Malcolm Turnbull appeared on a special edition of the ABC’s QandA last Thursday. Charming, at times evavise and polite as ever, we didn’t learn much, but is this the end of his political career as he claims, or the beginning of a new chapter?
I came to work for Ozemail the day Malcolm Turnbull, Sean Howard and Trevor Kennedy went from being well off to seriously rich. It was the day the deal selling one of the most successful pioneers of the Internet to WorldCom was consummated. It was the end of 1999 and not long before the beginning of the end of the “Dot-com bubble” – their timing was perfect. Sean Howard disappeared from public view, Trevor Kennedy likewise after being caught up in the Offset Alpine Printing Company affair. Malcolm the merchant banker became Malcolm the politician.
Fast forward fifteen years to Tony Abbott’s dysfunctional government, in late 2014 I emailed Turnbull on a whim, suggesting he needed to challenge for the leadership and added that if he did, I would become an Australian citizen. He replied telling me “that will never happen” but that I still should become a citizen and vote Liberal. When he later “changed his mind” I was true to my word and became a citizen. Never voted Liberal, though, as Turnbull disappointed many who believed in his abilities as a leader.
The rest is history, Turnbull is now “retired” after being removed by his party and then causing tax payers the unnecessary expense of a by-election and his former party the ignominy of losing a safe seat.
Retired or not, Prime Minister Morrison sent him to Indonesia to patch things up with President Widodo after the Israel embassy policy bungle, a decision which raised quite a few eyebrows. The truth is that Widodo specifically requested Turnbull to attend, his government was livid about even the suggestion of an embassy relocation. Indonesia is, after all, a predominantly Muslim country with strong support for the Palestinian cause. To add insult to injury, a Palestinian delegation led by their foreign minister was visiting Jakarta for talks around the time Morrison made his inexplicable faux pas.
Equally curious was the ABC’s Q and A inviting Turnbull to a special edition of the program last Thursday. That the ABC wanted to talk to Turnbull is no surprise, but why couldn’t it be in one of the scheduled current affairs programs?
Maybe ABC editors and program lead Tony Jones though questions from the floor would be more incisive than, say, Laura Tingle or Barry Cassidy? Either way, many of the questions from the floor were straight to the point, but Tony Jones were disappointingly meek in following up the answers from a Turnbull who still speaks like a politician, avoiding and deflecting questions he didn’t want to dwell on.
He wanted to talk about and name the people who betrayed him and did so with a thinly disguised venom just on the right side of acceptability on national TV. Privately he has been rather less polite according to people who have met him recently.
Apparently the NBN was “off the table” for reasons unknown, he would no doubt have been able to deflect his responsibility for that debacle, too. My opinion on that note is it was the first deal “he did with the devil” when becoming Communications Minister under Tony Abbott in 2013. Abbott was so determined to wreck the NBN; Turnbull must have known the changes he demanded were flawed, but to admit it now is to admit to a weakness he won’t own up to.
The lack of self-insight was maybe the most startling during an hour’s worth of a relaxed and happy looking Turnbull highlighting what he sees as his many achievements as Prime Minister. The most galling of those claims for many would be him taking credit for the same sex marriage legislation, a process unnecessarily convoluted, ridiculously expensive and hurtful for those who had waited for it for far too long.
He also seems oblivious to any comparison between his ouster and his own coup to replace Tony Abbott in 2015. At best it’s a display of Turnbull’s political naivety, at worst it is disingenuous. I’d suggest a bit of both.
His claim to no longer being a threat to Scott Morrison is disingenuous. His performance was not one of someone who is no longer a “player”. It was all about his legacy, but also a portrait of a man whose burning ambition still smoulders. And as the Liberal Party is in disarray, with a Prime Minister “getting on with things” on a bus he doesn’t ride on, wearing ill-fitting head-wear, munching pies and skoaling beers, with little of substance on offer, the hard right of the party as vocal as ever, and the so called “small l” liberals in the party no doubt feeling increasingly alienated.
Turnbull may be retired, but just as he told me what “would never happen” four years ago, I am not convinced he isn’t plotting a return – maybe in a Liberal Party split?
Kim Wingerei is a former businessman, turned writer, blogger and commentator; passionate about free speech, democracy and the politics of change. Author of “Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change”. Follow @ kimwingerei.com