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Turnbull: Just the man to tell all (part 1)

My association with the man Malcolm Turnbull began in 1999. It was the year that Australia attempted to become a republic.

I was an area leader in this effort to become a country of the future and not the past. Twenty and a bit years on I remember the time for Turnbulls leadership, John Howard’s lack of it, and Tony Abbott’s unpleasantness in his defense of the monarchy.

I confess to a tear or two when I read Turnbull’s post-republican book “Fighting for the Republic.” It was an extraordinarily and rank memoir of the convention and the egos, idealists and opportunists who took part.

Turnbull said John Howard “broke this nation’s heart” over the Republic referendum. He was, without doubt, correct.

I mention this because I’m only 71 pages into his autobiography (ibook version) and my expectation is that it will be filled with many such descriptions of colleagues and of the times.

As my reading progresses I intend to feed readers of The AIM with snippets of Turnbull’s versions of events and the personalities that were placed in the centre of them.

Turnbull would frequently appear on Q&A and other programs and spoke of freedom of the press as though he really meant it. Unlike many of his conservative colleagues.

But before then I want to comment on a couple of things already published in the fourth estate. I refer to two articles that give some credence to a picture of Turnbull as a man of democratic principles, and one who saw them as first and foremost in a democracy.

The first article – by The Guardian’s editor Lenore Taylor – tells the story of how the left-leaning online newspaper got started in Australia and Malcolm Turnbulls involvement.

Those on the Left may find themselves puzzled, even bemused by the fact that it was largely by way of Turnbull’s suggestion that the Australian version of The Guardian came into being.

Why would he do such a thing if he were a true blue conservative hell bent on seeing that the Left got as little exposure as possible?

Taylor reports that in his memoir Turnbull writes that:

“I was beginning to despair about the state of Australian journalism,”

“I wasn’t especially concerned about the political slant of one outlet or another, but more about the fact that newsrooms were shrinking and editorial standards were dropping to the loopy standards of the twittersphere. Gina Rinehart was threatening to buy Fairfax – no doubt so that its newspapers could emulate her own ultra-rightwing views.

“In June 2012, I suggested to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the UK’s Guardian, that he should establish an Australian edition. For a modest cost, he could start a digital-only edition. That would provide a good base from which to build. Alan was interested. We exchanged some rough numbers and he concluded he’d need $20m of underwriting for three years – if it couldn’t get to break-even in that time, it never would.

“Given my political role, I could hardly participate myself, but I thought I knew someone who would. Graeme Wood had made hundreds of millions of dollars from an online travel booking business called Wotif. He was on the political left and had been generous in the past to the Greens. He’d also recently funded a progressive free online newspaper called the Global Mail. It wasn’t going to make it. So, I suggested to Graeme he drop the Global Mail and instead use his fortune to bankroll an Australian edition of the Guardian.

“Its progressive politics suited him plus it was one of the greatest newspapers in the English language, nearly 200 years old and, unusually, wasn’t controlled by any media mogul but rather an independent trust dedicated to ‘quality, independent liberal journalism’.

“Once Graeme Wood was on board, I introduced Rusbridger to two seasoned Canberra political writers, Lenore Taylor and Katharine Murphy (AKA murpharoo). He sent his deputy, Kath Viner, to Australia to be the first editor. The (digital) paper-exceeded expectations broke even after a few years and Wood got all his money back. Clearly, my deal-making skills remained intact.”

Lenore Taylor concludes that particular story with this:

“Turnbull’s recollection skips over a long and complicated process that followed those initial introductions, after which Turnbull had no further involvement as far as I know.”

Perhaps Turnbull’s memoir will enlighten me further but until then I shall remain unconvinced as to the true state of his political philosophy.

However, we can thank Malcolm Turnbull for ridding his party, and the nation, of the combatant pugilist Abbott.

He was, for a time, rewarded for his effort with election winning polls and a personal popularity rating the envy of any celebrity.

Initially with charismatic personality, he seduced and beguiled his way into the hearts of those who wanted nothing more than to see the back of Abbott and some who didn’t.

The punters welcomed his sense of reason, fairness, discretion and natural charm, even if these characteristics seemed out of place in a party so demonstrably right-wing.

He certainly wasn’t a conservative, perhaps an old fashioned Liberal. The sort that don’t exist anymore.

Immediately after being installed as Prime Minister he found himself in charge of the greatest bunch of out of control, extreme right-wing nut cases who he could never control and in the end accepted his assassination without so much as a whimper.

Had he been allowed to govern in his on right it may have been a different story.

There was always this nagging feeling that he was more left than right but would morph into anything to become Prime Minister.

Perhaps some of you will recall the story of Malcolm wanting to join Labor at the time of the Republican Referendum but was told in no uncertain terms that he would be more suited to the Liberals. There are various antidotes.

The second piece I refer to is about Morrison’s part in the deceptive dismissal of Malcolm Turnbull and in turn Turnbull’s characterisation of Morrison. For a so-called Christian he would be somewhat of a disappointment to Jesus, to say the least.

But more on that in Part 2.

My thought for the day

To what degree do we actually control the course our lives take?


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  1. len waugh

    Turnbull was a man with no strong ideology. While this suited his path to the leadership, offering no uncomfortable concessions to Left or Right, it proved his weakness as he accepted conditions to become PM that shackled his term & exposed his lack of conviction. His judgement often failed him, but his book reveals his life-long career as a lawyer. He has written a lawyer’s brief to be put to the jury of public opinion, presenting the best case possible on his brief time at the helm. Natural enough, of course, but Turnbull was never one to labour his faults, and the glossing of his flaws contrasts with the skewering of his former colleagues. A decent, thoughtful man, even a visionary in some ways, but lacked the resolve to fight with brutal passion, preferring to buy off opponents, a fatal mistake.

  2. Michael Brooke

    Simon Weaving has an intriguing essay in The Conversation. In my mind, by mental gymnastics, I make it a metaphrase of the Turnbull political shenanigan. Turnbull’s successful ascension foreshadowed his failure. Signs of Turnbull’s inevitable downfall were written into the script. I’ve watched Turnbull from the long ago Republican movement which Little John Howard sabotaged through to the NBN stuffup and his hopeless power playing among the big boys. Turnbull was and is a puffball. He’s a very nice man who knows how to make lots of money. He is a master of waffle. I like him but find his avuncularity sickening. He wasn’t, isn’t, never will be a politician, and that fact has cost Australia dearly.

  3. Phil Pryor

    Some peole worship success, money, fame, notice, preferment, position, posing. As Turnbull seemed to be one and ignored sense, decency, honesty, a basis for existence, I will not read his crap confession or fictional recall. But, as he continues to pollute life here, nearly as much as other shitskulls like Abbott, so, we, or you, can ruminate on all this. But let us avoid self deception along with the vomits…Public life now is lower than a tapeworm’s tossle and far lower than needed for national pride and purpose.

  4. Mrs Wobbly

    With Murdoch in charge of our Australian parliament and most of the media, Malcolm Turnbull has no choice , the orders went out. ! Extrême far right went into attack mode on, one of their own. Why because Malcom was heading to far to the to the Left, not the Extrême Far Right, like the provided Murdoch play sheet had instructed Malcom to do on becoming PM. He even gave up his own beliefs for Murdoch’s ultimate play sheet of control and profit margins in Australia. His book is an insight of the insanity of our parliamentary processes and back stabbing of Malcom, while in his position until tossed out like a dirty rag, by his own party. I’m hoping for more Turnbull reads as he’s undermining his own, Fascist party.

  5. andy56

    yadd yadda yadda, more dissecting of malcolm. We all witnessed his rise and fall first hand. Malcom let everyone down by his making excuses for his own inaction. If he truly cared , he would have brought the house of cards down by calling the bluff of shit heads. In the end, he capitulated meekly. You want proof he closed his eyes and accepted the shit heads as part of his own ambitions, look at the NBN and his record on emissions control. His two areas of interest and expertise, both totally f#cked, and for a long time to come too.

  6. andy56

    The lesson i take is that we need to ensure the incentives to win at any cost and the incentive to hang on as long as possible at any cost is removed. To this ambition i propose that parliamentarian salaries are based on average wage, not multiples. ( still ok salary from my perspective) . The fact they can negatively gear properties in canberra says it all about their remuneration, its too generous. Three terms and your out. We will get rid of more shit this way than anything else going. We need to break the nexus between money and winning elections. all parties should get a slot in the media free of charge and no other paid political adds allowed. A ballot for time slots is the only fair way. size of party or number of votes is just an incentive to pervert the rules. + the media get a free ride in this country so they should show some mutual obligations.
    People will say you need to attract the best and brightest, well look you around fools, that theory hasnt worked. There is no shortage of people willing to do the job and they couldnt possible do a worse job than people like abbott, barnaby christienson or please explain.

  7. Terence Mills

    Malcolm may have considered the state of Australian media ownership and the dominance of the Murdoch cult as being an unhealthy situation : who would argue with that ?

    I enjoy the Guardian online and find it refreshing to hear a left of centre perspective contrasted with the far-right lunacy that is coming from Murdoch’s publications and increasingly, SKY.

    I note that SKY have told their talking heads that they will no longer be paid for their appearances which should see a lot of them drop away – Campbell Newman, Bronwyn Bishop, Cory Bernardi, the awful Rowan Dean and poor old Graham Richardson who they trot out like an effigy from Weekend at Berniesand who is so far gone he’s unable to formulate an opinion – he’s meant to be there for balance.

    Most of the others, including Bolt,Kenny, Panahi etc are already Newscorp employees so we will probably have to put up with their blathering.

  8. johno

    Mal was hyping on about innovation when he got in. This is the sort of innovation we needed Mal to be all over.

    The Swedes are building wooden wind turbines.

    Sweden launches its ‘first’ wooden wind power tower

    Sadly Mal never lived up to his hype.

  9. John Lord

    Terence Mills. Is that correct about not being paid.

  10. Terence


    You forgot about the elephant in the room – Donations.

    They are the single biggest hindrance to our democracy. They are not transparent, they are clearly used as a bargaining chip to get favourable outcomes and have lead to the clusterfark of policies we have today.

    The only way we can fix it is to have a totally new Centralist party whose first act in parliament is to set up a Fitzgerald type royal commission (on steroids) into corruption. Not just the politicians but everyone’s included. Murdoch, Gina, the banks, AFP, the farking lot of them.

  11. Matters Not

    Terence re donation(s) defined broadly as:- somethings that’s freely given. Do you want to ban donations? If so, does that donation ban extend to endorsements via newspapers and other media? Endorsements defined in terms of :- public support or approval? What about disapproval(s) or negative donations via the MSM generally? Can take many forms – compromising photos, publishing damaging rumor(s), unfounded allegations, editorials etc.

    While it’s difficult to give a monetary value to these donations, there’s no doubt they can be much more influential than the mere dollars that might change hands so what do you propose re these donations? Just ignore? Ban? If so – what about the freedom of the press? Or is that just an outdated concept?

    Interested in your response.

  12. Vikingduk

    Freedom of the press, truth, morals, democracy, yes, all outdated concepts. Jeez, M N, where ya bin. Donny Dumpster moving full on into information control, can’t have them pesky die offs reported accurately or at all, maybe it’s Florida that’s redacting the numbers already. Our own resident delusional liar has magically reduced the 6 month dole increase to 5, the jobkeeper bullshit unfit for purpose, the free childcare sees some centres closing because they can’t afford it, but, you bewdy motormouth morrison, what a man, what a job, the announcements are superb, pity the implementation is the usual incompetent f#ckup.

    Yep, off topic, Phil Pryor, as usual, says it all regarding the departed sock puppet.

  13. Stephengb

    Good start John

    I personally will never forgive Turnbull for the cringingtpadying phone call to the newly punted trump, where Turnbull traded those hapless souls called refugees, in a deal, just like cattle.

    Clearly the commodification of human beings.

    How very very capitalist

  14. Terence

    Matters Not

    Yes donations should be banned (money and other benefits).

    In relation to news/media, yes this is much harder to stamp out however a good step in the right direction would be to introduce similar legislation as in the various Canadian laws which stipulates that broadcasters “shall not broadcast any false or misleading news.” This doesn’t inhibit “Freedom of the press,” it just means that they can’t write crap (Gillard.J 2011). Bye Bye Bolt.

    As a society we bestow upon the media privileges and exemptions which we expect to be exercised responsibly. The right to report fairly and accurately carries with it a significant responsibility to ensure balanced reporting. Simply having privileges is not enough, it’s knowing how to exercise the responsibly with those privileges.

    I don’t think humans are incapable of solving these problems, the problem is most Australian’s couldn’t give a ………..

  15. Matters Not

    Terence – as you would appreciate, discussion of this topic is not ‘new’. There are all sorts of conceptual points that might be described as wicked problems. Here’s but one view.

    The notion that the law should provide for truth in political advertising is misleading. Any such law would be unworkable. Who is to say what is the ‘truth’? How could such a law be enforced? Instead, when the argument is put for truth in political advertising legislation, it is really being suggested that the law should penalise electoral statements that can be shown to be false or misleading. No law could require that such statements actually be ‘true’.

    Further – should organisations such as GetUp be included under any such umbrella? What about social media – including this site? Should all contributors be clearly identified so they can be subject to legal action? If not – then why not?

    while supporting the principle of truth in political advertising, argued that such legislation was inappropriate as it would be unworkable.

    Methinks that the ‘unworkable’ descriptor is on the money.

    As for Canada – hasn’t solved all their problems by any means.

  16. wam

    yes lord the are many antidotes and it is funny that the religious nutter wives of the run throw and fall over boys are accused of being anti-vaccines in the midst of a pandemic that shows what happens if we are not being vaccinated ??
    Beauty MN john’s truth is definitely not the truth for the 60% who support smirko.
    The sad thing about truth is what you believe to be true is the truth. If labor wants to defeat smirko they have to work on the truth of labor’s incompetence in economics.
    There is no other way than to destroy individuals, like taylor, like frydenburg, like smirko and above all the rabbott.

    But we could wait for a gough??
    if all politicians published their diary we could see the,who, what form where and how long of their meetings. Corruption would be difficult
    pps it is not sat and did I miss your christian demise??

  17. Terence Mills


    Can’t let that comment through to the keeper.

    Turnbull had seen how Morrison as immigration minister (and subsequently Spud Dutton) had failed to do anything about resettling the refugees in indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru – Morrison had gone to Cambodia with Spud and given dictator Hun Sen $50million of your hard earned money to resettle two refugees from Nauru in Cambodia but even he realised that you couldn’t keep that up.

    Turnbull approached the outgoing US President Obama to do a swap deal with refugees fron Manus and Nauru for central American refugees who wanted to get into the USA.

    That quid pro quo worked and even Emperor Trump reluctantly went along with it. So at least some detainees on offshore islands got to have a new life in America : numbers are not clear as they have been suppressed. But whilst Obama agreed to take 1200 it is understood that only 500 may have qualified.

    The UNHCR agreed to endorse ‘referrals made from Australia to the United States, on a one-off, good offices, humanitarian basis, in light of the acute humanitarian situation (on Nauru and Manus).’ UNHCR noted that such endorsement ‘does not alter Australia’s obligations under international law, including the right to seek asylum irrespective of the mode of arrival.’

    If anything, this was a diplomatic success for Turnbull . Something that Dutton was furious about and which ultimately led to Dutton challenging and toppling Trnbull and potentially putting himself into the role of prime minister of this country – something we should be eternally garteful did not occur.

  18. Jeff

    Hi John, to understand better Turnbulls run at politics or flailing attempts at democracy check this chart.
    Notice the simple beauty of how it all holds together and how seamless we can flow from one system to another.

    Humour: International Organisational Charts

    Back at Corporation Central*, PM Morrison dropped some Orwellian double-speak when he said of health authorities that they will trace cases and “trap” local outbreaks. People & animals can be trapped but, anyone ever heard of trapping an outbreak?
    *Corporate Central –

  19. Roland Flickett

    Terence Mills

    Your comment is incomplete: you should have closed with two words

    ‘Not yet.’

    His ambition is boundless, his abilities nil.

  20. John Boyd

    I find it difficult to say anything nice about Turnbull. He was a blatant opportunist, climbing on the bandwagons as they went past; republic, climate change…the way he branch stacked his way into parliament, helped Scott Morrison (that worked!). At the really personal level, that haranguing he gave Shorten…’social climbing sycophant…’ revealed his own inflated view of his standing in the world. He can just go away.

  21. Neil

    Double, double, toil and Trumble

  22. Andy56

    Yes terrance, donations is another biggy. Whilst i didnt mention it, it is something to look at. One way to tackle it is to remove it from tax deductions. Small donations are not something you would necessarily worry about, like $10-20. Definitly real time disclosure. You would have to place a watchdog on the media so that “friends” dont place american style adds that are ” not deemed political.”
    The social media is easy to solve. If anything appears, charge google, charge tritter more than they receive in revenue, they will find a way, i am sure. Mutual obligation should be enforced. I don’t believe in total control but l also recognise total freedom is not my friend, its a con job.

  23. DrakeN

    Johno, re. the wooden windtowers – very reminiscent of that most successful wooden aircraft in WW2 – the mosquito.
    It proved the strength of laminated timbers.
    The construction industries around the world use variants on ‘Gluelam’ quite extensively, but by notusing steel they are not contributing to the iron ore miners’ profits.
    Gina the Hutt would not like that.

  24. Max Gross

    Fizza. Forever. NBN sabotage his only lasting legacy.

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