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Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull

Melbourne-based Webdiarists, and maybe even those not residing in Bleak City, might be interested in the following, which I received this morning. If I'm not too busy eating chocolate I might even go myself:


Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull
Annabel Crabb

Join Annabel Crabb, Barrie Cassidy and George Megalogenis to discuss Annabel Crabb's new Quarterly Essay, Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull.

Date: Wednesday 10 June
Time: 6.30pm
Venue: Cinema Nova, Lygon Court, Carlton
Tickets: Free event, all welcome. To book call Readings Carlton (03) 9347 6633

What does Malcolm Turnbull stand for? In Stop at Nothing Annabel Crabb tells the story of the man who would be prime minister.

Based on extensive interviews with Turnbull as well as those who have worked with him, this is an essay full of revelations. Crabb delves into young Malcolm's university exploits – which included co-authoring a musical with Bob Ellis – and his remarkable relationship with Kerry Packer, the man for whom he was at first a prized attack dog, and then a mortal enemy. She asks whether Turnbull – colourful, aggressive, humorous and ruthless – has what it takes to re-invigorate the Australian Liberal Party in the wake of John Howard. She discusses his vexed relationship with Kevin Rudd, and the looming presence of Peter Costello. This is a scintillating portrait by one of the country's most incisive reporters.

"How would Australia be different if he were prime minister? What are his most closely held policy convictions? I asked dozens of Malcolm Turnbull's political colleagues this question, asking them to name three. Many of them had to pause before responding. 'You'll have to excuse me. I'm eating some chocolate,' was the best initial response, from a Liberal on the other end of a phone line."

Annabel Crabb is the Sydney Morning Herald's political sketchwriter and appears regularly on ABC TV's Insiders. She is the author of Losing It: The Inside Story of the Labor Party in Opposition (2005).

For further information on Quarterly Essay, please visit our website.

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I do not believe that he is a very committed republican. He seems to have been a protégé of the apparent opponent in the republican referendum, John Howard. How clever that they framed the terms of the referendum that nothing changed, giving the lie to the tag "liberal".

He does seem to hesitate to discuss his commitment to a republic, but that is because he is a committed democrat and will say that the people have spoken on the topic.

His performances are not terrific. The worst economic conditions for decades and he is wielding a limp stick. He is correct to be more afraid of what would happen were he to become PM than continuing in opposition. His loyalty factor will not be good, either. Whenever the member for Higgins snaps his fingers the leadership will change, probably just before we have a national government along with other countries around the world as economies deteriorate. I give that a 25% chance.

Every government needs a good opposition. This one is not good enough.


"Whenever the member for Higgins snaps his fingers the leadership will change"

I suspect that the best time to become an opposition party leader is just before an election. The winner is unlikely to be challenged till after the election, so they have a shot at the real job. On the other hand, it's quite hard maintaining focus and discipline in a party that has just lost an election.

Reading Turnbull denies plan to quit politics, one wonders whether the member for Higgins senses the election approaching.

White chocolate

Personally, I like white chocolate.

Interesting to see another commentator, Josh Gordon of the Age, also has an article on Malcolm's manoeuvres, Proof is in the policy, so we begin to ask if there is a hiatus in the Turnbull leadership.

Are we seeing the beginnings of a flock of scribbler vultures circling as the Liberals reach the stage of holding onto a tyro leader who has had little more impact than the previous one (Nelson), or moving for Costello before its too late for the next election? The Liberal leadership contenders contrast in mutually exclusive ways at a time when politics is more and more presidential than ever. Too many negatively conflicting narratives, ie new broom versus world's greatest veteran Howard treasurer, are in action for the Opposition, at the very time they need something clear cut in the way of policy instead, for the public, so that they can lose their ad hoc and reactive image. But until they know what they stand for and unite wholeheartedly behind a leader, and move on to policy formulation / presentation of alternatives, they will remain nowhere.

Gordon seemed to think that Turnbull is no fool; this tends to parallel this writer's own gut instinct that he would make a substantial cabinet minister in a Rudd-style government, for example. As a businessman his aim was to achieve specific business objectives supported by a team - everyone was already on the same side and the projects were determined by commercial goals.

But that's not politics.

Gordon makes a crucial distinction between the skills of Turnbull in a previous life as lawyer and merchant banker, against the (different) political skills he needs to weld the liberals, let alone the dog’s breakfast of a coalition in total, into something united and coherent heading to an election. They get paid their parliamentary or organisational salaries regardless of business. The skills needed to resolve conflict derived from a knowledge of and ability to explain ideology have not developed yet, if they ever were there, since Turnbull is not an ideological creature as Howard and Costello were / are.

He is a Rudd. But we already have a Rudd: one already in government and far better supported by more job focussed and orientated colleagues than the current Liberals, who have the luxury of spare unallocated time in opposition to embark on ego inflation and personality scraps, the spoils of defeat in defence of obsolete or failed previous policies or decisions and the demoralising task of formulating a new set still in front of them.

And as long as Costello lurks in the background there will remain an instability, for parochial, factional and ideological reasons. Turnbull looks to be another Beazley: best of a mediocre remaining rump and personally useful, but on the wrong end of the tides of history, presiding over a rout as he is.

Two things are against Turnbull: the Labor government is newish and still has the priceless asset of untarnished credibility and plausible deniability (even if things do go wrong) for a while.

This is the fact at the base of sapped Liberal morale and hence, irritability and disunity: they blew it in Howard's last term, they know it, and are still ready to blame each other for the loss of the priceless prize of government.

Labor got in on disenchantment with an old government almost exactly as the Howard Liberals, when people had grown tired of Hawke and Keating, when the good things they had done were forgotten and the policy failures were left, coming home to roost. They finally settled their internal factional disputes and moved on to policy formation and presentation at that exact moment when Howard Liberalism looked stale and out of ideas, as Labor seemed in the mid nineties.

So far, chastened by those long years in the wilderness, Labor has been careful not to make too many mistakes, or explain away gaffes if they have occurred.

Because the Liberals are still tarnished with the impressions of policy failure themselves, and Labor's alternatives (they have presented the impression they do have them! ) have not had time to bear fruit, good or bad, and because the Liberals have been negative and policy zone free-ish themselves, they remain in trouble whatever they do, because they haven't even turned up for the match, let alone come with a plan, let alone a will to play, let alone with vigour, to use a sporting analogy. This was what Labor was faced with for a long time, themselves.

The oxygen of political change is just not there for the Liberals at the moment. And until they can come up with alternatives based on what the public wants rather than what conforms first and foremost to their own differing personal or ideological imperatives, that's where they will stay.

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