Why We Should Be More Afraid Of Malcolm Turnbull
It might be tempting for those on the left, but we shouldn't pet the Silver Fox.
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It’s finally happened. This afternoon Malcolm Turnbull resigned his Ministry and met with Prime Minister Tony Abbott requesting that the leadership of the federal Parliamentary Liberal Party be declared open.
While the madness continues to unfold, here are a few thoughts we had last year on what a Turnbull government would actually look like.
Every disillusioned friend of the left or casual Liberal voter has probably said it at some point. The face contorts, betraying signs that they are a real person with human feelings, and through a sour grimace laced with misty eyed optimism, safely sigh:
“If only Malcolm were in charge.”
Indeed, if the words of incredibly senior and probably senile Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis are to be taken seriously (and they aren’t), Turnbull will ascend to his rightful place atop Australia’s dyspeptic political cavalcade any minute now.
But it isn’t just the dated, demented oracles of the Labor Party prophesying the Silver Fox’s rise. A recent Essential Report poll showed that Turnbull is the best-loved potential leader of the Coalition, and by a significant margin: 31% of respondents preferred him, to Abbott’s 18% (interestingly, Abbott also loses out to promising candidates ‘Someone Else’ [19%], and ‘Don’t Know’ [21%]).
The Peculiar Charm Of The Silver Fox
It’s not hard to understand why. Turnbull can speak publicly, isn’t known for his boxing, supports marriage equality, abortion, and stem cell research, and hasn’t had a single child graduate from the Whitehouse Institute of Design on a ludicrous, unprecedented scholarship — not even one! This makes him, in many respects, the antithesis of our current PM, who recently declared that our troops didn’t die so that we could go round imposing bloody carbon taxes. He’s also a distant relative of Angela Lansbury — and that’s pretty compelling policy.
Most recently, Turnbull curried favour with moderates by engaging in a long overdue but otherwise unremarkable on-air stoush with Alan Jones. That Jones was so skillfully undermined on his own show is valuable, but the Silver Fox’s points weren’t unique. As refreshing as it is to finally hear someone in a position of power call out Bolt and Jones as the incendiary public menaces that they are, Turnbull is only saying what every vaguely-informed participant in civil society was already thinking. Don’t let’s rush to hoist him onto our shoulders and crown him king of Canberra – after all, Malcolm gets a bit weird about monarchies and stuff.
And besides, Turnbull, in that very interview, took pains to reiterate that he stands in unity with the rest of his party, that he definitely loves the man who usurped him as leader of the Liberal Party, and that he wholeheartedly endorses every proposal included in the most recent budget. This means that he either genuinely enjoys the feel of the party line under his toes, or he — like Tony — boasts the extraordinary ability to smile as he expels a hot torrent of insincere shit all over Australian audiences, and over his own genuinely-held beliefs.
The Political Crimes Of The Silver Fox
In a time of inflated praise, though, we’d do well to remember a little more of the entirely too-beloved Member for Wentworth.
Like that time he fucked up your high-speed broadband. Given that he ‘virtually invented the Internet’ in Australia, it seems pretty odd that Malcolm (Man of Tomorrow) Turnbull was so committed to the evisceration of Labor’s 1000/400mbps fibre-to-the-home NBN, in favour of his own National SLOWband EXPENSEwork. In opposition, Turnbull stated that Labor’s models had no credibility at all, while Abbott demonstrated an exceptional grasp of the lingo and an equally exceptional disconnect with the youth, asserting, “We are absolutely confident 25 megs is going to be enough — more than enough — for the average household.”
Having campaigned on a platform of “cheaper, more affordable, sooner” last year, the negligible appeal of Turnbull’s alternative evaporated after it was revealed that his initial costings apparently overlooked $29 billion worth of blowout, for a schemed that might be realised by 2024.
And given all the further NBN fuck-ups that are happening on his watch, you’d be forgiven for thinking that some unpredictable blowouts, the likes of which ‘completely shattered’ confidence in Anthony Albanese and Kevin Rudd (Turnbull’s words), are inevitable when you’re trying to connect nearly 8 million square kilometres of nation to the 21st century.
Making It Rain (Figuratively)
There’s also his questionable track record as Minister for the Environment and Water. He approved the controversial Bell Bay Pulp Mill in 2007, and invested $10 million into a hilarious Russian/Swiss rain-making technology whose most elegant scientific justification was: ‘There is no evidence to show that the technology does not work’. This perplexingly insubstantial case was presented in Russian documents, explained by a Russian researcher, who spoke to local experts in Russian.
Oh, but also the rain-making company was partly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s nephew, who lives in Wentworth and makes significant donations to Turnbull’s fundraising group, the Wentworth Forum. Did I mention that it was right before a very expensive election campaign?
The Silver Fox: Loyal Foot-Soldier
You may also remember that time when he backed every measure of the 2014 budget, possibly because it was last week, during his world-famous radio fight. It bears repeating, though: Turnbull has proudly and ‘wholeheartedly’ put his name to the introduction of a $7 GP co-payment, the dismantling of green energy research and infrastructure, the deregulation and privatisation of Australian Universities, and the six month waiting period for those with the audacity to happen upon misfortune and seek federal assistance. To remove any further suspicions of compassion, let’s for good measure add that he also recently described our Asylum seeker policy as necessarily “cruel measures” to stop people smugglers.
All of these are solutions that have been pretty openly criticised for being a less-than-ideal remedy to a problem that possibly doesn’t exist. This somewhat taints his image as the compassionate Coalition ally of thought, evoked in his genuinely moving eulogy of Robert Hughes.
Also, until Clive Palmer exploded into politics, and with an estimated worth of $133 million, Turnbull was for a long time our richest parliamentarian. He went from Sydney Grammar prep to Sydney Grammar High, and then studied Law at Sydney University and at Oxford. Of course, this is not an indictment on its own, but it does make you resent him a little bit when he does shit like opposing the luxury car and alcohol tax on the grounds that it might drive up inflation, or something.
Despite this, Turnbull is particularly popular among Labor and Greens voters as preferred leader of the Liberal Party. That’s fine, but his preference as leader must not be mistaken for a general fondness for his politics.
It’s fuzzy-headed to think that if Malcolm takes the top job, the amoral, inequitable, socially irresponsible policy of the Coalition will rendered okay in a cloud of new European sedan class, art-savvy charisma, privately administered smiles, and occasional, fleeting progressive inclinations. Despite his unique selling points, personal branding, penchant for poetry and some genuinely laudable positions on social policy, Turnbull is really just another, very rich, white man — not a palatable hero for the less-ardent left.
His transition to the Prime Ministership might be the best thing to happen to the public image of the Coalition in decades. And that’s terrifying.
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Featured image via the ABC
Patrick Morrow is the President of the Sydney University Dramatic Society, a director of the 2014 Arts Revue, and nominally studies Media and Communications.