As a weary electorate approaches yet another holiday season, looks back over the year and asks: ‘How has our federal government improved life for ordinary Aussies’, the answer is depressing.
Our self-styled ‘adult government’ has achieved so little for so long. We have had to endure indecision, poor planning, stultifying policies, governmental chaos, the dual citizenship shemozzle, infighting, and worst of all, inept decision-making and ineffectual leadership.
While the members of the Coalition must take much of the blame, the one who must shoulder most is the nation’s leader – Malcolm Turnbull. What on earth is wrong with PM Turnbull?
The question is redundant – we already know what’s wrong. We have watched Turnbull for many years now, have written about him over and again, and have predicted just what we are now seeing. A review of The Political Sword
Archive reveals over twenty pieces that have been penned about Turnbull with links to many more, dating back nine years to 2008. We ought not be surprised at the Turnbull we now witness and tolerate uneasily.
We had expected so much more from him. Memories of his earlier failures faded during the reign of the awful Tony Abbott. So gross was Abbott that when the intelligent, urbane, personable, cultured, well-spoken, well-presented, persuasive and credible Turnbull toppled him in a cleverly organized coup, the electorate breathed a collective sigh of relief, and, with high hopes, welcomed him warmly. Surely, anyone would be better that the nasty, combative Abbott, whose legacy of destruction lives with us still through the damage he did to energy policy, the NBN, the marriage equality debate, and the damage he still does day after day to the government of which he is a member, and to its elected leader.
The electorate was prepared to give Turnbull a ‘fair go’, hoping that having achieved his life-long goal of prime ministership, we would see a new side of him. We knew of his achievements in business as co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, his success with the ISP OzEmail
, his brilliance as a barrister in the famous Spycatcher case where he defeated the UK government and when he defended Kerry Packer (the goanna), his record as a journalist, and his involvement in the unraveling of the corporate failure of insurance company HIH.
We also had memories of Turnbull’s devotion to the Republic, his enthusiasm for combating climate change, his support for marriage equality, and his intention to deliver fast broadband. Sadly he has let us down as Abbott slammed the brakes on these initiatives. You can read the gory details in Abbott's legacy of destruction.
So let’s look back a while and observe how the Turnbull of today was completely predictable many years ago.
As far back as December 2009 The Political Sword
featured a piece: Opposition ship docks for repairs
that concluded: ‘A combination of lack of purpose, weakness of character, insufficient muscle and diminishing authority, and an ego-centric certainty of the correctness of his own position coupled with an unwillingness to listen, is lethal in a leader. How long can he [Turnbull] last before the murmurings among his crew and the critics begin to further erode his position’.
These sentiments echo still!
Even before that, in April 2009, in Why is Malcolm Turnbull so unpopular?
, there were these words:
‘There’s not much need to emphasize Turnbull’s contemporary unpopularity – it’s all over the air waves and the papers. It takes only a few metrics to quantify it. He leads a Coalition that Possum’s Pollytrack currently shows has an average TPP vote of only 40. Pollytrack shows 60/40 in Labor's favour across several polls, and Pollytrend shows a steady trend away from the Coalition.
The latest Newspoll PPM ratings show 67/18. As primary votes are running at 47/36, it means that half of Coalition voters don’t prefer Turnbull as PM.’
In June 2009, a TPS
piece: Stop at nothing – Malcolm’s fatal flaw?
reviewed Annabel Crabb’s Quarterly Essay
about the ’Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull’ – Stop at Nothing
. Referring to the 1984 Costigan Royal Commission convened to investigate the activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, Crabb concluded:
From the Costigan affair we can draw some preliminary conclusions about the young Turnbull. The first is that he has no regard for orthodoxy,... and this refusal to ‘play by the rules’ is something of a lifelong pattern for Turnbull; it explains much of his success, but also accounts for the worst of his reputation...The second thing we learn from Costigan is that violent tactical methods are not just something which Turnbull will contemplate turning on if sufficiently provoked. It’s not enough to say that Turnbull is prepared to play hardball. He prefers to play hardball – that’s the point. It is impossible to rid oneself entirely of the suspicion that Turnbull enjoys the intrigue – the hurling of grenades...
It seems though as if Turnbull has lost his aggressive mojo when it comes to standing up to the ultra-conservative rump in his party that threatens his leadership if he does not comply with their every wish. So much for Turnbull’s desire to play hardball! He is unable or unwilling to risk his leadership by defending his long-held ideals. For him, survival always trumps principle
, written in October 2009, begins: ‘Despite the caution implicit in Mark Twain’s statement about his reported death being an exaggeration, columnists are almost universally predicting Malcolm Turnbull’s political demise.’
They are still.
Way back in 2009, Andrew Bolt wrote: ‘No hope, no real leader, no real successor – could it get any worse for the brawling, broken federal Liberals?’
Today, nothing’s changed except the date!
The only factor protecting Turnbull now is the paucity of replacements.
Shock jocks Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Andrew Bolt would have him replaced in a flash by Tony Abbott, whom they believe should never have been upended as he was.
Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher too was predicting the end of Malcolm Turnbull. In a video he recorded he opined that Malcolm Turnbull “...is in a terminal condition as the Liberal leader”. Hartcher goes on to predict “...the inevitable collapse of the Turnbull leadership,” insisting that “...Turnbull is in the political killing zone.”
Remember, we’re harking back to October 2009, exactly eight years ago!
In July 2016, there was a piece on TPS
written in the wake of the 8 July Federal Election when the result was still uncertain: How has it come to this?
It began: ‘Far from fulfilling his oft-repeated promise of stable government and sound economic management; far from avoiding the “chaos” of a close result, Turnbull seems unlikely to achieve either. The consensus among those analysing the election results, the commentariat, and the social media, is that the outcome will be a narrow LNP majority.’
It turned out to be a majority of one! Turnbull’s attempt to regain momentum was a flop.
The piece went on: ‘While acknowledging that multiple factors bring about any election outcome, I propose that this time five significant factors have been in play: the Turnbull character; Medicare; Inequality; Turnbull reversals on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the Republic; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s constituency.
” You can read the details here
Has anything changed since then?
Again, going back to March 2009, in a TPS
article titled The Turnbull Twist
This piece proposes that forces within his party regularly pull and push him away from his own considered opinion. As he dances to others’ tune, we see him sometimes gyrating violently, sometimes swaying gently, and sometimes lurching precipitously – this is the ‘Turnbull Twist’.
Turnbull lacks nothing in self-confidence. It was he who said at the Federal Liberal Party Council meeting at the weekend “I am the man to lead Australia”. So why does he twist and turn so often? The answer seems to be that despite his unassailable self-confidence, he has less than supreme confidence in the loyalty and support of his party room. Persistently poor polls since his election to leadership six months ago, his disinclination to seek the views of the party room…and being unable to land many blows on Rudd and his ministers despite his splendid oratory, are among the factors that have eroded party room support.
Again, remember that this was eight years ago!
I have written many times that when Turnbull has his heart in a matter, he can speak eloquently and plausibly. When he has doubts; when he is trying to watch every word that his enemies might seize upon to berate him, he becomes hesitant to the point of being inarticulate, at times almost mute! This is his answer to Sabra Lane during a recent interview on AM
about his proposed new laws on national security”
SABRA LANE: Why aren’t existing laws sufficient?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, they just aren’t. There's not the, you need, you also need very clear, clear laws. It’s, it’s important to make sure that you give the police a very clear offence that makes, so that there’s no ambiguity or grey area.
It’s hard to believe that a man whose ability to wax eloquently is widely acknowledged, could be reduced to such a stuttering, almost incoherent state.
Malcolm Turnbull is rattled. He clings by a thread onto his leadership. He is obsessed by the spectre of his conservative enemies, lead by the viciously vindictive Tony Abbott, the very one who, at the time Turnbull upended him promised: “There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping”, yet who thereafter proceeded to do all three, repeatedly!
In October 2009, as storm clouds became threatening, in What will Turnbull do now?
you will read these opening words: ‘“Keep on punching Malcolm” is what his father advised. Malcolm Turnbull’s doggedness is legend, but so is his intelligence. Someone as intelligent as all his reviewers insist, must be smart enough to know when to throw in the towel, how to avoid a humiliating knockout. The key is to know when the knockout is imminent.’
The piece concluded:
Has Turnbull enough commonsense and political nous to see that all that lies ahead is more dissent, more corrosive comments,…more desire for another leader if only there was one around,…more media speculation about leadership, its favourite sport, more ridicule from Rudd and his ministers pointing to the rabble he’s trying to lead but can’t,…more poor polls, and almost certain electoral defeat and loss of seats? I suspect he has. His doggedness may well be tempered by an intense desire to ease the pain and call it quits. And if he can do that in a spectacular and relatively face-saving way, he might choose that out.
Here we are eight years later and nothing has changed. PM Turnbull is still the same old Malcolm we have come to know. His characteristics and behaviour are identical to those of eight years ago.
In Turnbull – Abbott from a better postcode?
written a year ago, 2353NM concludes:
When Turnbull became prime minister, there was a hope that he would bring the claimed decency and ability to appeal to the middle ground that was so lacking with Abbott. After 13 months, it hasn’t happened. There are two possibilities: Turnbull is just as bad as Abbott (except for better clothing choices and living in a ‘more expensive’ postcode); or, to coin a phrase, Turnbull ’doesn’t have the ticker’ to promote and implement policy and legislation that isn’t approved by his conservative rump thereby ensuring his longevity as prime minister. Either way, the rest of us as Australian citizens will continue to suffer as a result.
We are a forgiving lot. We want to give everyone, even our politicians, a ‘fair go’. We have this pitiable faith that in the end they might come good. We want them to, as their decisions affect us all. Our scepticism about them is tempered by our good nature and our cherished hopes.
Yet they let us down again and again, as is testified in numerous pieces on The Political Sword
, too many to enumerate in this single piece.
PM Turnbull came to office buoyed by a surge of goodwill from much of the electorate – we wanted him to succeed after the bitter experience of the belligerent and destructive Abbott. All he had to do was to ride the wave of electoral support and enthusiasm, and then perform. We would have cheered him on.
But once again he has failed, and does so day after day as he struggles to find coherence, flounders as he fights with his own backbenchers, tries vainly to plan effective policies to fill the legislative void, falters as he attempts to achieve anything positive, and makes hard work of improving his standing with the people.
He leaves the electorate gasping for relief from cost-of-living pressures, desperate for forward-looking policies that will enrich our society and each of us individually, all the time hoping for a government that looks as if it knows what it’s doing.
He has botched his leadership yet again. Looking back over the last decade we ought not to be surprised. Nothing has changed but the timeline. What’s wrong with PM Turnbull? Simply, whatever his other attributes, as a Prime Minister Turnbull is a disappointing dud.
We all should have realized that long ago.