The Turnbull answer to the Rudd essay

In an article in The Weekend Australian of 7-8 March titled PM's cheap money shot Malcolm Turnbull responds to Kevin Rudd’s essay in The Monthly, The Global Financial Crisis – (first 1500 words of the Rudd essay here).  Turnbull’s piece is worth reading as it gives tentative insight into his thinking, tactics and ideological position, more the former than the latter.  You be the judge.

It’s an article in three pieces – an initial somewhat emotive and sarcastic condemnation of Rudd’s propositions, then an objective account of how the sub-prime mortgage problem emerged, starting with Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, followed by a return to a condemnation of Rudd and some personal invective thrown in for good measure.   The contrast between the middle and the rest of the piece is arresting.  Did someone else compose the middle?  It doesn’t sound like Turnbull-speak. [more]

The beginning is heavy with sarcasm.  He sees the PM “Imagining himself once more in a heroic pose” , casting himself as a “great socialist hero, carrying the banner of social democracy and striking out against the wickedness of neo-liberalism.” ,“...imagining himself battling off communists to the Left, fascists to the Right, clad only in a suit of shining ideological purity.”  And so on until he declares: “The essay in The Monthly is such a poor piece of work and has been so widely ridiculed and debunked, it is difficult to believe he imagined it would be regarded as a serious contribution to the debate about the global financial crisis.” 

He then condemns Rudd on the contemporary issue of the economic stimulus package: “The gross domestic product numbers for the December quarter showed growth was negative. It was perfectly plain that the $10 billion December cash splash had been almost entirely saved: household savings were higher than they had been for many years. So the cash splash had failed as an economic stimulus. What was Rudd's response? ‘We cannot swim against the tide'.’"  And on his favourite theme on the evils of going into debt that our kids and grandchildren will have to repay, Turnbull confidently asserts “These borrowings will undoubtedly result in higher taxes and higher interest rates in years ahead.”

Then, presumably to sensitize readers to a later thrust and to counter Rudd’s allusion to neo-liberalism, he places in juxtaposition the words privatisation’, ‘deregulation’ and ‘promotion of competition’, as if he saw them connected. “If privatisation, deregulation, promotion of competition are symptoms of neo-liberalism then Paul Keating and Bob Hawke, Howard and Peter Costello have a lot in common.”   

He concludes that “Rudd's thesis is wrong in every respect”;  indeed it’s “nonsense”, and gives us his assessment of the cause of the financial crisis: “At a fundamental level the crisis arose because of too much cheap money being available for too long.“  So there it is – Rudd’s essay is wrong in every respect and is nonsense, but Turnbull has the diagnosis - too much cheap money.

After some further argument about low interest rates and high levels of debt he segues into the sub-prime mortgage mess which he describes accurately.

Then he launches a further attack “Like a bent copper, he wants to fit up the Liberal Party with the crime of causing the crisis. Similarly, he wants to take aim at me as the leader of the Liberal Party, point to my career in business and investment banking and thereby link me with the downturn in the US.  There is no word in English adequate to describe Rudd's audacity here -- but it is certainly covered by chutzpah, a wonderful Yiddish word that describes bare-faced, shameless behaviour.  A classic definition is a man who kills his parents and then seeks clemency from the court because he is an orphan.”  Pretty heavy stuff.   Perhaps a later sentence explains why he wrote this: “But to add to that effrontery, we see him [Rudd] every day in the parliament denouncing neo-liberal extremism as he describes me as 'the member for Goldman Sachs'."

For his coda he relates that “the Howard government closed the Commonwealth Employment Service and outsourced its functions to the private sector, and one of the private firms that benefited conspicuously from this deregulation was the Rudd family business.”  Here thereby implies that outsourcing (privatization) is deregulation, which it is not.  Wikipedia defines deregulation as “a process by which governments remove, reduce or simplify restrictions on business and individuals. It is the removal of some governmental controls over a market.” and privatization as the “process of transferring ownership of business from the public sector (government) to the private sector (business).”  Clearly, outsourcing (privatization) and deregulation are quite different; either Turnbull doesn’t know that or he’s being disingenuous.  

He ends by declaring Rudd’s essay ‘absurd’.  He dismisses it out of hand.

So does Piers Akerman  in one sentence in an incoherent piece in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, Turnbull brevity beats rambling Rudd:  “In a 2569-word essay in The Australian, Turnbull shredded Rudd’s economic strategy, his philosophical core and, finally, in little more than a paragraph, his character.” 

So what is Turnbull’s thinking, tactics and ideological position?  Why did he write this?  Is it a reaction to the ‘Goldman Sachs’ and ‘merchant banker’ jibes?  Is he that thin skinned? Or did he write it to placate those in the party who want to preserve the Howard legacy?  Was he ideologically effronted by the Rudd essay?  Or was it the rising internal doubts about his leadership that prompted him to take on Rudd over his essay?  Who knows? Does Turnbull?

What then are his tactics?  He attempts to demolish Rudd’s arguments, but seems more intent on demolishing Rudd himself.  There is more sarcasm than reason.  In his finishing flourish he commends “the Rudds,  especially Theresa Rein, on their success” which he says has been “greatly enriched by the privatisation and outsourcing of government services”.  He is thereby able to attach his latest label “ the wealthiest Prime Minister Australia has ever had.” and lay the 'hypocrite' tag brutally across Rudd’s chest as he suffers in Turnbull’s pillory.

Turnbull’s ideological position is more difficult to define.  One could assume he is a free marketeer, but how enthusiastically he accepts the need for regulation is unclear.  Indeed he does not attempt to articulate his ideology.  We presume he has one.  Everyone, including his party colleagues, would like to know it.

So what will be the likely consequence of his article?  Piers Akernam and other rusted-on Liberals will applaud.  Labor supporters will likely dismiss it as a personal attack with poorly argued underpinnings.  The rest will probably be ‘ho-hum’.  Except for one thing – bringing Therese Rein into it.  Although Turnbull sought to praise her success, as he did again in a Channel 9 TV Sunday interview when Laurie Oakes tackled him on it, the public may not be impressed.  His colleagues may question his political judgement.  His article might backfire more for this reason than the flaws in it.  Already this is beginning.  Turnbull should hope it will quickly die a natural death.

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9/03/2009If he wasn't such an egotistical know-it-all, one could possibly feel a bit of sympathy for Truffles. I do believe he is finding the taunts such as the 'member for Goldman Sachs' and 'ex merchant banker' hard to bear and is doing his best to retaliate by attacking Therese Rein's business success. He does not appear to understand that attacking his opponent's wife, even though the attacks are wrapped in sugar-coated praise, crosses a line that no smart politician indulges in because this practice almost invariably results in a public backlash. Truffles is way out of his depth in the political arena. He comes across to me as a man who cannot come to terms with his own conscience/beliefs and those of the party he leads. He sees himself as a man who, if given the chance, would be a wonderful PM respected and adored by his countrymen; something akin to a beloved king. The rough and tumble of politics and the necessity to support ideas and policies he doesn't believe in, is what causes Truffles to stammer and bluster during media interviews as he tries to find a position he can live with. I imagine Truffles doesn't always sleep well at night as he wrestles with his ambitions, his beliefs, his party's demands and expectations and the shark-infested waters in which he's swimming. He cannot let his own ideology be known because it would not match that of his party. Maybe he thought he could remake the party he leads but I suspect he now knows this was a pipe dream.

Bushfire Bill

9/03/2009Turnbull was hoping to start a dog-whistle attack on Therese Rein by simply referring to her in his article ([i]inter alia[/i] as the legal jargon goes) and letting the shock-jocks on talkback radio do the rest. God knows what he thought he'd achieve. Attacks on Rudd's wife have been tried before, to abject failure. I mean, they've been real clangers. Remember the enquiry into why she didn't pay her employees their full entitlements? Total exoneration, both administratively and in the polls. In this crappy quest, at least, Turnbull has succeeded. Running late for work this morning I had a chance to listen to Steve Price on Sydney radio. My grandson (8) has a word reserved for something [i]especially[/i] disgusting: [b][i]BES[/i]GUSTING![/b]. And so Steve Price was. I'm pretty sure the Turnbull idea was to let the smear fester, and then, in his lawerly way, to point to the original text of his article and ask, "Where have I [i]specifically[/i] attacked Therese Rein, m'Lud?"... as in "attacked" rather than just merely "mentioned in passing". So far so good: talkback was alive with anti-Rudd-Rein gibberish this morning. It's even possible that Mal's little ploy might have worked if the Rudd-Reins weren't at least 300% more popular in the voters' eyes than Turnbull and Lucy (Lucy who?... Oh yes, she's [i]the money[/i]). People want the Rudd-Reins to succeed. After all, they're the PM and the First Lady (as it were). Turnbull is just another spiv who's stacked his way into preselection and virtually (according to all reports) purchased the "Liberal Party" franchise by his many "generous" donations. But I digress. Malcolm was also right in thinking that most people wouldn't bother to read the original text. In Malcom's Best-Case scenario they'd just react emotionally to the story. Except... except... the emotional reaction was one of [i]disgust[/i] that he attacked the sainted Therese, not class envy (as Turnbull had hoped it would be) for "rightly" exposing a hypocritical [i]nouveau riche[/i] wannabee like Rudd's frumpy wife. Turnbull's resort to the original text has been, as he had forseen, ignored, as nobody wanted to read it. The mistake he made was to believe nobody would want to read it because they hated Rudd and Rein (even if secretly). Sadly (for Mal) they didn't want to read it because they know Malcolm Turnbull, and the party he leads, all too well. How wrong could this man be? How completely arse-about politically? For a supposed political "leader" he is entitled to a place on the honour board of [i]The World's Greatest Loser[/i]. It's pretty clear the public, by and large, admire the Rudd-Reins and loathe the Rainmaker Turnbull. Even more so now that Malcolm's jumped the shark, flipped the switch to vaudeville, crossed the line or whatever else you want to call attacking the beloved wife of Australia's most-popular-[i]ever[/i] Prime Minister. Liberal heads must truly be shaking. In ire or agony, one can only wonder. Perhaps Mal though the economic times would suit him. Well, they didn't. Is that the sound of knives sharpening I can hear? Turnbull's essay itself was a lightweight mish-mash of cobbled-together half-ideas and reactionary talking points. It wasn't capitalism that failed, according to the boy genius, it was only a few greedy bankers. What are bankers, if not extreme capitalists? What damage have they wrought? Only what the World Bank called today potentially the world's biggest ever "economic catastrophe". No need to get excited. According to Malcolm, the fundamentals are still sound. Just subtract the bankers, the trillions lost, the joblessness about to hit, the wars that may start, the misery around the corner and extreme spiv-driven capitalism comes up smelling like roses. How [i]dare[/i] the new boy, Rudd and his non-fashionable wife make money? Don't they know her place is in the kitchen washing the dirt off grubby-faced, ricketty kids and baking scones for when hubby comes home from work, fresh from ruining the economy, [i]yet again[/i]? How [i]dare[/i] Therese take a bonus of $1.5 million? It's from her own company, one she owns 97% of. She's not stealing from the shareholders, she [i]is[/i] the shareholders! But that doesn't matter: Therese made a mill last year and Turnbull wants us all to hate her for it. Her husband is Australia's richest ever Prime Minister (until, even if only in Fantasy Land, Malcom gets the guernsey). Why can't Therese be a normal kind of shark like Sol or that Ponzi scheme billionaire in New York (that they can't track down)? That, at least, is Malcom's brand of capitalism. Pin stripe suits, Vaucluse addresses, a Merc in the garage and your bags permanently packed incase you have to do a last-minute flit at an inconvenient hour. The whole thing worked perfectly, except the voters seem to kinda like Therese and Kevin. And they hate con-men like Mal and his bizoid mates. What an abject failure, not only of a politician, but a man is Malcolm Turnbull. Weak, vain, arrogant, too used to getting his own way, too full of himself to realise that the voters want real leadership, not the class envy he is attempting to peddle so hamfistedly.

Just Me

9/03/2009Yeah, I gotta agree, BB. I was prepared to give Turnbull a fair chance, and argued for it on some forums, after all he does have a tough job holding that fractious rabble together. But he has had that chance, and blown it seriously. He ain't no good at politics, or at least being acting as a 'conservative' politician, because he is not a natural conservative and the real conservatives know it. OTOH, I have am happy for him to go on being opposition leader and failing to keep the peace within their ranks, saves Labor having to do much work keeping them in place.

Just Me

9/03/2009"or at least being acting as a 'conservative'" should read or at least acting as a 'conservative'

Ad astra reply

10/03/2009Thank you janice, BB and Just Me for your insightful comments which add so much to the debate. Malcolm won't be too happy with today's Newspoll. Despite the economic turmoil with which the Rudd Government is grappling, despite all the Coalition hype about Labor running up deficits and debt our kids will have to repay, despite the Coalition attacks on Joel Fitzgibbon about the SAS pay bungle, the 2PP is 56/44, within the MOE of the last Newspoll of 58/42. Even more distressing for him though must be the three-way preferred PM stakes with his rating at 13%, Costello at 24% and Rudd 54%. With a backbencher, one who has significantly lost credibility since declining leadership after the 2007 election almost twice as popular as preferred PM, Turnbull must be concerned about his position. Add to that the current discord in the party room about IR and the ETS, and you have a seriously destabling situation for the Opposition Leader. Were it not for Costello's refusal to make a move against him at present, he would be in great jeopardy. The only reason the party has not moved to replace him seems to be the lack of an alternative ready and willing to take over. But wait until Costello does move, that is if he's got the nerve. The Piping Shrike believes Turnbull is slowly toppling. His series of pieces on this are entertaining and insightful.

Ad astra reply

10/03/2009Sorry, The Piping Shrike link was incomplete - that one takes you to the first in the series. Try the link to The Piping Shrike website and scroll for the updates.

Ad astra reply

10/03/2009I've long suspected Dennis Shanahan was a Costello man. Today's pieces by him in [i]The Australian[/i] reinforce that view. Read [i]Reborn Costello strides ahead of Turnbull[/i],25197,25163881-601,00.html and [i]Turnbull squeezed from both sides[/i],25197,25163713-7583,00.html and see what you think.


10/03/2009Poor Truffles LOL. I'm watching Question Time and he doesn't look happy or comfortable. I read Shanahan's pieces and I agree with The Piping Shrike that the knives are out and ready to be imbedded into Truffles. I still can't see Costello taking on the leadership however, but strange things do happen when a party is hell bent on tearing itself to shreds. Jolly Joe is asking a lot of questions of the PM today - I wonder if he is gearing up to take on the leadership? Will it be a matter of 'out of the frying pan and into the fire'?


10/03/2009This mob never learn. The one issue they need to crystal clear on and they just cant help themselves. Lets deal ourselves into more irrelevancy by not declaring "WorkChoices" dead.,25197,25166257-5013871,00.html PS janice I can't remember the last time Joe was jolly.


11/03/2009During the 2006 campaign THe Australian Story series featured a two-part programme on A. Downer.There was a memorable example of dramatic irony during Downer's morning meeting with his staff during which he commented that KR was the "vainest person he'd ever met". For the length of the campaign many of Downer's media comments followed the same lines. His ex Chief of Staff is now MT's Chief of Staff. Might this be the connection to a reverting to the same tactics? If the Opposition cannot develop, support and sustain a cogent policy position (perhaps ADHD issues?), what else is left? As you discuss in your analysis, Ad Astra, the Opposition is blatantly ignoring the context of MT's reference to T Rein in their claims for a literal interpretation - completely contradicted by the focus and tone of the opening paragraphs. Again, so ironic if you juxtpose this against the recent indignation over the "mincing poodle" allusion. Why was that not seen as a reference to the Bush/Blair relationship, scaled down from standard to toy breed size to match the Canberra setting?
How many Rabbits do I have if I have 3 Oranges?