Malcolm Turnbull, an unacceptable choice.

There has been up to this point a fair amount of support for Malcolm Turnbull, not only from Liberal Wets, but also from Labor supporters who see him as a more reasonable alternative to guys like Brendan Nelson, Nick Minchin and Tomás de Torquemada Tony Abbott. Turnbull, it seems, earns a little bit of lefty cred because of his support for an Australian Republic and because John Howard hated him, but don’t forget that these characteristics are also shared by our laziest ever Treasurer, Peter Costello and I certainly don’t see anyone lining up to hang out with Pete. Let’s take a bit more of a look at the man who would be king.

There’s no doubting Malcolm Turnbull’s intelligence or capacity for hard work, he’s an accomplished businessman, a Rhodes Scholar and a former journalist and writer. All of these admirable qualities do not however guarantee that he has the capacity to be a good leader. Turnbull is an opportunist, a deal maker and a ceaseless self promoter who’s main aim in life seems to be winning, something that he has proved to be very good at. The problem with Malcolm is that his vision of winning is often at odds with those around him and he rarely seems willing to take advice from anyone who isn’t in agreement with him.

Turnbull’s second foray into Federal politics, he lost a Liberal pre-selection contest for Wentworth in 1981, has been reasonably controversial from the start. His decision to contest the pre-selection of a sitting member in a safe seat bought him a ready made group of opponents within the party, it was also noted that someone with his profile could have been an effective marginal seat campaigner had he chosen to do so.

Upon entry into the parliament Turnbull started putting colleagues off side with his frequent and quite public comments on policy areas that he, as a backbencher, should have been toeing the party line on. The most obvious of these was his paper Taxation Reform in Australia: Some Alternatives and Indicative Costings which was seen as a direct attack on Peter Costello, not only in his role as Treasurer, but also as the presumptive future leader of the Liberal Party.

There was plenty of speculation that Turnbull’s elevation, firstly to Parliamenrty Secretary assisting the PM and later to the role of Minister for Environment and Water, were more about placing him in a position where he would lose the freedom to speak out than rewarding him for effort. He certainly didn’t set the world on fire as Environment Minister and there were no shortage of leaks regarding Malcolm’s inability to convince Cabinet of anything he wanted to pursue.

Damaging leaks and Malcolm Turnbull seem to go hand in hand. Turnbull is always quick to deny speaking to the media off the record, claiming that opponents are trying to discredit him, but you’d think if he truly suspected that, he’d be less inclined to fire off emails that could be politically sensitive.

A bigger problem than Turnbull’s petulant dummy spits when he doesn’t get his own way is his disregard for anything he didn’t come up with himself. Malcolm is used to getting his own way, running with his ideas and he cannot or will not listen to the advice of those around him. There’s no example of this better than last week’s revelation that Turnbull had completely ignored the advice of Peter Costello when planning his response to the budget, advice which turned out to be correct and which would have saved the Liberals the embarrassment of their “no inflation/too much inflation” nonsense of the past few weeks.

Tunbull is a one man band whose aims revolve entirely around promoting himself. The fact that he even stood for the opposition leadership after their November defeat, a poisoned chalice with an almost guaranteed loss at the following election, shows that Turnbull has trouble balancing his ego and good judgement. It seems that it was only his decision to publicly bury Howard’s policies before the leadership ballot that switched a few votes back to Nelson and saved him from himself. I have no doubt that Turnbull would be less ridiculous than Nelson as leader of the opposition, but I don’t believe he would be any better. Turnbull certainly doesn’t have the ability, given the team that surrounds him, of making the Rudd Government our only one term Federal Government.

We’d all like to believe that politics should be about the battle of ideas, but in reality that’s not the case. I for one don’t believe that Malcolm Turnbull is the person who could lift the Liberals to a point where they would attempt to mount an intellectual attack on the Rudd Government, they are too mired in the politics of fear and smear. He would be leading a party that is suffering from deep internal divisions, while being one of its most divisive characters, which isn’t a recipe for healing the rifts.

Government is just another vehicle for Turnbull, much as the law and his multi faceted business career were before it. He may be a brilliant man who is used to success, but Turnbull does not appear, in my eyes, to be a good leader or someone who is interested in achieving anything more than winning. We’ve just had eleven years of a Prime Minister whose only goal was getting the top job and was without vision once he’d achieved it, do we really want the Liberal Party to offer that to us again?

14 thoughts on “Malcolm Turnbull, an unacceptable choice.

  1. “Government is just another vehicle for Turnbull, much as the law and his multi faceted business career were before it.”

    Spot on, mate. I remember hearing Background Briefing sometime last year when they had a bit of a dig around his business past – that was enough to turn me right off.

  2. Turnbull’s association with the Packer coterie in general and Trevor Kennedy in particular are a bit of an albatross around his neck. Although he has not been implicated in any of their indiscretions, I would argue that his association with them fits pretty neatly into the ‘win at all costs’ narrative.

  3. There are two sides to the argument though Dave. Yes, Turnbull’s not a team player and he’s very much a self-promoter and thinks he knows better than the rest of the party put together – and on balance he probably does. I mean, what a idea-free zone the Liberal party is!

    You never know, once he gets the job he just might deliver, much like that other ego-maniac, non team player and self promoter did back in the 80s. I think his name was Hawke.

  4. Ray, I think that some important differences are that Hawke was surrounded by competent people and was also constrained to a degree by a well structured organisational wing of the party. I also believe that Hawke, as evidenced by his time as ACTU president, had a level of vision that Turnbull lacks.

    I think that the most dangerous thing about Turnbull is his appeal to moderate voters, because he has cast his lot in with a retrograde and reactionary party who will not bend to his will the way they did to Howard. We can’t afford to be complacent and allow the Liberal Party, in it’s current incarnation, another chance at weakening the social fabric of our nation.

  5. I’m getting the distinct impression that the Liberal party is little more than a dumping ground for political undesirables.
    This country needs a gulag it really does.

  6. Do I dare? Of course!

    I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Turnbulls, but rather that I have some hope for him, so here’s the defence.

    I was going to respond to each point raised by Dave but thought that the post would be too long. This is at least a 3 beer topic.

    Let’s begin by acknowledging that Turnbull is by no means perfect but t is widely agreed that Turnbull is a smart, hardworking man and given the alternatives, I would rather have a hardworking, successful and smart person as alternative Prime Minister than not.

    We should be careful about the difference in being a leader and that of being a politician. I agree that as a politician Turnbull is terrible. He tries to play the game but looks very insincere whilst doing it. He’ll be a prettier picture once he is leader and does not have to argue for policy that he clearly disagrees with.

    There are two main criticisms often levelled at Turnbull and they are that he is an opportunists and a poor leader.

    I don’t think that he is an opportunist in the true sense of the word. He has set himself a goal and is going about achieving is as directly as possible. To criticise him for not standing in a marginal seat is to miss two points: 1. Wentworth is his home electorate; and 2. His goal in entering parliament was not to help the Liberals. It may be a justifiable criticism of him ousting a sitting member if he took on a preselection battle in a safe seat other than his own, but Turnbull went after his own seat. I can see nothing wrong with challenging a sitting member if you think that you could do a better job for your community. Besides which, parachuting candidates into safe seats is not a new practice; see Whitlam, Beazley, Garrett, Costello and a few union boys. The fact that he ran for the same seat a second time after initial defeat should be considered a credit, not unlike Rudd trying a second time to win the seat of Griffith.

    The second argument that he is a bad leader may have something to do with the confusion between leadership and politics. Politics is about keeping other people happy. This is what Howard was good at and what factions want. Leadership in politics is looking over your shoulder to see where the masses are heading and then running to the front of the crowd and saying ‘follow me’. Leadership is charting a course that you believe in and doing what is needed to get the people there. Should Turnbull be more respected if he blindly followed the likes of Howard without criticism or independent thought like Costello or should we applaud the fact that there is a little of the Keating about him? He should be applauded for putting his hand up for leadership, even when he must have known that the position was that of caretaker. He couldn’t voice his opinions against the party if he was not prepared to lead it.

    The criticisms against Turnbull all seem to stem from the fact that he is a bad at Liberal politics. I believe that Turnbull is acting like someone who doesn’t give a damn about the parties and what they stand for. It is as though he believes that he can make the country a better place and instead of whinging and commentating on it, he has set about trying to get himself into a position where he can do something about it. He is not there to save the Liberal party so he didn’t care about trying to win a marginal seat for the ’cause’. He wants to be the leader of one of the two major political parties and it is clear that he had a much better chance of being elected leader of the coalition than being elected leader of Labor by its miserable factions. Ray made the good point that you cannot make a difference unless you govern. At the end of the day, Turnbull embodies everything that an independent should be in that he is able to contribute intelligently on a range of issues without allegiance to a party to blind the independent thought, but he could never make a difference (or win his seat) as an independent.

    Perhaps he is not in it to win for the sake of winning. The man can ‘win’ in many areas and on the world stage so he doesn’t need Australian politics. There can be no doubting that he got into politics to become PM, but we shouldn’t think that once he achieves this he will look for other mountains to conquer. He has ideas and he wants to share them; why else would he be bringing out position papers as a freshman? Actually, because I am rambling here, why not consider for the moment that Turnbull is good at the politically game. By releasing his paper he had the media suddenly proposing that he was a viable alternative to the undisputed king of treasury, Peter Costello, a man with over 20 years political experience. Not bad for a man who had less than 12 months under his belt.

    Above all, I believe that the key problem with the country and its leadership is that the voting public don’t think about the issues enough. The country would undoubtedly be a better place if there were more swing votes. If this be the case, why are we criticising someone for not pandering to the party line and playing to the prejudices of the majority.

    So much for keeping this short – that boat sailed by the second paragraph!

  7. Turnbull may just be the leader needed to finally get the Liberals to decide the kind of direction it wants to take on policy as they seem to continue to leave policy ground allowing the ALP to fill in the vacuum. It’s often been said that the Liberals have slid further to the right but I doubt that Turnbull would be able to deliver a more moderate outcome since he is such a one man band.

    Perhaps he’s considered as being confrontational because he isn’t prepared to accept how things are done within the Liberal party, except when it comes to pre-selection for Wentworth where he used the trusty old stacker’s guide book.

  8. Well he’s bound to get Nelson’s job at some stage, it’s just a matter of when not “if”. Then we might have a better idea of what he’s about and whether he can change the Liberals into a better party. Gee, they need to clear out a few hard line retrogrades though – perhaps start with Sophie, take her out and shoot her before she breeds again.

  9. Whoa, I see Malcolm’s spoken up in defence of “artist” Bill Henson’s naked children photos. Umm, is that political dynamite or what? I think politicians should stay out of this particular debate.

  10. The defence of artists is a tough call. I figure the only poli who should be talking about it is the AG as the actions of the artist could be a crime. As for Malcom; this either demonstrates another ill-though-out statement or another tick for his left wing credentials.

    Turnbull has the ability to demonstrate that the coalition can be successful with having to resort to Karl Rove style divisive politics. As much as I hate what the Republican party has done to the US, there is an argument to be made that the election of McCain will do more to heal the country than Obama in that it will show the Republicans that a liberal can win for their side and that they don’t need to resort to dividing the country on the grounds of race or economy to succeed.

  11. Well he certainly speaks his mind and, whether we like what we hear or not, I would prefer a leader who is his own person rather than a gibbering fool like Nelson.

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