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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