23 February 2015

How to write about the prospect of Malcolm Turnbull becoming Prime Minister

Tony Abbott has been Prime Minister for long enough for the press gallery's initial thrill to wear off. That thrill lies largely in the linkage between their thinking well of Abbott, their giving him favourable coverage, and people voting according to that favourable coverage. Their enchantment with Abbott personally simply cannot survive the reality of his blunders in office, their consequences in the community, and the recognition of these by his backbench.

Bill Shorten is the alternative Prime Minister. To examine Shorten in detail and demand that he release detailed, costed policies - or even go hunting for some sort of moral core to the man - is to admit that the press gallery couldn't be bothered doing this to Opposition Leader Abbott during the last term of Parliament. They shy away from him, for now, to hide their own embarrassment.

The most potent and immediate threat to Abbott's longevity is the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party. If you're going to do a greener-pastures piece on a prospective PM, you have to focus on the most potent and immediate threat within the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party: Malcolm Turnbull.

Why Turnbull is appealing as a potential Prime Minister

We live in a time where much that we have taken for granted, even treasured, no longer holds and will not carry us into any sort of secure future.

Malcolm Turnbull is an intelligent man, widely learned beyond the academy and also nourished by the arts. He has done a number of things with his life, pointing the way for most of us who’ll never have a full-time career in the same organisation. People awake to the various threats and opportunities facing the country believe him to be someone who gets them, someone with whom they can do business.

Toward the end of a long rambly piece, [$] Mike Seccombe quotes Thomas Keneally to good effect on Turnbull:
“Malcolm might be a prince but he’s not the sort of prince that tramples people under the wheels of his carriage.”

More importantly, perhaps, Keneally thinks the public now sees something in Turnbull that makes him forgivable, and therefore loveable again.

“He still holds out the chance of development, and most importantly, for God’s sake, a bit of vision. I think the public can see he is a work-in-progress.

“Whereas Abbott gives a sense of being a work that’s reached the limits of its capacity to change.”
That first paragraph is doubtful, but more on that below.

Turnbull’s scope for growth may enable him to shake off his party-line adherence to stupid Abbott policies, which is necessary to take the Coalition from where it is to where it needs to be.

Keneally is right about Abbott: no scope for growth, only gaffes and failure from hereon in. There is no point in making people fearful when you haven’t got what it takes to make people feel safe. There is no point playing up security when the machinery of policing and the defence forces look clumsy in your hands.

Why Turnbull failed as leader in 2009

Turnbull failed as leader because he wouldn’t listen to advice. He likes to surround themselves with the sorts of bright young things who surrounded him at Goldman Sachs, people who’ll put up with his crap and who will make ill-considered ideas sound plausible and now.

Never mind that crap about tall poppies, or how nobody likes a know-all; politics is for participants. Only journalists treat it like some sort of spectator sport - which is why they are surprised all the time, not least at the decline in public consumption of their stale cliches.

Turnbull learning to appreciate other perspectives is the sort of huge personal challenge that will define him as a man as much as a leader, like Hawke’s victory over alcohol, or Howard’s over the nasty racism and sectarianism of his upbringing.

Can Malcolm Turnbull get over himself?

It’s hard to ask that question if you're besotted with his charm. When someone's charming you, you can't disparage them without disparaging yourself as an object of attention.

You can only realise you’re being gamed and stand up to a facile charmer if you know who you are and what you’re about. Self-awareness and guts are two of the many qualities in short supply in the press gallery.

Hope for a liberal approach

*snort* If he isn’t going to stand up for issues on which he had taken a strong public position over many years (same-sex marriage, climate and carbon pricing, republic), what are your hopes for issues on which he hasn't (asylum seekers, science, etc)?

Let’s have none of your malarkey about idealism. Given the choice between wistful idealism and hard-headed pragmatism I want both, in spades, and a whole lot more besides.

Grech and Utegate?

Both were put-up jobs by Eric Abetz.

Moral of those stories: stop listening to Eric Abetz.

The Coalition has problems getting its legislation through the Senate. Abetz is leader of the government in the Senate. Abetz isn’t working. Abetz should be sacked.

Maybe the Fair Work Act is less than perfect, but if it is Abetz will be unable to correctly identify either problems or solutions. He will make backbenchers unable to show their faces in the communities they represent.

Yeah, never mind Abetz. What about Grech?

Godwin Grech embodies two things, both more significant than he - more significant than Turnbull, if you can imagine.

The first is mental illness. This country need more and better support for people suffering mental illnesses, and their families. The Liberal Party broke Godwin Grech’s mental health; my guess is that James Ashby received far more support from the Liberal Party than Grech ever did.

This government is not serious about doing anything with mental health services except cut them. Returning servicemen, domestic violence victims, none of them will get any more help from this government with or without Turnbull.

Second, Grech was a nobody; but there are millions of Australians who might be classified similarly. The way he treated Grech may well be more indicative of Turnbull’s approach to the little guy than Keneally’s apologia.

Other nobodies

Richard Ackland is right about Turnbull playing to the Liberal Party gallery with his exultation of Phillip Ruddock. I mean, what school did David Hicks go to?

Administrative competence

Given that he doesn’t listen, what makes you think he’d be administratively competent? In terms of pushing paper around Canberra, working through ideas in a calm orderly manner - what makes you think Turnbull is even capable of that?

The Labor Party assumed Kevin Rudd was administratively competent, but they voted him as leader because the press gallery loved him and couldn’t distinguish an administrative shambles from a hole in the ground. Even now, they can barely articulate the chaos in Rudd’s office; the only story the press gallery understand is that Gillard was a bitch.

The Liberal Party knew Tony Abbott was administratively incompetent, but they (like the ALP) overestimated their ability to cover for him. The press gallery hyped Abbott and even pushed for Rudd to return to lead the ALP, because they still can’t distinguish an administrative shambles from a hole in the ground.

Labor have learned their lesson; in October 2013 their only two candidates for leader were two known quantities, machine-men with decades of experience in the party itself. The press gallery thinks Shorten is boring but so what.

The Liberals are looking for their next fix, and Turnbull is dealing. If Tony Abbott can make Katharine Murphy go to sleep for two years imagine what she and her ilk will do under the spell of Turnbull’s juju.


Australia could have built a national telephone network in the 1920s but conservatives in power then didn’t feel like it. When the nation was under attack in the early 1940s, US advisers were appalled that the country didn’t have a national telephone network and lobbied Chifley and Menzies until they made it a bipartisan postwar priority.

The National Broadband Network could have been like that, but all Turnbull did was hand it to Telstra at the behest of Murdoch. A statesman would have stood up to the old bastard. Turnbull doesn’t understand upload and assumes internet consumption is as essentially passive as television.

Journalists don’t understand the potential of broadband either - or if they do, they understand it only as a threat to the sorts of fools who employ them. Playing to the gallery is one thing, but when journalists travel and counter faster broadband everywhere but here, Turnbull will be seen to be negligent.

Shirtfronting public broadcasting

Tony Abbott ruled out cuts to the ABC or SBS. Turnbull cut both. Nobody asked whether Turnbull was undermining Abbott.

You know who watches both the ABC and SBS? Urban moderates. A politician who shafts his base for no reason is a clown.

You know who watches the ABC? The very sorts of people Turnbull needs to reach out to - older conservative people, in the suburbs and the bush. Talk about self-defeating behaviour.

Not even his party

Right-wingers in the Liberal Party have spent a generation pushing liberals out of the Liberal Party. Their job is almost done. They have discredited moderate liberalism by having people like Phillip Ruddock and Joe Hockey act as standard-bearers for right-wing ideas.

The last thing they want is to have their agenda completely discredited with a shift too “the sensible centre” and have Malcolm Turnbull foisted on them. In 2008, Malcolm Turnbull looked like a messiah and would have won a leadership plebiscite hands down. That’s why right-wing dickhead John Ruddick wasn’t writing pieces like this back then.

Most people can appreciate nuances in political positions, in the same way that most people can distinguish between red and green. John Ruddick and his pals in the Liberal right genuinely can’t distinguish between a moderate liberal like Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate social democrat like Bill Shorten, a left-wing Labor figure like Kim Carr or the late Tom Uren, and a rancid old communist like Lee Rhiannon. He genuinely sees them as peas in a pod. All of those far-left gradations in which Guy Rundle has lived his life would be lost on the likes of Ruddick. This is his tragedy, and if he had his way the Liberal Party would consist only of people with the same deficiency.

Turnbull is a moderate and a negotiator, which means he reaches out to those with whom he feels he can cut a mutually beneficial deal. Ruddick has nothing in common with people who aren’t rusted-on Liberals, thank you very much, and as with Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker they ride their (real and perceived) opponents when things go their way.

Turnbull is out of step with the Liberal Party, as I’ve said before. He has to wait until it is even more discredited than it has been before he can remake it in his image. He ignored that last time and they rolled him the minute he faltered. They will do the same again.

Turnbull could be the first genuinely dapper PM since Keating


His wife is very impressive

Yes she is. A combination of Jeanette Howard and Peta Credlin, with plenty more besides. And?

You're being very brusque, aren't you?

Yes. If you really want more of Turnbull you'll have to get used to that. And I'm perfectly certain someone like you would, too. By brooking no discussion on this subject I do so in homage to the man himself.

Any specific issues you'd like to explore?

Oh, plenty. Big, important issues, which should be the bread and butter of press gallery journalism but which causes actual practitioners to bleed from the eyes. Tax reform, asylum seekers, cybersecurity, promoting economic growth in a stagnating global economy, Defence capital acquisitions, water flows in the Murray-Darling, a sound foreign policy based on goodwill and shrewdness, closing the gaps between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians …

Any testable indications on how Turnbull would make a blind bit of difference to Abbott (or Shorten) in any of those areas? The longer you've been a press gallery journalist - or a Liberal - the fewer plausible excuses you have for talking up an unsuitable leader.


  1. The last two paragraphs are gold. All these issues that will effect generations of future Australians and nobody but the online media think there worth covering.

    I'm reading Atlas Shrugged at the moment, what's hooked me is not the philosophy, characters or even the plot. What's got me is how the book describes a country where everything is winding down, closing up and every one has no idea what to do about it. Everyone in positions to do something has on clue or the will to change. Any time things start to perk up the old guard moves to stop it and reassert the status quo.

    I watch our industries die and country mill about in response, lost as to why it's happening or if at all it should care to wonder.

    But a new PM will fix all that, right?

    1. That's a prerequisite read to be a member of the I.P.A isn't it?

      You do understand that Ms Rand was around during the depression and it's a very different time.

      What concerns me is little shits like Tim Wilson was being groomed to take over Gillian Triggs at The Human Rights Commission when Mr Brandis asked her to resign today.

      Extraordinary yet typical of the immaturity displayed at this senates committee today.

      Such a bunch of absolute dickheads.

      Australians deserve the government they get and will suffer the sad consequences at a later stage.

    2. There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

    3. Tim I don't accept Australia is winding down and closing up. I suggest you would be hard pressed to back that idea with evidence. You maybe mistaking structural changes with decline e.g. car industry. The issues that have to be dealt with are not unknown, neither are the possible alternatives to deal with them. Dealing with issues means taking decisions involving opportunity costs. It's heartening that the electorate have had the sense to reject the far-right path taken by the Abbott Government. The only major decline I see has been in reporting by traditional media which reached a new low in the lead up to the 2013 election. Thank goodness for alternative media. As to Malcolm, smart, likeable, but he's erratic. I don't think he is the 'answer' for the Liberals but then who else is?

    4. Re: Terry. I have to disagree, I can't think of any of my peers who could afford to by a house without getting finacle backing off their family or without engaging in ponzi schemes with developers. I can't think of any of them, university qualified or other wise, that have job security. The only ones that are successful have ether started there own businesses or gone overseas.
      Manufacturing is not going through " restructuring", " cycle" or whatever corporate buzzword is in fashion, it's almost dead. Small nimble operations may survive but only if there very niche and competitive on an international level. Once the knowledge and skills are gone there very hard to get back, because who will be there to do the training and pass on those skills you can't learn except from experience?
      A bannan can't grow alone.

      For the public record I'm not a neocon, past or present. I believe that a person should read widely and deeply on all topics, otherwise your no Better then a baby being spoon fed whatever mush other decide is good for you.

  2. I would like to see some nice ties back in Canberra. I don't think Malcolm will stand at the lectern with one of those squally-winds-and-light-rain-for-the-next-five-days cloudy blue ties slumped around his neck. Nor will he start every sentence with 'Look err'.

    But it would be more of the same with Turnbull and even more so with Morrison who may well emerge as a contender.

    Shorten I cannot consider as he is yet to put himself forward as an alternative beyond wearing a red tie.

    There is a doctorate to be written about Australian politicians and their ties.

    Thanks Andrew for reminding me about Godwin Grech. If, as has been claimed by you and others, Abetz was involved in the ute affair, do you think he was acting alone? I find that hard to accept.

  3. 'Turnbull doesn’t understand upload and assumes internet consumption is as essentially passive as television..' Yeh, someone gets it, these LNP idiots think they know all about business, maybe, just maybe in the 20th century they did, but they can't see what they might be holding back by ignoring the internet as dynamic entity based on uploading. Abbott once referred to Labour's NBN as essentially a high tech home video delivery system... seriously. As for Turnball, this guy travels to USA regularly and well knows the internet speeds there, even if he can't see the direct relevance of us plebs being actually allowed to upload our own content, and well knows services are rubbish on Telstra

  4. I've been waiting so long for somebody more articulate than me to call Turnbull out for what he really is.

    Thank you Andrew.

  5. Lest we forget that he and the horrible Lucy crucified Bob Carr over the peace prize for Hanah Ashrawi and refused to let her appear in the town hall of Sydney.

  6. Turnbull as summarised by a dear departed friend of mine:

    To know him is to hate [or, more mildly, dislike] him.

    Turnbull as summarised by PJK:

    - Brilliant
    - Fearless
    - Completely lacking in judgment

    Keating was prescient: see Grech and (ugh) Ute*gate*.

    I agree Utegate was a stitch-up of Turnbull by his own side. In my opinion, Erica Betz, almost certainly, was a prime mover in the mechanical sense. The deus ex machina was most likely then-Senator Nick Minchin. No doubt other worthies performed their roles.

    And as for Mr Grech?

    Collateral damage.

    Not worth an afterthought.

    Proper charmers, the current crop of Neocons.

  7. Thank you Andrew
    it very hard to reply to such a brilliant writing you say how i feel what happening but cannot express so all i can do is suggest on twitter that people read to find out more about the would be if they could be in the liberal party.

    some one said to day to me on twitter bill was boring i ask are you an alp member,, no reply can only deduce from that the answer was no.

    i own up to being a member,, Bill came to our branch i had not been a big fan and exercise book full of questions, he talked for some time and took questions, never faulted or forgot any of the question ,, all answered in correct order and long answers, then when i approached him with policy that abbott had in mind that would effect me directly,, his quick action with his staff impressed me i had several emails back and forth over a few days and phone call from his staff in another state i may add, that policy of abbotts has not seen the light of day,, Boring say the press, do they really even know him, i am now a big fan of BIlls u see i have met him.

    1. I agree. I have not met Shorten, but what stands out to me, and confirms what you say. is the Beaconsfield mine disaster. Shorten was there, the Prime Rodent couldn't be bothered.

      Says it all really.

      As for Turnbull, I lost all respect for him over the Grech affair and so-called utegate. He showed then that, while he might be clever, he has no political nous or judgement, and his craven cave in to Liesalot was the proverbial icing on his cake of shallow political opportunism.

    2. I think Bill shorten is underestimated too but I have been very disappointed by the ALP's position on metadata retention to date, particularly in regard to the effect it will have on the media.
      I support the arguments put forward by Australia's leading media companies and organizations which left me in no doubt that general surveillance will curtail journalistic inquiry and thereby damage our democracy.
      In my opinion the ALP has been found wanting.
      I am cross and concerned particularly so after reading today that the Russian press and social media are blaming the West for the murder of the Russian Opposition Leader today.
      That is where a compromised media takes you.
      Our media is weak and biased enough without metadata retention zippering the lips of whistle blowers.

  8. 'Howard’s over the nasty racism and sectarianism of his upbringing. '

    Sounds like he didn't triumph at all.

  9. As an Aussie Muslim getting used to being kicked in the guts by Abbott, something Howard at least did with a bit more subtlety, I think even Turnbull would be a relief. The prospect of a lot less dog whistling under Labor after the next election seems very inviting though, which could make a bit more time under Abbott bearable if it makes his Team unelectable. Rais, Perth.

  10. Re: The Liberal Party knew Tony Abbott was administratively incompetent, I seem to recall back in the Howard era that in his time as Health Minister, Abbott's own department heads complained vocally that he would not buckle down to any policy work or reviews of their proposals. That was even before he referred in a speech to the annual health budget as, millions pissed up against a wall, administrator?!

  11. "Rancid old communist"? I'm hardly a big fan of Ms Rhiannon, but as someone a mere three years older than Mr Turnbull, she's not exactly ancient.

  12. Ah yes, the Australian media. Of course, Andrew Bolt says we have a left wing media attacking Abbott. I thought about that and came up with a list of journalists who have been / are still cheerleaders for Abbott. Any I've missed?

    1. Andrew Bolt
    2. Piers Akerman
    3. Janet Albrechtsen
    4. Gerard Henderson
    5. Greg Sheridan
    6. Miranda Devine
    7. Paul Kelly
    8. Chris Mitchell
    9. Chris Kenny
    10. Ray Hadley
    11. Alan Jones
    12. Terry McCrann
    13. Peter Hartcher
    14. Dennis Shanahan
    15. Malcolm Farr
    16. Simon Benson
    17. Rowan Dean

    1. So where is your list of journalists Anon? Rais, Perth

    2. Patricia Karvelas....?
      Tim Wilson and John Roskam (I.P.A) not journalists but their support base.
      Tom Switzer

    3. 'Journalists'.

    4. Journalists who get paid to become professional Contrarians and p.r spin doctors

      Shari Markson, (YES HER) who writes salacious gossip and stalks people at University, see what happens when dumb rich kids can't get in to University they go to Sky news because of Daddy dearest and talk b.s

  13. An impressive list of cheerleaders. Who is the cheerleader for the other side? David Marr?

    1. I don't think the 'other side' as you call it, has cheerleaders,
      Generally, journalists of the left seem to be more critical of their own, therefore do not fit the definition of 'cheerleader.' David Marr, for example, is just as likely to be critical of the ALP for doing dumb things as he is of the Coalition.

      I wonder why that is?

  14. Hillbilly Skeleton1/3/15 6:23 pm

    Of course we've all read about 'Jobs for the Boys' and seen it in action when it comes to the Liberal and National Parties. However, if Malcolm defeats Julie and becomes PM then we must keep front of mind the mantra, 'Money for Mates' and make sure we keep a Watching Brief on our $ going into Government Revenue and where they emerge at the other end of the sausage machine that churns them out as Government Grants and the like, because there's one thing I remember vividly from Turnbull's time as Environment Minister for Howard, and that's that he, without blush, handed over $20Million of our money to his mate, Matt Handbury, to fund 'Research' into Cloud Seeding!

    It is the one thing Malcolm excels at, and that is ripping off the rubes. How he has never been investigated by our Corporate Regulators for some of the shady deals he has done in his life is beyond my ken. However, his ability to charm the pants off anyone whom he seeks to take advantage of has very few peers in Australia. In the nicest possible legal way, of course.

    So, my eyes will be trained on a revitalisation of 'The Medical Research Future Fund' for one thing. That was shaping up to be a real honey pot for those who don't mind sticky fingers. Liquid Gold you could say. I say this because I had noted that Mrs Turnbull is Chair of, waddya know, a BioMedical Research and Development Company!

    Anyway, suffice to say, my personal motto, if Malcolm Turnbull succeeds in convincing the Sceptics in the Liberal Party to back him into the one job he has always thought was his due, will be, 'Follow the Money'. Other than the bowing and scraping before him that comes with the job, which he would appreciate but not covet per se, it will be the control that he will wield over the Nation's Business policy direction that I think will excite him most about doing the job.

    If he doesn't overreach. Again.

  15. Two polls now in his favour. After arguably his worst week.

    You're missing something, Andrew. Right-wing converts often do.

    It's called racism. He's playing it and he's working.

    - Joe Fitzpatrick

    1. No, Joe. Every poll taken more than a week before an election is bullshit. This blog does not do polls. Racism does not work for anyone in the long term.

    2. 'Fraid I agree with Joe.

    3. Now it's the aboriginal "lifestyle choice".

      Wake up, Andrew.

      The race card works. It's being played.

      - Joe Fitzpatrick

  16. Andrew, why are recent polls showing more support for the government?