I always had a soft spot for Malcolm Turnbull. The early pages of his memoirs outline the many occupations he experienced as a young man and the remarkable dexterity he showed in performing them.
But Prime Minister is what he wanted to be and that’s what he achieved. There are many who would say, and they would be right in doing so, that he was out of his depth.
They point out his unpopularity in his party and his failure with the NBN. That he failed to live up to his potential.
In all fairness, it has to be said that had he been allowed his way with policy he may have made a success of it.
But that wasn’t to be. Instead, he was made to sign an agreement that saw his leadership at the mercy of the ratbag fringe of the LNP. The so-called conservative extremists who eventually got rid of him so as to have their own way.
Many others and I called him a hypocrite in not being able to legislate policies such as. climate change and on a national energy policy. Policies that were joined to his hip, so to speak.
That the likes of Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce and other like-minded dunderheads defeated the prodigious intellect of Malcolm Turnbull showed how out of touch with reality the LNP are.
But this post has more to do with Turnbull,s opinion of the man who ousted him than Turnbull himself.
Katherine Murphy, a consummate journalist for The Guardian, in a preview of Turnbull’s book gives an exhilarating insight into the – what can only be called devious – workings of Prime Minister Morrison. She writes that:
“Turnbull says his first encounter with Scott Morrison happened in 2001, when the then-businessman was mulling options to enter politics and Morrison was the state director of the Liberal party.”
As the story goes Morrison wanted Turnbull to be the Premier of NSW and “had hatched an ingenious” plan to implement it.
Turnbull, however, wasn’t interested and I could imagine he felt it was beneath a man seeking the big prize.
It seems to me that Morrison is always central to the machinations of the party, always in the scrum directing the moves, and always with a long-term objective.
He plays his politics in the shadows just behind the play ready for any eventuality.
“Turnbull portrays the current prime minister as always ringside, either in person or through surrogates, during the corrosive leadership battles that erupted shortly after the Coalition came to power in 2013. Turnbull says Morrison began to “sniff out interest in removing Abbott” as early as 2014, only a year after the Coalition’s election victory, when the majority of colleagues were not countenancing a change.
There was talk of moving Turnbull to Treasury to replace Joe Hockey after the disaster of the 2014 budget. “I was careful to play no part in this. Abbott would never move me to treasurer,” Turnbull says. “And I felt I was being used as a stalking horse by others, especially Scott Morrison, to position themselves.”
When one watches individual politicians over a long period of time a profile emerges. In this case the one of Morrison is incomplete but it can be seen that he is conspiratorial type with great cunning.
At this point I’m trying to condense Murphy’s words but the scheming of Morrison is getting the better of me.
Let’s move on.
According to Murphy Turnbull says the “agitation persisted,” and on “10 December he had dinner with Morrison, who wanted to replace Abbott as party leader.”
“It was the first time he laid out, fairly comprehensively, his thinking on Abbott, who he felt would have to go by the middle of 2015 if his performance didn’t improve. He said Hockey should go now and he was making the case to Abbott to replace him with me.
He was closely in touch with the key figures at News [Corp], he told me, and said they were getting ready to dump Abbott. And he made it clear he saw himself as the successor.
After reshuffle at the end of the year and Abbott moved Morrison out of Immigration and into Social Services, Turnbull said that Morrison was “furious” and “this was the first time I recall him saying we will need to remove him before the budget”.
Morrison, according to Turnbull, garnered a cohort of MPs who would readily get rid of Abbott from the leadership. It was obvious that Morrison wanted the job, “but didn’t want to be seen to challenge him.”
According to Morrison, the shock jocks wouldn’t support him (by whom he meant Alan Jones and Ray Hadley). Morrison also, according to Turnbull, wanted to sideline Julie Bishop, but later changed his mind, and they agreed that Turnbull would be the leader in the event that Abbott got the flick.
“Morrison was vocal in his support for Abbott and publicly denied discussing leadership issues with me. Of course, he’d done so on many occasions, and every indication was that he’d encouraged, if not masterminded, the [first] spill itself.”
If Turnbull is correct you can see the succession and opportunistic planning in Morrison’s mind. The dice were beginning to roll for his own benefit.
Back to Katherine Murphy:
“Turnbull’s ire is directly predominantly at Mathias Cormann and Peter Dutton for the coup that terminated his prime ministership in 2018 but he concludes after some equivocation (“it’s never possible to be 100% certain about these things”) that Morrison “was playing a double game: professing public loyalty to me while at the same time allowing his supporters to undermine me.
It was, of course, precisely what he’d done in 2015 when he said he’d voted for Abbott in the leadership ballot but worked closely with me to ensure his supporters voted against Abbott.”
You might describe Morrison as a cunning rat, loyal and disloyal depending on the need.
“Turnbull says he knew on the morning he spilled the leadership, “while I was prepared to accept Morrison’s assurances of continued loyalty, I knew that some of his supporters were starting to urge him to make a move himself”. He says he was aware of the risks of tactical voting by Morrison supporters in the first ballot. Turnbull says Morrison sent him a note while the ballots were being distributed.
The note said: ‘I don’t know why we didn’t discuss this. But that’s your call.
Turnbull is on my ballot.’ I replied, ‘Thanks! It’s the right call. The room has to make up its mind.’”
When the result was 48 votes for Turnbull and 35 for Dutton, “I wondered whether some of Morrison’s supporters had taken the chance and voted for Dutton, hoping they didn’t accidentally deliver him a win.
Subsequent accounts of these events indicate that Stuart Robert and Alex Hawke had organised about half-a-dozen of them to vote for Dutton – enough to lift his numbers up to a level that damaged me but didn’t get Dutton over the line. If Morrison’s friends had voted the way he said he did, the Dutton insurgency would have been utterly dead that morning.
The idea that they did that without his knowledge is fanciful. Scott is a control freak and I’d seen before in the ballots in 2015 how he’d publicly vote one way while ensuring his supporters voted the other way.
When it was clear he had no prospects of retaining the prime ministership, Turnbull actively encouraged Morrison’s campaign.
Turnbull says he lined up behind Morrison because he believed he was “a responsible, safe pair of hands. But Dutton, were he to become prime minister, would run off to the right with a divisive, dog-whistling, anti-immigration agenda, written and directed by Sky News and 2GB, designed to throw red meat to the base.
With no constraints, Dutton would do enormous damage to the social fabric of Australia. It’s one thing having the tough cop handling border protection and counter-terrorism, but not at the head of our multicultural society”.
Turnbull also records the messages he exchanged with his successor after Morrison was sworn in.
“I messaged him,” Turnbull says, “Congratulations prime minister and good luck.” According to Turnbull, Morrison replied the next morning. “Only you can know how I feel today, but I cannot begin to know how you feel.
I loved working for and with you. I’m really proud of what we did. And that is always how I will always feel and speak of it. I want you to know I am thinking about you a great deal and you know I pray for you.
That doesn’t change now. I don’t know why all this happened, but now it has come upon me, you know I will be relying on my faith, friends and values to overcome and conquer what is ahead …
Thank you for all you’ve done for me. But above all as one PM to another, thank you for everything you did for our country. No one knows that contribution better than me.
“Love you, mate.”
All we can do is gather the evidence, sort out the fact from the fiction and come to a decision. For my part, I have the added benefit of about 65 years of an up front close observation of politics that allows one to see through the lies, the bullshit and the intended airbrushing of it all.
I make two points. On the one hand Morrison mentions in his note to Turnbull, “all that we have achieved together.” I’m lost as to what he is referring to because in 7 years they have achieved nothing,
On the other hand I used to think that the Americans were the only race on earth that believed their own bullshit. Now I know that Australian politicians do also.
My thought for the day
Power is a malevolent possession when you are prepared to forgo your principles and your country’s well-being for the sake of it.
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