In the mid-1970s, Malcolm Turnbull, then 21, told future radio broadcaster David Dale that he wanted to be Prime Minister by the time he was 40.
“For which party?” asked Dale.
“It doesn’t matter,” responded Malcolm.
And therein lies the real problem with Turnbull. He isn’t in the job because of a driving passion for public service. He has no lofty ideals about how to take the country forward. He just views it as his rightful destiny, a natural recognition of his superiority.
An accomplished debater and successful lawyer, Turnbull doesn’t much care what side he is on as long as it is the winning side and he will do whatever it takes to get there.
Former Labor senator Jim McClelland described Turnbull as “a turd”.
“He’s easy to loathe, he’s a shit, he’d devour anyone for breakfast, he’s on the make, he’s cynical, he’s offensively smug. He’s a good exploiter of publicity.”
In a 1991 article in the Good Weekend, John Lyons wrote of the then 36 year old merchant banker that his language said it all: he talks about “retaliation”, how he is at “war”, how certain fights are only “skirmishes”, a smaller part of the bigger “battle”.
It details Turnbull’s fiercely aggressive approach in both the legal and business world.
Armed with an awesome, carefully cultivated network of contacts, Turnbull roams the corporate landscape, a hired gun after the main chance.
Inconsistencies abound with Turnbull.
Turnbull is tantalising; part of the contradiction is that while he protests that he is a champion of freedom of speech – he cites his victory over the British Government when he successfully secured the right of former spy Peter Wright to publish his memoirs, Spycatcher – some business people fear him 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.)
In the marriage equality debate, Turnbull says religious freedom must be protected but that certainly wasn’t his attitude when he was the one being discriminated against.
When he was studying law at Oxford, he and Lucy, who were living together at the time, decided they wanted to get married but were told by the Anglican vicar they approached that Lucy, as a Catholic, and he, as a Presbyterian, were not part of his flock. “Your petty sectarian approach is unconstitutional,” Turnbull retorted. “The Church of England is the religion of the State. You are a servant of the Crown, not materially different from an ambassador or an admiral. It is your constitutional duty to prevent fornication in your parish.”
[As an aside, in those days, Rhodes scholarships could not be awarded to people who were married, reportedly one of the reasons that Tony Abbott abandoned his pregnant girlfriend. It would also be interesting to know what sporting prowess Malcolm claimed to help win his Rhodes scholarship.]
As Lyons points out in his 1991 article, “Tumbull is a legal street-fighter, someone who revels in taking on the hard cases, preferably also those which are going to involve big exposure. For Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, life is attack, attack, attack.”