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?