During my childhood, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows was my favourite book. A. A. Milne turned it into a play: Toad of Toad Hall.
I loved Toad. I was astounded by, and somewhat admiring, of his conceit, his vanity, his arrogance, his audacity, his entrepreneurship, his ‘innovation’ and ‘agility’, to use our former prime minster’s favourite words.
Day after day, Toad would come up with some hairbrained idea, the virtues of which he would extol extravagantly, tagging his utterances with ‘Clever Toad’, or ‘Brilliant Toad’. Of course, when as usual he made a mess of things, he would lament: ‘Poor Toad’, ‘Stupid Toad’, even ‘Miserable Toad’.
Toad was a very wealthy and kind-hearted fellow, who lived in a mansion, Toad Hall. But being aimless and conceited, he regularly became obsessed with current fads, only to abandon them abruptly. First he favoured boating, next a horse-drawn carriage, and then he developed a fixation on very fast prestige cars that he drove recklessly.
As I reflect on Toad’s bizarre behaviour, I am reminded of our very own Toad, Toad of Turnbull Hall. The similarities are striking.
His recent departure as our Prime Minister marks a fitting time to recount his times and feats.
Toad of Turnbull Hall is very wealthy. He lives in a mansion at Point Piper, and has his own boat and boatshed. He too is conceited, with an extravagant view of his own intelligence and accomplishments, which, mind you, are not insignificant. He too becomes obsessed with current fads – remember his forays into rainmaking, a project he abandoned abruptly when he realized how foolhardy it was!
Like our Toad of Toad Hall, Toad of Turnbull Hall is conceited enough to take on challenging assignments. He took on the Spycatcher case and beat the British Government. He successfully defended ‘The Goanna’.
But when he tried to upend Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan in the infamous ‘Utegate’ affair, he became badly unstuck because he failed to carry out due diligence and was duped by Treasury mole, Godwin Grech. Urged on by colleagues, notably Eric Abetz, he thought, with the arrogance of the invincible Toad, that he had Rudd and Swan on toast, and attacked them in the full view of the public in parliament, haughtily casting aside their protestations of innocence. Then, when Grech’s fake email was exposed, Toad of Turnbull Hall was left hanging precariously on a limb, which finally broke, forcing him into a humiliating public apology. Unlike Toad of Toad Hall though, we did not hear him utter ‘Stupid Toad’, ‘Foolish Toad’, ‘Careless Toad’, ‘Hapless Toad’, or even ‘Poor Toad’. His ego would have detonated had he so dishonoured himself.
Like Toad of Toad Hall, Toad of Turnbull Hall is a slow learner. One blooper, or several, does not lead to immunity. He goes on making silly mistakes. His judgement is consistently poor.
Recall how he mangled the NBN in pursuit of lower costs and a faster rollout? Reckless Toad.
I don’t need to remind you of him saying: ‘I will not lead a government that does not take climate change seriously’, only to turn turtle and join Abbott’s ‘coal-huggers’. Stupid Toad.
Remember how joyfully he supported Abbott’s Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption, pointedly intended to hammer the unions and Bill Shorten. What a charade that was! Silly Toad.
Shall we ever forget his repeated rejection of a Banking Royal Commission because with ASIC we already had a ‘tough cop on the beat’ to monitor the banks? Stupid Toad.
His decision to reject outright the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’, arguably one of the most important pieces of recent political writing, was yet another of Toad of Turnbull Hall’s stupid mistakes. An opportunity to engage meaningfully with our indigenous people was sacrificed to placate his Coalition conservatives.
His recent decision to call by-elections with nine weeks’ lead-time, supposedly to advance his ‘Kill Bill’ strategy, backfired. Far from the by-elections being what Toad of Turnbull Hall asserted were a ‘test of Bill Shorten’s leadership’ it turned out to be a test of his. He botched again. ‘Foolish Toad’, ‘Stupid Toad’.
Toad of Turnbull Hall continued on his arrogant way.
His chest swelled with pride when, with his mate Josh Frydenburg, he announced an unsolicited grant of almost half a billion dollars to the tiny Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which has links to big resource companies. ’Clever Toad’ was his not-too-hidden message.
But even the founder of this body, Michael Myer of the Myer dynasty, said: This is “quite shocking and almost mind-blowing” and “the Government's judgment is really poor”, and it is “unthinkable for the Government to award the largest ever non-profit grant to an organisation with six staff members without due diligence, without a proper tender process, without a request".
The Foundation thought it had won the lottery!
The proponents tried to justify their unilateral decision in a tortured train-wreck of a press interview. It unfolded as yet another nightmare for Toad of Turnbull Hall, who stammered and stumbled as journalists poured acid on him. Now though, we will never hear ‘Stupid Toad’, or even ‘Poor Toad’.
Last week’s events following the Dutton challenge to Turnbull’s prime ministership exposed Turnbull’s poor judgement yet again. Having made cuts to corporate tax his signature policy, he abandoned it. Although he knew that he was never likely to get it through the Senate, he persisted in promoting the policy as central to his ‘economic plan’, and even assured us he would take this policy to the next election. Now it has vanished. Likewise his NEG! But did we hear ‘Unwise Toad’, ‘Foolish Toad’, or ‘Reckless Toad’?
Aware of his fate as the Dutton/Abbott storm clouds threatened, Toad of Turnbull Hall, always confident in his own judgement, threw his last dice; it turned out to be a double six. He announced that he would call a party meeting only if his opponents produced such a request with 43 signatures on it that he could verify. It should be added in parenthesis that perhaps the most telling indictment of the Turnbull era came from Queenslander Warren Entsch, who in providing the 43rd signature, added ‘For Brendon Nelson’, the Liberal leader Turnbull tore down to seize his position. It was a reminder that those who live by the sword, die by it.
Indicating that that if a spill motion were passed he would not be a candidate, Turnbull further insisted that he receive evidence that Peter Dutton was eligible to actually sit in parliament at all. Doubts about this were bound to create a dilemma for those selecting the next PM. The Solicitor General opined that with the little evidence he had, Dutton was ‘not incapable’ of sitting in parliament, but that there was ’a risk’ that the High Court might find Dutton ineligible.
This time Toad of Turnbull Hall played his hand cleverly. His delaying tactics worked. In the end, doubts about Dutton prevailed, and he was was utterly defeated, along with his Coalition backers and media spear-throwers. Toad’s candidate got up. We now have another Toad! As Toad of Toad Hall walked away, you could almost hear him chortling: 'Clever Toad', 'Brilliant Toad'.
Like Toad of Toad Hall, Toad of Turnbull Hall showed throughout his time in politics that he will not learn. Now that he has retired to the back bench, will his judgement improve? Will his gambles continue even after his defeat? Will his mistakes multiply and his regrets grow? Whatever you judge to be the case, it is likely that we never hear from him a genuine mea culpa.
No doubt though, Toad of Turnbull Hall will continue to give us still more material for yet another chapter in his colourful career.
Tell us what you think of Toad of Turnbull Hall.