On my first day of high school, I was looking around at all the new people with whom I would be spending the next six years of my life. One of the toughest looking girls wandered over to me, shoved me, and said “Wadda ya think you’re looking at?” I immediately responded “Dunno. I didn’t bring my zoo book with me.” She punched me in the face. Rather than responding physically, I went and told on her. She never bothered me again and I must say, I felt the winner on the day.
Malcolm Turnbull, by not standing up to the bullies in his party, has invited open defiance. They are waiting in the toilets to steal his lunch money. They are writing graffiti about him. They are banding together in a gang to harass him after school. They are demanding he dance and he’s obliging.
Previously Malcolm has been criticised for being too autocratic. He assures us he has changed, that he will be consultative and collegiate. But that presupposes that your colleagues will be reasonable – that, whilst being able to have their say, they will allow others to do so and reasonably consider the advice of experts to arrive at an informed decision.
As we have seen, these bullies refuse to listen to other views, to advice or to truth. They have decided their position before any debate is had, before any review is complete, before any party discussion. They dogwhistle to the most fearful in our society and stoke those fears with misinformation. They cannot compromise or negotiate because their view is based in belief rather than fact, in ideology rather than practicality.
This appeasement of the bullies must be very uncomfortable for Malcolm because it goes very much against his nature.
Alistair Mackerras, headmaster of Sydney Grammar, appointed Turnbull head prefect, knowing his unpopularity. “It doesn’t hurt to have someone who doesn’t mind doing unpopular things,” he said.
While Turnbull was useful for this purpose, Mackerras could see possible problems later in life. “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.”
In 1991, Trevor Sykes, editor-in-chief of Kerry Packer’s Australian Business said of Turnbull, “I don’t think you are going to find a neutral commentator. The merchant banking world is the most bitchy I know. Malcolm, being a particularly abrasive character who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, was always going to suffer his fair share of detractors.”
John Lyons wrote of him, “Armed with an awesome, carefully cultivated network of contacts, Turnbull roams the corporate landscape, a hired gun after the main chance.”
Malcolm has seen his main chance to be recorded in history as Prime Minister of Australia, to move in the circle of world leaders. He used his carefully cultivated contacts to achieve his personal ambition, but he is serving the penance of having to tolerate fools and appease zealots because of the manner of his ascension. Barnaby Joyce is running on the platform that he can demand whatever he likes from the PM.
What must be even more galling for Malcolm is that this very vocal minority of fundamentalist bullies, for whom he or any thinking person could hold little respect, could well be the cause of his demise.
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