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Can Malcolm Turnbull Salvage His Reputation?

Here’s the thing. On the 15th of September 2015 the man who would be King, Malcolm Turnbull, repaid Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s kindness from 2009 by rolling him in a Party vote that removed the Prime Minister from office, installing the Lord of Wentworth in his place.

There was much cheering from the populace. Tony Abbott, the man behind the Knighthood given to Prince Phillip, the Queen’s Consort. The man responsible for one of the most dysfunctional; do nothing Governments in Australia’s history. The man who made many sweeping pledges to the population, only to do the exact opposite all while explaining to the dumb voters the difference between core and non-core promises.

Looking at it now, it’s a bit like the media’s new “post-truth” era. Maybe Abbott was just ahead of his time.

But be that as it may, Malcolm Turnbull was the man to lead Australia. The heir in waiting since he himself was voted out of the Party Leadership in 2009 for being too moderate. The thorn in Abbott’s side. You could pretty much guarantee if Abbott said the sky was blue, Turnbull would say it was more Sapphire.

Malcolm Turnbull had returned and with it Australia would get a clearer, better, economic narrative. For a country stuck in the inertia of the Abbott regime, we were about to be innovative. Lots of innovation. More innovation than you could poke a deposed PM at. And in September 2015 we had more than our fair share of those.

Marriage equality campaigners breathed a sigh of relief. Turnbull had gone on record calling the Plebiscite a waste of time and money. Those of us concerned with the environment and in particular Climate Change donned our happiest Make Climate Change History hats. For here was the man who stood by his principles and had lost the leadership over an Emission Trading Scheme idea floated by the Rudd Government.

Here was the multi-millionaire man of the people. The one who wore a leather jacket and travelled on public transport. The smiling, jovial, centrist politician who even lefties would willing vote for. Australia, which had lurched hard right since the 2013 election, was on the cusp of another Golden Age.

I remember my father’s reaction when Turnbull rolled Abbott. He was not impressed. With the loss of Abbott, the best chance Labor had to win the next election had been lost in the fog. The polls instantly bounced. Sky High. The peasants were happy. The King was installed. Now to sit back and watch the changes he had promised in his victory speech.

I admit, as what is known as a swinging-voter, I was pleased. I remember about a year earlier coming home in the car with a friend, from Newcastle. We were talking budget and policy – personally I blame the job I had the time for waking me up to the difference between politics and personality – and I was busy ripping the newly released 2014 budget apart.

I made the comment to my friend that it was a damn shame Turnbull hadn’t been the Opposition Leader. I’ll never forget her response. My friend knew Turnbull personally. He’d been friends with her Mother or Grandmother or something. She had met him on multiple occasions, the Liberal blue running thick and fast through her blood.

Don’t wish that on us, God, he’d be useless.”

I was taken aback. I was surprised she’d say that. After all, while she’d never admit it and lets be honest no one would, she’d voted for the government led by Abbott.

Why not,” I said. I was genuinely surprised. I didn’t know that she knew him, but he was the King in Waiting. The Exiled Emperor who would save Australia from the hatred and division that was being inflicted on us.

Because he’s fake as hell. If he ever became PM he’d be just another puppet. He says whatever he has to to get what he wants.”

Hindsight being 20/20 I can now see her point.

So can the majority of the Australian population. In the July election of 2016 the Turnbull Government took an absolute canning and their majority dropped to just 1 seat. Turnbull’s ‘acceptance’ speech that night was one the biggest tantrums I’ve ever seen. The loss of all those seats was a personal slap in the face to the man who is rumoured to have donated $2 million of his own money towards the election campaign.

The Senate, which he had tried to clear out during the double dissolution election, returned even messier than it had been before. Although this time he had the Liberal lite Xenophones and the Liberal Harder than Hard Right Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party which has made life slightly easier.

The man who would be King had found his serfs were in revolt.

But why? What had gone so wrong? The honeymoon period for Turnbull was almost as bad as it was for Abbott. How could that have happened?

It’s really simple. Turnbull proved by his actions that he was a man for which any principle could easily be overthrown. He sold those of us who believed in him down the river for a poisoned chalice and a fancy new robe (well not a fancy new robe but I’m going with the King theme, stick with me).

The Man of the People became the Man of 10,000 words. It didn’t matter what he was talking about. He waffled on and on and on until those listening switched off, eyes glazed and started planning what they were going to have for dinner.

The Lord of Wentworth became Fizza.

  • He sold Marriage Equality down the creek to appease the Hard Right in his party;
  • He sold Climate Change down the creek to appease the Hard Right in his party;
  • With his ‘investigation’ into Safe Schools he sold the LGBT youth of Australian down the creek;
  • Three word slogans reappeared selling away his promise of a mature economic debate;
  • He ran ideas up the flagpole only to dismiss them when they hit the audience and people got upset;
  • He threw a dummy-spit for the ages and dissolved both houses of Parliament because he didn’t get his own way;
  • He made a deal with the Greens that cut tens of thousands of pensioner’s incomes to the bone;
  • He continued with the cancelling Gonski funding while putting no other funding model in place;
  • He continued the Abbott regime’s inhuman offshore processing of refugees;
  • He cut important social services including aged care, dementia care, low income dental; and
  • He talked slogans, not facts. Who can forget the slogan ripped from the American TV Sitcom VEEP, Continuity and Change, or my personal favourite; Jobs and Growth.

He showed the people who he truly was.

Not the carefully constructed image of the cool Granddad in the leather jacket,but the wolf in sheep’s clothing who would say or do anything to have what he felt was rightfully his.

In essence he burnt the country and the country returned the favour in the 2016 election.

Turnbull began with so much good PR is was not contemplated he could burn it this quickly. When he rolled Abbott in 2015 I assumed we were in for another John Howard style reign. A decade or more of him as Prime Minister. A return to the time before Labor got all messy and started changing PM’s at the drop of a hat.

I thought Labor really was stuck forever in the political wilderness. It didn’t matter that they had some good policies. The personality of the party was underwhelming.

Instead they managed to claw back to within a breath of victory on election night.

There are already rumblings in the media that the New Year will see a new Prime Minister. Watching the polls, the very reason Turnbull said he had no choice but to push Abbott out, I can see why the media are getting themselves a bit excited.

But you have to ask if there is anything Turnbull can do to stave off the inevitable.

I have no idea, he’s not who I thought he was. I would suggest being honest with the people. If nothing else it might get them on side, but he’ll ruffle the hard right and that’s only going to lead to more trouble in the long run. I doubt the population would believe a change of heart at this stage. Whatever respect he had is long gone with most of the voters.

The Liberals hate him because he’s viewed as too ‘left’. The Labor voters hate him because he played a lot of them for fools. The Greens voters just plain hate him. The independents were never his core demographic, they vote independent for a reason. The same reason as a teenager I voted for the Australian Democrats. Because they weren’t one of the two major parties.

The only way I can see for Malcolm Turnbull to salvage anything of his reputation is to resign. But who can see that happening. For good or bad he’s made his bed and he needs to lie in it.

However if Australia ends up with Prime Minister Peter Dutton, or Prime Minister Julie Bishop, Turnbull will have only himself to blame. He could have had it all, instead he sold his reputation to the hard right and destroyed it in the process.

It’s a somber end to a political career that held such promise. He has been such a disappointment, not only to those who supported him, but to himself as well I suspect.

His promise, once so great, has proven to be all talk.

While politics is a game, and we all know there needs to be compromise to achieve outcomes, it is one that is played with the lives of the country.

He rolled the dice, now he needs to find out if he’s landed on a snake, or a ladder.


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