Flat White

Treacherous Turnbull?

5 May 2022

12:00 PM

5 May 2022

12:00 PM

Our remarkable nation has had thirty Prime Ministers since Federation serving thirty-five separate terms of office. Elections at the national level are held approximately every three years and the Coalition government has been in office for nine years having won power from Labor on September 7, 2013.

The mood of the electorate will be tested in just three weeks, recalling the win by the Coalition at the last election surprised everyone – including the Coalition.

In the event that the LNP loses the May 21, 2022 election, one standout lonely figure may have contributed to that outcome – Malcolm Bligh Turnbull – the 29th Prime Minister serving in office from 2015 to 2018.

Turnbull departed the role ignominiously after four days of backroom wheeling and dealing that saw Scott Morrison take the mantle and become Australia’s 30th Prime Minister on August 24, 2018.

From the day he departed high office, Turnbull has behaved much as a petulant schoolboy lashing out at those with the temerity to stand in his way or those that have what he can no longer have. Turnbull has always been an isolationist. He does not operate cooperatively. Utterly without self-doubt, Turnbull has forged a path in journalism, the law, investment banking, and in politics on his own terms drawing constantly on his intellectual energies, his thirst for notoriety, and his self-belief.

For all that Turnbull has achieved in his 68 years of life, there’s so much not to admire about him that it’s difficult to know where to start. His apparent vicious efforts to derail the (so far) professional campaign by the Coalition is as good a place as any.

Late last month, Turnbull took to the national airwaves to accuse his former colleagues of egregious failures in regional security in the wake of revelations about the security pact between China and the Solomon Islands. Turnbull, appearing to relish his quest to inflict harm, took the opportunity to attack Morrison personally for having ‘failed to hold the hose’ when it comes to ‘management’ of regional relationships.

More or less ‘in step’ with the person whose job it is to attack Coalition foreign policy and practice – Penny Wong – Turnbull let fly with both barrels against Morrison and the Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, over the unwelcome security pact on Australia’s regional doorstep.

Recalling that it was Dutton who originally challenged Turnbull for the leadership in the Party Room in 2018, Turnbull showed not the slightest hesitation in aiming his linguistic artillery in Dutton’s direction.

‘Peter Dutton’s rhetoric is becoming more and more bombastic and belligerent. It’s just a pity he doesn’t match it with actual preparation and work … he thinks the object of being Defence Minister is having a sensational headline in a tabloid newspaper,’ Turnbull said.

He went further to say the Coalition should have done more on the Solomons-China pact, accusing the government of ‘bullyboy language’, and that it was a mistake for Defence Minister Marise Payne not to go to Honiara to confront the issue herself.

‘You have to use engagement, diplomacy, you have to be persuasive, you have to go and visit these countries, get to know these leaders, spend time with them,’ Turnbull enthusiastically opined.

‘There is no substitute for being there, being face-to-face on the ground … this is a hose you have to hold, this needs time and attention. You cannot abrogate or step away from responsibility.’

His ‘hold a hose’ references link to Morrison’s comments following his poorly timed Hawaiian holiday at the time of the 2019 bushfires. In other words, Turnbull appears to have had pre-determined the words, phrases, and tone of his remarks well in advance of going live on ABC Radio National. His target was obvious and his weapons were polished and ready for use.

With good old ‘Mr Harbourside Mansion’ – it’s never simply what he says that’s designed to attract attention, it’s the way he says it. 

Oozing sanctimony, Turnbull managed to make himself guilty of being precisely what he criticised Dutton for being – ‘bombastic’ and ‘belligerent’. But that’s fine because it’s Malcolm uttering the words in the same way that former Labor PM, Kevin Rudd, used to – without an apparent limitation on those who don’t agree.

Everything Turnbull utters appears to be imbued with spite. He sanctifies his words – much in the way a priest might do – with a deliberative, unchallengeable tone designed to press home the point that his view is inviolable. The clear meaning is that we ought to feel blessed that Malcolm Turnbull is still ‘in the wings’ able to steady the ship at a moment’s notice on our behalf. 

The hostility between Turnbull and Dutton is as deep as it is visceral. They seem to detest each other. One is a rich-lister living a Medici-lifestyle on the shores of Sydney Harbour – the other is a former Queensland copper who made good in the Liberal hierarchy and ultimately the Federal Parliament.

Fond of entertaining the Sydney media, corporate and political elite – it is unlikely that Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull have ever issued an invitation to Peter and Kirilly Dutton to join them for a knees-up on their harbour-side terrace.

At the grubbier end of Australian politics (especially for those in the exclusive clique of dumped PM’s) the ABC is ‘ever ready’ to provide a platform for disgruntlement. The reliable ABC is always Turnbull’s preferred platform because it’s national and because the ABC knows what they’ll get from the former PM.

Patricia Karvelas (‘PK’ to those really close to her or who want to be) positively salivates when a scorned former political leader is on her show. Like a well-rehearsed cast member of a Shakespearean play, there is Malcolm ready to hurl bucket loads of bile in the direction of his former colleagues and against the Party that elected him its leader.

Unlike former living PMs Paul Keating, John Howard, and Julia Gillard – Turnbull does not appear to be using his post-political life to advantage the nation or the Party that nurtured his political ascendancy.

Precisely the opposite. He seems to imperiously look down on the people and the Party that gave him his considerable opportunities and stands ready to be anything but a positive force in his post-political universe.

In the democratic tradition of this country – people are free to say what they believe and to do (mostly) when and where they want to. This is healthy and welcome.

What is not welcomed and what is roundly repudiated by decent people are the efforts of privileged individuals such as Turnbull who appear to set about undermining those who assisted their ascendancy. 

Their irksome behaviour can only damage voter trust and faith in the political and democratic process.

Turnbull’s disgrace is his determination to inflict harm on the people and institutions that secured his role as Prime Minister. It is neither clever, amusing, nor diverting to witness his ‘wrecking ball’ antics in the public domain.

The less voters hear from former political leaders, generally speaking, the better.

Take a holiday Malcolm. A long one.

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