Flat White

Miserable Ghost: a rite of passage for former Prime Ministers

16 May 2022

4:00 AM

16 May 2022

4:00 AM

What was the label that Malcom Turnbull gave to former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott after being ousted by their own parties?

Miserable ghosts…

At the dawn of a new era of Australian politics – one week from a federal election – the importance of our political discourse sits at its highest point. The right to speak is not denied, but those who enter the political debate shouldn’t drift away from the standards their historical counterparts once set.

Turnbull’s hypocrisy is showing no sign of coming to an end. After leaving Canberra, he has continuously criticised the government on policy issues that he himself failed at. 

Most notably, Turnbull’s widespread criticism of the Liberal government’s energy policy has revealed his true green agenda. Now that he is out of elected public life and showing no loyalty to the party that gave him stardom, Turnbull has advocated against the fossil fuel industry stating:

‘It’s difficult to imagine an industry that does more damage to the environment than open-cut coal mining.’

If this is the case, why did Turnbull not act on the industry when he held the nation’s highest office? Perhaps it is because coal is one of Australia’s largest exports that creates Australian jobs and provides much-needed power to our friends in the developing world.

Turnbull’s radical change in opinion was solidified when he committed inter-party treason against the New South Wales Liberals by publicly backing and funding the campaign of independent Kirsty O’Connell in the Upper Hunter by-election. This was a critical moment for the state government, who were fighting against becoming a minority. Fortunately for the Nationals, who won the seat, Turnbull’s endorsement for the independent amounted to a kiss of death.


Unsurprisingly, this move both backfired and was seen as another vengeful punch after he had been embarrassingly dumped as the Chairman of the NSW Clean Energy Board only weeks earlier.

Turnbull’s ungrateful behaviour has again been witnessed in this federal election. He has refused to publicly endorse his former party, showcasing his two most prominent traits: hypocrisy and disloyalty.

His old sparring partner, Kevin Rudd, is no different. The former Labor Prime Minister has also spent his political retirement chasing the spotlight, even proposing himself as a replacement for Alan Jones when he left radio in 2020. This follows Rudd’s relentless attack on the Murdoch Media empire, whose attention he had previously lusted after. It’s funny how Rudd was not concerned about the power of Rupert Murdoch when he was busy courting NewsCorp journalists

Post politics, Rudd and Turnbull have become allies in their war against Murdoch, who was both their maker and (alleged) breaker. This unlikely partnership has become the most avid depiction of ‘an enemy of my enemy is my friend’. 

The two former adversaries paraded their new friendship on Twitter, after Rudd’s letter to Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla was ‘mysteriously’ leaked to the press. Turnbull was the first to pat his former sparring partner on the back, tweeting: ‘Thank you @MrKRudd for speaking to the Chairman of Pfizer to secure an earlier delivery of vaccines.’

Again, Turnbull’s apparent agenda against the Morrison government missed the mark, as the story turned out to be a Rudd pipe dream, fuelled by his primary purpose – to retain relevancy.

To the casual observer, both former Prime Ministers seemed to be suffering from an intense attention-seeking disorder (histrionic personality disorder). This is either a consequence of both Rudd and Turnbull’s memoirs failing to eclipse the sales of Whitlam, Howard, Gillard, and Abbott or the actions of two men who get a kick out of continually seeking revenge through the embarrassment of their former colleagues.

Turnbull and Rudd haunt the halls of Parliament House, waiting for their next chance to rustle up 2-cents worth of commentary on government behaviour. But let’s not forget that they harbour skeletons in their closets. Both leaders left Canberra as the two biggest political disappointments of the decade. Average punters who indulge in the daily news cycle can expect the Malcolm-Kevin alliance to forever shout for attention like lonely children abandoned in the playground by their mates.

Being a former Prime Minister and a political commentator are not mutually exclusive careers. Our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has stayed away from political inclusion since leaving public life. She is now the Chairman of Beyond Blue, championing mental health issues. Additionally, Gillard has supported other international apolitical issues such as female leadership and worldwide health challenges. Keating and Howard have followed a similar path. They reserve their opinions for invited interviews as opposed to Twitter spats.

There is no doubt that Turnbull and Rudd are two of the brightest minds in the country. They had impressive careers before entering politics, in law and diplomacy respectively. However, unlike other politicians who have served their post, this uneasy pair have been unable to positively benefit society since their rejection.

As both former leaders have admitted, their political careers would have been more successful without constant undermining from others.

‘But for reasons that they’ve not been able to explain, you know, there was an element of the party and of the media that wanted to blow the government up, and they did. And of course, they didn’t get their guy up, they got ScoMo – and I wish him well.

‘When you stop being Prime Minister, that’s it. There is no way I would be hanging around like Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott.’ – Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull and Rudd would be best to reflect on Malcolm’s fighting words when he spoke to young leaders in New York during 2018, and move on.

Angus Macdonald is a student at Sydney University. You can find him here.

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