Brown Study

Brown study

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

You may have noticed that, up to now, I have been fairly restrained in what I have written about Malcolm Turnbull, at least compared with the observations I have made about others. I have never really supported him, because he always seemed to be an interloper, a visitor passing through to reconnoitre how he can use the Liberal party as a vehicle for personal ambition.

I also happen to think that Tony Abbott, and not Turnbull, should be the leader of the parliamentary Liberal party, that the grounds for sacking Abbott were never made out, that the party would have won the last election if it had stuck with him and that it can still retrieve that situation by restoring him to the leadership. Indeed, the fact that the Labor party and the media keep abusing Abbott simply for expressing his opinions and then rehash his alleged shortcomings ad infinitum, tells me that they are in perpetual fear he might return.


But who’s afraid of Malcolm Turnbull? I have shied away from some of the more trenchant, personal criticisms of Turnbull, partly because what is on offer from Shorten and the Labor party is so appallingly bad that Turnbull could not be worse and because there is, or was, a hope that he might be patched up enough to look reasonably good and stop the haemorrhaging of traditional voters away from the party.

However, time has now past, Turnbull has sat for the established tests of leadership and ability and failed them all. For a while, I thought his report card should read ‘could do better’, but now I think it should read ‘leave school and find a useful trade’. I cannot see how we can avoid the conclusion that the events of the last few days have shown conclusively that Malcolm Turnbull is a political loser, cannot redeem himself and should resign. Some politicians are born losers; some achieve losing by working at it, and others have losing thrust upon them. He seems to be a bit of all three. Just look at all the available evidence. First, he is ill-suited to the Liberal party he is supposed to be leading and clearly feels out of place in its councils; he seems to regard it as a $5 company to use as a takeover vehicle to advance his personal ambitions. Secondly, he clearly has no idea of how to deal with people; to have someone of the ability and experience of Tony Abbott available and yet not appoint him to a ministry was churlish and vindictive and guaranteed there would be a nucleus of dissent which has now taken hold, been nourished and is in full bloom. Thirdly, he cannot inspire a loyal following on his own side; to come out of Tuesday’s contest with 35 votes against him is an abject failure and he should resign on that ground alone. How can you have confidence in a government if it does not have confidence in its leader? Fourthly, the electorate is so disenchanted with his performance and the stamp it puts on his party that it is impossible to see in what untapped reservoir of voter support are to be found the lost million or so votes he needs to win the next election; he has given them the trumpet call, but they are not responding. Fifthly, I doubt if, even now, he knows enough about government to govern; he tells us he has restored the wonders of traditional cabinet government, but if those processes can do no better than the shambles of the energy and climate policies, either they or he should be abandoned. Sixthly, he has no sense of conviction; to parade the energy policy as a triumph and then to abandon it before its first test is cowardly; his present parlous condition is the accumulated assessment by the people of what they think of his policy achievements. Finally, hovering over the prime minister is this feeling that he cannot persuade or convince anyone of anything, probably because he does not believe in it himself. And all this is only after Round 1.

It is hard to find anything but despair and heartbreak in the tragedy of the bridge collapse in Genoa and the terrible loss of life that followed. And yet, as you know, this column tries to find the wider significance in events and what we can learn from them. So, the first thing that occurred to me when I heard the news was that the collapse looked like another piece of incompetence of the sort you regularly find in government projects. Those of us in Melbourne are only too aware of such failures; both the King Street and Westgate bridges collapsed and the St Kilda pier, like so much of old Melbourne, was destroyed by fire. One of the principal objectives of government is failure, so that it will have perpetual, albeit useless work. So, we are no longer surprised when another public structure is destroyed or collapses because, when these accidents happen, there is no retribution against those responsible and they simply repeat their mistakes.

The collapse of the bridge in Genoa also reminded me that not everything that is modern is automatically good and that the past often proves it was a better time than the present. I was travelling through Spain, sadly on that day of infamy, 9/11, and we were still trying to digest the dreadful news. As we approached the town of Ronda I was told that it had two bridges, one built by the geniuses at the EU, and the original one built by the Romans; the new bridge had failed, of course, but the Roman bridge had proudly stood the test of time. The sign by the side of the road said it all: ‘Bridge closed. Use the Roman Bridge.’ If only the Romans had built one in Genoa.

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