December 5th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Well designed same-sex marriage law no solution

CANBERRA OBSERVED Kidman hectares to stay in local hands ... for now

EDITORIAL How to respond to Islamic State's latest outrages

OPINION What's left if Malcolm is in the middle?

LIFE ISSUES Feminists, conservatives unite against surrogacy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull government is not serious about defence

HISTORY Geography the great shaper of Taiwan

PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS Green ideology balances illogic with contradiction

SOCIETY Cultural displacement and the new terrorism

PUBLIC POLICY Cannabis for R&D has precedent in poppy trade

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Swedish daycare: paradigm or cautionary tale? Part I

CINEMA Not your average psychopath: James Bond: Spectre

BOOK REVIEW Fantastical Four


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What's left if Malcolm is in the middle?

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, December 5, 2015

My father and maternal grandfather were both Liberal politicians and founding members of the Liberal Party, my father being briefly premier of Western Australia and later a senator. I have been a Liberal state candidate twice.

Malcolm Turnbull in a playful moment.

It gives me no pleasure to see the party I have supported for many years led by a man, Malcolm Turnbull, who seems motivated by nothing but opportunism.

At the very least, his coming to power and the manner in which it was accomplished, has inflicted deep wounds on the party which John Howard made a point of emphasising had united Australia’s liberal and conservative traditions. It may even lead to a split, with the party hiving off the defeated faction, as anti-communists were expelled from the ALP in 1955. Such a split would be disastrous for the nation, even more than the 1955 split was disastrous for Labor.

Early turn left

One can probably pass over Turnbull’s juvenile leftism, such as his hero-worship of NSW Labor premier Jack Lang. Many people flirt with leftism in youth but abandon it with maturity.

At the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, Turnbull naturally supported the Labor prime minister, writing in part before the election: “Another option that Kerr (sic) should have explored before he dismissed the prime minister was to tell Whitlam that there had to be an election and give him the choice of going into it as prime minister or as leader of the opposition.

“Whether or not Kerr (sic) was obliged to do that constitutionally, and I believe he was, the dictates of common courtesy alone would have made it proper.”

Sir John Kerr was, of course, not obliged to do so. The extent of the Reserve Powers is not justiciable and they would be meaningless otherwise. Had Sir John done as Turnbull here suggests, Whitlam would have been able to dismiss him, a prescription for, in the worse case, civil war.

Turnbull continued, in what must be one of the most embarrassing passages in political writing ever: “When Game (sic) sacked Lang he did so only after public opinion had swung almost entirely against the Lang government. Consequently, Game’s (sic) action was vindicated in political terms by the landslide victory of the anti-Labor forces at the resulting election.

“Kerr (sic) is in an entirely different situation to Game. Here public opinion has been moving steadily in favour of the Labor Party. Unless Australians are unusually confident in vice-regal wisdom it is likely that the dismissal will provoke even more support for the Labor Party.”

In 1976 he told radio broadcaster David Dale that he wanted to be prime minister by the age of 40. When Dale asked: “For which party?” he replied, significantly: “It doesn’t matter.”

Writing for The Bulletin in December 1977, “Time for Sir Garfield to sail away“, Turnbull calls for the resignation of the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, for being too politically conservative.

In the same article Turnbull expressed support for radical left-wing activist Lionel Murphy, a former attorney-general in the Whitlam government, notorious for his raid on ASIO and for even more murky matters. He is reported to have said one of his motives in writing the destructive Family Law Act was to help destroy Christianity in Australia. I was at law school at the time. My own lecturer, certainly no conservative himself, told us that Murphy’s judgements were considered by the profession worthless and a disgrace.

On February 7, 1978, writing in The Bulletin on “The vicious world of student politics”, Turnbull attacked the conservative Sydney University Student Representative Council member as follows: “The leading light of the right-wingers in NSW is 20-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS [The Australian Union of Students, then under extreme left control] in The Australian, and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve. … While he can win support from students because of the shocking state of affairs in AUS, he cannot take the next step because of his conservative moral views.”

Again in The Bulletin, of November 4, 1986, Turnbull again praised Murphy. Turnbull said history would look kindly on Murphy’s achievements when his critics were forgotten “because of their insignificance”.

Turnbull cannot be criticised for accepting the brief to act in the Spycatcher trial: barristers must accept any client, and there is a suspicion that the British government was not unhappy about its revelations being published anyway. But in his account of the event later he again showed his politics by extravagant praise of Whitlam, allegedly a “living legend” and “much-loved elder statesman” who “compares so favourably to his drab successor, the Liberal Malcolm Fraser”. Strange words for a future Liberal prime minister (this was before Fraser went left in his dotage).

Political fervour

At the launching by Whitlam of his book on the Spycatcher trial, Turnbull actually referred to Whitlam as “The Redeemer”.

In November 1988, Turnbull became a director of AusFlag, an organisation dedicated to changing the Australian flag; again, strange behaviour for a Liberal leader.

In December of the same year the Labor government of Western Australia hired Turnbull as a financial adviser. He praised the then Labor premier, Peter Dowding, for his “strength of character” and, according to veteran WA political reporter Peter Kennedy, advised Labor premier Carmen Lawrence not to hold a royal commission into the miasma of corrupt deals known as WA Inc. Turnbull says he and Dowding had a “warm personal friendship”, and Turnbull later described Dowding as “a very dear friend”. Turnbull’s choice of friends is his own affair, but once again …

The defeat of the republic referendum in every state and the Northern Territory, gave rise to an hysterical outburst, suggesting a personality that could not cope with defeat or rejection and, rather alarmingly, identifying himself with “The nation”: “Whatever John Howard achieves, history will remember him for only one thing. He was the prime minister who broke the nation’s heart.”

Leftward ho! again

Turnbull, despite Liberal Party endorsement (by a majority of only 18 votes), actually moved further to the left and to cooperation with the Labor Party with the passage of time. His undermining of first Brendan Nelson and then Tony Abbott had barely a fig leaf of disguise.

On November 28, 2007, one day before the leadership ballot, Turnbull went on ABC Radio National, hosted by Fran Kelly. Without consulting the party room, Turnbull made a unilateral pronouncement that John Howard was wrong in not apologising to the so-called “Stolen Generations”, and gratuitously insulted Howard by agreeing that he himself had a “more generous” leadership style. As a politician, a journalist and a lawyer, he should have had enough skill with words to avoid making such a divisive statement if he did not wish to be destructive of party unity:

“Fran Kelly: In the past sometimes John Howard’s leadership was described as mean and tricky. Would you describe yours, if you were Liberal leader, as more generous?

“Turnbull: Very much so.”

On the ABC’s Lateline program, host Tony Jones asked Tony Abbott about Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal leadership:

“Is the party ready for a socially progressive small-L liberal, whose policy positions are barely distinguishable from the Labor Party’s? … Here is the Turnbull agenda …”

Captains call

Overlooking a good deal, and moving ahead to November 24, 2009, we find our hero, as leader, attending a Liberal party room meeting at which all MPs give speeches on the emissions trading scheme (ETS).

Most MPs spoke against it because of its potentially disastrous effect on jobs, industry and the nation’s economic strength, and it had not been shown that it would have any good effects. Turnbull made a “leader’s call” to continue supporting it. Stories later emerged of Turnbull verbally abusing colleagues in the meeting.

Three days later there were mass resignations from the frontbench. Turnbull on ABC radio publicly attacked the conservatives who had resigned. Meanwhile, the Labor party praised Turnbull for his cooperation.

Julia Gillard said: “I would like to pay tribute to Mr Turnbull. Mr Turnbull has been acting constructively, in the nation’s interests, on this matter.”

On November 29, 2009, in an interview with Laurie Oakes on Channel Nine’s Today show, Turnbull, apparently in need of a Bex, a cup of tea and a good lie down, attacked Liberal Senate leader Nick Minchin in terms that combined disloyalty with wrong-headedness:

“The climate change war that Nick Minchin and his wreckers have started, will continue to destroy the Liberal Party until such time as we are destroyed by Kevin Rudd in an election … If Nick Minchin wins, if he wins this battle, he condemns our party to irrelevance … If we put the party back together, in accordance with Nick Minchin’s wishes, then we will end up becoming a fringe party of the far right.”

This was rich coming from one whose Newspoll approval figures as leader of the opposition had never reached 30 per cent and often not 20 per cent.

One commentator remarked: “In giving such an interview, Turnbull is desperately trying to protect the emissions trading scheme, and his leadership, by sabotaging any future Liberal Party leader who would oppose the scheme. So fanatical is Turnbull that he would rather see the Liberal Party destroyed than be led and controlled by anyone other than him.”

On August 12, 2010, Turnbull spoke at an event supporting zero carbon emissions, which was positively written up in the extremist Green Left Weekly. It is hard to know which is the worst interpretation of this: that he was prepared cynically to climb aboard this bandwagon of astrologers, cranks, Marxists and scientific ignoramuses for electoral advantage; or that he actually believed in it.

I have recently had a couple of stories published in Quadrant Online dealing with an unscrupulous mythical Ancient Roman politician called Narcissus Turncoatius. For some reason some people have identified this as pointing at Turnbull.

That is quite unfair. He has not turned his coat – on the contrary he has been consistent to what must be called his principles. They are just not the principles of most of the people in the party he now leads and to which I and my family were once proud to belong.

If the founders of the party now spinning in their graves could be hitched up to turbines, Australia’s clean energy problem might be solved.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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