the other. I for one, like many on the left, don’t subscribe to the theory that Abbott in power gives Labor the greatest chance of winning the next election. It may be true to some extent but the current state of our democracy demands that the tempestuous buffoon Abbott be removed and the matter is urgent.
But who is Malcolm Turnbull and can he succeed a second time around?
Born 24 October 1954 Malcolm Bligh Turnbull was educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney where he graduated with a Batchelor of Arts and Batchelor of Laws. Later he obtained, as a Rhodes Scholar, a Batchelor of Civil Law from Oxford.
He has worked as a journalist and has been extraordinarily successful in many businesses including his own law firm and his success in the Spy Catcher trial is well-known. He established a merchant banking company with Whitlam’s son Nick. Later he became a partner with Goldman Sachs.
He became chair of Internet Service Provider OzEmail and later sold the company for an enormous sum at the height of the tech boom. In the 1990s, Turnbull was chairman of Axiom Forest Resources, which conducted logging, with a dubious record, in the Solomon Islands.
In 2008 as the Member for Wentworth he was elected leader of the Liberal Party. In December 2009 he lost the leadership to Tony Abbott by one vote with two of his own supporters absent.
He is also well-known for his work with the Australian Republican Movement and was its delegate at the convention. He later wrote a book on his experiences in which he described the then PM Howard as having broken Australia’s heart. Having worked on the referendum myself, I concurred.
He married Lucy Hughes in 1980. Their two children, Alex and Daisy attended local schools and have now completed University. Lucy and Malcolm have been partners not only in marriage but also in their many businesses. Lucy was the first female Lord Mayor of Sydney, a position she held until early 2004.
He is related to the famous actress Anglia Lansbury. Contrary to popular thought he is not a descendent of Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame but is a forebear of John Turnbull who was a supporter of Bligh’s during the Rum Rebellion. It became a tradition for sons of Turnbulls to take the middle name Bligh. Malcolm’s son likewise has ”Bligh” for his middle name.
His personal fortune is estimated in excess of $100 million.
But who is Malcolm Turnbull?
Undoubtedly he is a man, like Rudd, of prodigious intellect and charismatic personality who carries his superiority as an example for others to admire. Like Rudd and despite the veneer of public self-assuredness he is hated within his own party.
The National Party are on the record as saying they couldn’t work with him, such is their detestation.
Again like Rudd he has frequent displays of bad temper. Nick Whitlam said he was a “prick”. He doesn’t suffer fools and he lets them know it. He is a silver tongue, smooth urbane and charming. One of his colleagues jokingly said but he carries a knife with him at all time.
He is also known to be generous with his cash and readily splashes it around if he considers a cause worthy.
It was well-known that he would storm into the office of Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson and hurl abuse at him because he felt he wasn’t performing adequately.
So behind the public persona of the, mannerly articulate, polished Q&A debonair performances, there lurks the other person. The political animal who is just as ruthless as Abbott.
Let’s not forget that as an Opposition Leader last time around Turnbull was an abject failure. His polls as preferred prime minister were a disaster and he made a fool of himself over the Godwin Grench affair.
What might be different under Turnbull?
Remember these words?
“As we are being blunt, the fact is that Tony and the people who put him in his job do not want to do anything about climate change. They do not believe in human caused global warming. As Tony observed on one occasion “climate change is crap” or if you consider his mentor, Senator Minchin, the world is not warming, it’s cooling and the climate change issue is part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to deindustrialise the world.”
“Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy but we are now without integrity. We have given our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted.”
There exists in the Coalition Party Room at least 50% of its members who are fervent climate deniers. They will have nothing to do with the science.
Malcolm Turnbull has hung his hat on a firm belief that it is real and that the party’s current policy of Direct Action is nothing more than a joke. He would have to show support for renewable energy, emissions targets and investment. If he compromises his hypocrisy will be difficult to overcome.
One of Turnbull’s first problems will be, as an intelligent individual, to form a balanced (I mean women) front bench. He would have to dispose of the likes of Pyne, who he detests, and others who have passed their used by date. It would be no good reinstating all the regulars of this untalented disoriented, characterless and anachronistic group or his credibility will suffer. He is a Liberal amongst neo-conservatives and a sprinkling of Tea Party nutters.
The question of sexual equality and gay marriage
As an outspoken supporter of gay rights it would naturally be expected that he would allow a conscience vote on the matter. In doing so he will confront a huge number of homophobic Bernardie type personalities. He would need to win the argument or again face charges of hypocrisy.
Both of the following statements conflict with Turnbull’s publicly stated view of support for the last budget. I support it in its entirety he said. But both quotes address the question of fairness which means he goes back to the drawing or admits that it was unfair:
“It is vitally important, both as a matter of social justice and political reality, that structural changes are seen as being fair across the board.”
“That means not only must tough decisions be justified, but that the burden of adjustment is not borne disproportionately by one part of the community.”
This raises the question of what will happen with the GP Co-Payment. He could retreat on it altogether arguing that it was an Abbott broken promise that he wanted nothing to do with. Labor would of course say correctly that it was one of many flawed policies symptomatic of a government devoid of ideas.
Would he sack Pyne and move him out of the ministry or give him another portfolio. He is just one of many grating personalities hindering the public perception of the Coalition. Then he might take up independent Senator Nick Xenophon’s suggestion for a proper comprehensive review of the University sector.
Some might see it as a delaying tactic but Turnbull would have a solid argument for a fresh approach and it is right for the government to pursue reform of the tertiary sector. Labor would come back with a picture of a dysfunctional, out of control government.
After John Howard’s spending spree years of vote-buying we now have revenue shortfalls that need to be fixed. Long term welfare reforms also need to be looked at and Turnbull would have an opportunity to explain all of the issues in detail and tackle the perception of unfairness.
Of course the ability to accomplish all of these things is a matter of timing. The Budget is due on May 12. If Turnbull is to change course, indeed change policy direction and influence the upcoming budget they would need to act soon.
As I see it though the three major challenges he faces are firstly his own ego which was Rudd’s downfall, secondly the public’s perception of his party as untrustworthy ideologues and thirdly to bring the party back to the center from the extremity of the far right.
As a party with a born to rule mentality together with an obsessiveness’ towards ideology and telling people what’s best for them they will find it hard to listen to people of constraint and reason.
For a party now so infiltrated with political nutters it might be a bridge to far, or at least a bridge over very troubled waters.
Seeing Abbott go may not, in election terms be what’s best for Labor but it is what’s manifestly best for Australia and that should be our first consideration.
Then if as Bill Shorten says 2015 is to be a year of ideas we might dare to dream that our democracy will come in for some badly needed repair.
Who knows? Between then they might, as has been done in Brittain form a consensus on climate change, organise a plebiscite on a republic and ban knighthoods. Well you can always hope.
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