Don’t flatten Turnbull, we need to acquire the herd immunity


Don’t end him, don’t mend him, transcend him.

It’s rare, but I agree with the NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean: Malcolm Turnbull should not be expelled from the Liberal Party.

Turnbull should never have been a member of the Liberal Party – I wish Labor had done the decent thing and taken him in in the 1980s – but since he is he should be allowed to stay as such. Sure, the Party, indeed any organisation, has a right to expel members for any number of reasons as defined in its constitution and by-laws; whether it should be exercising that right is another question. Personally, I believe that expelling people is a poor way of dealing with internal problems, particularly for the side of politics that is more committed to free speech and genuine tolerance and diversity, as opposed to the sham leftie versions thereof. Besides, if expelling unsatisfactory former leaders is the way to go, we should have started a long time ago with Malcolm Fraser and John Hewson. Expulsion makes one a martyr, and God knows, we don’t need Malcolm to consider himself even more of one than he already does.

Ignore him instead. This might not make him go away; narcissists and egomaniacs rarely do. But publicity is their oxygen. We can’t – and shouldn’t – stop ABC and other leftie media outlets giving Turnbull airtime, but this merely confirms who his preferred target audience has always been: people who like him but will not vote for him anyway. Nothing has changed; ineffectual and destructive in office, ineffectual and destructive out of it, Malcolm is a ghost that will haunt us only if we allow ourselves to be haunted.

Turnbull has been a mistake in 2008-9 as the opposition leader and he has been a mistake in 2015-18 as the Prime Minister. As he successfully knifed Tony Abbott five years ago, I entertained some hopes that he might have learned a few valuable lessons from his first disastrous stint at the top or that at least, however progressive socially, he would stay focused and strong on the other pillars of Liberal success: strong economic management and cultural optimism. I’m not ashamed to admit that my hopes were naive and misplaced. Like the Bourbons, Malcolm learned nothing and forgot nothing, and then proceeded to waste three years at the top by being the Prime Minister rather than doing the Prime Minister’s job. It would be inaccurate to say that for Malcolm getting the top job was the end rather than a means, because he did have some agenda – it just wasn’t what one could call a principled Liberal Party agenda. And fortunately both the Liberal Party and the opposition have managed to stop most of it. All there was instead was a pretty face and a nice suit. Presentation is important but not a substitute for substance, particularly the right substance.

Matt Kean would disagree with me:

Malcolm Turnbull was a great Liberal prime minister. He delivered same-sex marriage, the greatest social reform of our generation. He left our country safer and more secure. Future generations will be forever grateful for his leadership in creating Snowy Hydro 2.0, a visionary scheme that will help secure affordable, renewable and reliable power for decades to come.

And as we grapple with the economic challenges of COVID-19 we should all be thankful for the sound economic management of the Turnbull government, which placed Australia in a better economic position than any other nation in the OECD to respond and recover from the pandemic.

In other words, once you discard all the vague and fluffy generalities, Malcolm’s one and only achievement in his three years in office is same sex marriage, a boutique issue of limited relevance to most Australians and hardly a Liberal policy priority. Snowy Hydro 2.0 is another brain fart turned white elephant, akin to the NBN and nothing to be grateful for. As for leaving our country “safer and more secure” and the “sound economic management”, this of a Prime Minister of continuing budget deficits and growing government debt who had no interest and no affinity for issues around defence, terrorism and immigration. Instead of a Liberal Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm was for three years an independent Mayor of Wentworth.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and in case of Turnbull he is correct to say that the dysfunctional Abbott-Credlin duumvirate  was one of the main factors in the downfall of the Abbott government (the other being the white anting by Turnbull & Co, of course). Even many of Tony’s supporters had had enough of the micromanagement by the Prime Minister’s Office, where the Chief of Staff acted as if she was both the Deputy Leader and the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Big Brother – or the Big Sister – on top of that. But that’s as far as it goes. Malcolm’s downfall was a mirror image of Abbott’s and an instance of karma coming back to bite him on the ass. That he and his political friends continue to maintain otherwise shows complete hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness, and provides another reason why the Parliamentary Liberal Party was right to dump him.

After the 13 years of Hawke/Keating government and the 12 years of Howard (and unfortunately not enough Costello) government, the subsequent 13 years of Rudd/Gillard/Rudd/Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison seem worse than just a waste of time; they represent a step back and degeneration of what has been the great Australian success story, like something out of Suetonius – the age of Nero and Caligula after the Pax Augusta. Let’s hope that, as in the Ancient Rome, where the Antonine dynasty gave the empire another golden age in the second century AD, we too will see a brighter future with smart and reformists leaders who will repair the damage of the recent lost years and take Australia into the future.

Turnbull is the past. I came neither to praise nor bury him. He has done both himself to himself already.  He never will, but for the rest of us it’s time to move on.