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Turnbull:An assessment

April 8th, 2010

The announcement that Malcolm Turnbull will not recontest his seat is a big loss to Australian politics, though maybe not as big as some of his admirers have claimed. He is undoubtedly a man of great ability. But, all in all, I’d rank him below all those who’ve held the office of PM in my adult life (that is, from Whitlam to Rudd). On the other hand, I’d rank him above everyone else in that time who has been seriously mentioned as a possible PM, but hasn’t made it[1].

Looking back, Turnbull did surprisingly well in straight political contests – displacing a well-liked sitting member for Wentworth, forcing his way into the Howard Ministry, taking the Liberal leadership and most startling of all, coming within one vote of retaining it when everyone had written him off. On the other hand, he was far less successful on substantive policy issues, even though he was usually on the right side.

On the Republic, Turnbull and the ARM made the totally mistaken judgement that most Australians love the current system, and that the most saleable republic is one that changes nothing – with a president appointed, in effect, by the PM, just as currently happens with the GG. He managed to push this model through the Convention, thereby falling into a trap laid by Howard. For the average person (including me) the idea that we would throw the Queen over for a President, but then have the President chosen for us by a politician, is just silly.

Turnbull also made a bad misjudgement in taking on the water portfolio. I met him when he was in this job, and it was clear he understood the issues and that, left to himself, his policy line would have been identical with that of Penny Wong. But, with Howard as PM, he got nowhere. Howard’s National Water Plan set Australian water policy back a decade and Rudd and Wong are still trying to clean up the mess. Turnbull was in a strong position, and should have insisted on a free hand before he took the job on.

The Grech fiasco, I guess, could happen to anyone, and a large share of the blame belongs with other Liberals, notably Eric Abetz – Abbott is crazy to put this guy up as Senate leader, but that’s by the way.

Finally, there was the ETS. Turnbull’s decision to cut a deal with the government was strategically correct. Strategically, Abbott’s embrace of climate delusionism is a disaster that will haunt the Liberals for decades, if, indeed, they survive it. No matter how many talking points can be brought up, the fact of climate change will force itself on the attention of even the most wishful thinkers, and those who have denied and delayed will pay a high price. Tactically, however, Turnbull was out of luck. Oppositions are naturally predisposed to oppose, and the failure of the Copenhagen talks to come up with a binding agreement made this look like a winning strategy.

There’s no doubt that he leaves a great gap. Add up everyone whose name I can remember on the Opposition front bench (Abbott, Hockey, Bishop, Truss, Abetz, Robb, Joyce) and put them together. They don’t match Turnbull in ability or capacity to make a serious contribution to policy. For that matter, they don’t match up to any of the leading figures on the Labor side (Rudd, Swan, Gillard, Tanner, Faulkner). Put them all together as a tag team and they’d be a good match for, say, Steven Conroy or Jenny Macklin.

fn1. If you agree with this point, that the set of PMs {Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard, Rudd} absolutely dominates the alternative set {Bury Snedden, Hayden, Peacock, Hewson, Downer, Beazley, Crean, Latham, Nelson, Turnbull, Abbott} as well as the coulda’been contender set {Bjelke-Petersen, Costello, Elliott, B. Bishop, Hanson, maybe some others I’ve forgotten} it looks as if the Australian political process is doing a good job of putting the most able people into the top job.

Further point Taking this exercise back to WWII adds three PMs of exceptional ability (Curtin, Chifley, Menzies), one definitely sub-par (McMahon, who got the job by intrigue, and lost it at the first election he faced) and two (Holt and Gorton) who are hard for me to assess because they served brief terms before I was old enough to worry much about politics. Of those who missed out, Evatt and Barwick were both reminiscent of Turnbull. Calwell was a fair average opposition leader, comparable to the others I’ve listed, but not outstanding.

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  1. conrad
    April 8th, 2010 at 20:45 | #1

    I’m not sure why you’d put him above Hewson. Whether you happen to like Hewson or not, he was pretty smart, had new ideas, wanted to sell ideas and not just populist nonsense, and certainly wasn’t your average lawyer/politician. It was just unfortunate for him that he was up against Keating, who provided extremly tricky opposition.

  2. April 8th, 2010 at 21:13 | #2

    I think Turnbull’s speech supporting an ETS/CPRS was spot on and well in advance of anything put forward by Wong and (by a mile) Rudd.

    Turnbull was a creative, intelligent conservative. His exit from politics is historic and marks a destructive transition of the Liberal Party to the looney, unprincipled right. There are odd parallels with what is now happening to the Republicans in the US.

    The Liberal Party loses with this exit and so too does Australia. Blind opposition to everything is not effective opposition and Tony Abbott is not only not leaving the Coalition wandering blindly but effectively doing the same to Australian politics generally – it is letting Rudd and his poor quality government off the hook.

    Apart from partisan point-scoring the crucial need is for a rebuilding of conservative political forces based on the recognition that the role of being an effective opposition is an important one and an essential precursor to regaining government.

  3. April 8th, 2010 at 21:45 | #3

    I’m curious to know what you have in mind writing ‘Howard’s National Water Plan set Australian water policy back a decade…’
    It may have for all I know, but it did seem to give the issue national focus, and raise the possibility of taking the Murray-Darling Basin administration out of state feifdoms. That was an advance.
    Could you expand on your comment?

  4. Ken Lovell
    April 8th, 2010 at 22:25 | #4

    I anticipate Turnbull following the Hewson path and writing scathing op-eds in the Fin in a few years time, tearing strips off the Liberal leader du jour.

    I don’t agree that Howard was significantly superior to Peacock in anything bar sheer dogged persistence. IMHO Peacock would have made an infinitely better PM.

  5. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 8th, 2010 at 22:27 | #5

    Hewson should have been PM. He had the better policy set and he won the popular vote. I think the fact that he lost that election is one of the most tragic political events of my lifetime. Even Keating respected Hewson.

    In my book Turnbull should have offered income tax cuts funded by a modest, narrow, revenue neutral carbon tax as an alternative to Rudds ETS. It would have been a better policy. It would be tactically sound in political terms. It would let him talk about tax cuts. It would allow him to vote down the ETS. It would also have received some sympathy from the Greens painting the government as the odd man out.

    Ultimately I think Turnbull rose too quickly. He needed more time to cultivate a better set of political instincts. He was a bit too arrogant and tone deaf to the concerns of his party collegues.

    I don’t think Rudd is a particularily good PM. Certainly not as good as Hawke, Keating or Howard.

  6. April 8th, 2010 at 22:49 | #6

    @Ken Lovell

    Hard to say. Less worse as a PM, possibly. Then again, he ran point on screwing over the East Timorese on their oil assets.

  7. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 8th, 2010 at 23:15 | #7

    Ken – The reason Hewson is critical of the Liberal party is because he thinks for himself and leaves the tribalism to others. Party loyalty is an over rated phenomena in Australian politics. Obviously polititians frequently need to be able to compromise and work as part of a team but they don’t need to sell their soul to the party as some form of life long bond. Parties ought to be a means not an ends.

  8. Ken Lovell
    April 8th, 2010 at 23:54 | #8

    Terje I agree completely with your general sentiments but I sensed more than a touch of sour grapes and personal animosity in Hewson’s occasional pieces during the Howard years.

    Fran I think Peacock, whom I knew slightly, was an old-fashioned Victorian Liberal in a good sense of that term. I don’t believe he would have had Howard’s obsession with setting Australians against each other in divisive culture wars and I think his policies on issues like refugees would have been close to Malcolm Fraser’s. I do believe he would have been just as eager as Howard to be the best friend of George W Bush, but I suspect he would have felt the same way about Clinton too.

  9. April 9th, 2010 at 00:13 | #9

    I think I rank Beazley higher than John does. It’s hard to do fair inter-party comparisons I guess. (I certainly prefer Beazley to Howard, but their policy differences are sufficient to account for that preference.) But even compared to other Labor leaders, I think he would have done a good job given the chance.

    In the not too distant possible world where he wins the 98 election (remember he won the 2PP vote quite comfortably) I think he would have been viewed as a good Labor PM. In particular, I think he could have done a much better job than Keating did at managing the issues Keating cared about (the republic, reconciliation, engagement with Asia) without letting his personality get in the way of the desired policy ends. And while Hawke was a force of nature at the start of his term, and would have been had he been PM in the 70s, I thought he didn’t contribute much as the years rolled on, and relied more and more on his team. So if we’re judging politicians on when they had the PM job, rather than over the course of their whole careers, I think Beazley compares well to Hawke as well.

    On a different thread, I wonder whether various state premiers should be included on the Labor side as coulda been contenders. I don’t think Carr would have been a great PM – but I think Wran might have done just as well, or better, than Hawke. Of course, Wran wasn’t squeaky clean, and maybe that would have led to big problems, but I don’t think he’s clearly worse than the leaders Labor ended up with, in the way John’s post suggests.

  10. April 9th, 2010 at 07:58 | #10

    Pr Q said:

    Howard’s National Water Plan set Australian water policy back a decade and Rudd and Wong are still trying to clean up the mess.

    Rudd supported the Howard plan when it came out. He has certainly kept the policy spirit of the plan alive, with the Commonwealth taking the leading role over the states.

    The only “mess” that Rudd has been “cleaning up” was left by recalcitrant state Labor governments. Rudd’s main policy achievement was buying off Victoria’s resistance to Howard’s federal takeover. And nationalising a few rice farm water allocations. Whoopee doo.

    Talk about the “narcissism of small differences”.

  11. April 9th, 2010 at 08:12 | #11

    Pr Q said:

    On the Republic, Turnbull and the ARM made the totally mistaken judgement that most Australians love the current system, and that the most saleable republic is one that changes nothing – with a president appointed, in effect, by the PM, just as currently happens with the GG. He managed to push this model through the Convention, thereby falling into a trap laid by Howard. For the average person (including me) the idea that we would throw the Queen over for a President, but then have the President chosen for us by a politician, is just silly.

    You can hardly blame Turnbull for the republican farce. The political elites wanted a minimalist republic, one that did not rock the boat they were comfortably ensconced in.

    The idea that Howard “laid a trap” for republicans to “fall into” is too laugh. Why lay a trap when your opponents are so eager to shoot themselves in the foot?

    “Most Australians” may not “love the current system” but they are loathe to change it. What have we got, about 8 successful referendums out of 44 proposals. The direct election model would require a massive overhaul of the Constitution: changing the process of obtaining a head of state, re-writing the reserve powers and upgrading the role of the executive. Snow flakes chance in hell.

    And go through all that bother for what outcome? Another moment of symbolic victory for the Wets. It hardly seems worth it.

    The general rule in this country is that policy follows the path of least resistance between elitist interest groups and populist public opinion. The republic is an interesting example of a decision where that path is blocked.

  12. Hal9000
    April 9th, 2010 at 08:16 | #12

    Prof Q said

    …the alternative set {Bury, Hayden, Peacock, Hewson, Downer, Beazley, Crean, Latham, Nelson, Turnbull, Abbott}

    I think perhaps the list should begin with Billy Snedden. Len Bury was the member for Wentworth from the 1950s to 1974, and a minister in various coalition cabinets, but was never an alternative prime minister in this universe.

    D’oh! Fixed now, thanks – JQ. To pick a mote, it was Les Bury, BTW

  13. April 9th, 2010 at 08:37 | #13

    Pr Q said:

    Finally, though, there’s no doubt that he leaves a great gap. Add up everyone whose name I can remember on the Opposition front bench (Abbott, Hockey, Bishop, Truss, Abetz, Robb, Joyce) and put them together. They don’t match Turnbull in ability or capacity to make a serious contribution to policy. For that matter, they don’t match up to any of the leading figures on the Labor side (Rudd, Swan, Gillard, Tanner, Faulkner). Put them all together as a tag team and they’d be a good match for, say, Steven Conroy or Jenny Macklin.

    One has to agree, with Turnbull gone the L/NP front bench is looking remarkably thin on talent. Although Robb was pretty sound, until he drank the Climate Change delusion Kool Aid.

    I daresay anyone with any ability on the Right-wing side of politics is out there making a killing on real estate or the mineral boom.

    The current L/NP’s short fall on talent has has made it look like a candidate for rehab, continually going on short-term political binges at the expense of its long term policy health. Not as bad as the REPs but heading in that direction.

    The parties of the Right should be wary of too much populism. It is good in the general community, wisdom of crowds etc. But it must be constrained by traditional elitism within agencies.

    The L/NP has a race memory of the patriarch (Menzies). The REPs sure miss having guys like Bush I, Scowcroft, Schultz, Baker on-board.

    Not that the current ALP is anything to crow over. The “the leading figures on the Labor side” look good because the L/NP look so bad. None of them were world beaters outside federal ALP politics.

    Rudd-ALP has not done much apart from continue the policies of its predecessors. Benefiting from the same combination of good management (immigration-driven housing boom) and good luck (PRC Inc driven mineral boom).

    ALP governance policy is looking good at the moment because it coasted through the GFC on the top of Howard-Costello’s sound factorial, financial and fiscal policies. Although Rudd did keep his head and did not do anything foolish when the GFC looked bad. So he deserves some credit for passing that mild stress test. (Our banks had no credit-crisis so it was not that bad.)

    And the ALP’s political situation is happy because its benefits from the rusted-on votes of growing portions of the voting population: NESB’s, single mothers and aging baby boomers. So long as national security and cultural identity issues are sleeping dogs lying, these people will vote for the ALP out of allergy for the L/NP regardless of performance. But let the dog whistle be blown…

  14. Hal9000
    April 9th, 2010 at 08:54 | #14

    Oops. Les Bury. More of a plank than a mote. Shame on me.

  15. April 9th, 2010 at 09:11 | #15

    hc@#2 said:

    Turnbull was a creative, intelligent conservative. His exit from politics is historic and marks a destructive transition of the Liberal Party to the looney, unprincipled right. There are odd parallels with what is now happening to the Republicans in the US.

    Yes Harry, its a worry. Whilst I have no partisan sympathies for either ALP or L/NP I want both parties to put up a good competitive team and may the best man win. The ALP is doing that. The L/NP aren’t.

    The collapse in the AUS Right-wing seems to be solely top-down driven, through a party melt-down. There is not much evidence of a sea-change in the bottom-up support base for the Right, apart from the secular decline in rural and regional parties. Although they could try a bit harder to keep their urban bogan base by dropping Work Choices Mk MVIII.

    Perhaps we are overstating the case. Turnbull was only one vote off beating Abbott. I’m sure if the vote was held again he would win. But the L/NP will still lose the next election due to vast impersonal psephologic forces.

    This cannot be said for the Right-REPs in the US, which is suffering from a bottom-up collapse in its voting base. Caused by a fall-off in religious denomination amongst whites and a reduction in white racial identification throughout the whole electorate.

    They will make up some ground, probably not that much, in the 2010 mid-term elections. But Obama will win in 2012. Just as Rudd-ALP will win more strongly in 2010 and again in 2013.

    “Vast impersonal pshephologic forces”. I like that.

  16. April 9th, 2010 at 09:47 | #16

    Of those who missed out, Evatt and Barwick were both reminiscent of Turnbull.

    All barristers, as was Costello. They always sound more impressive than they really are.

    You would have to put Turnbull behind those two, both of whom were capable of running the High Court and pursuing successful political careers.

    In some ways Turnbull’s political failure is to his personal credit. He lacked the Machiavellian skills required to succeed in politics. He also lacked the Menzies-Whitlam “man of destiny” self-belief, again probably a good thing as that is only needed once in a generation, during a crisis.

    But the AUS political economy seems incredibly robust, almost impervious to crisis. (Although the realty and mineralty base are vulnerable to severe ecologic and economic shocks.)

    Without crises we have little need for heroic leaders. The modernist era was a time of giants. We should get used to the fact that the post-modern phase of history is a time when midgets rule the earth.

    This goes in politics, military, art, finance, science, you name it every sphere of human endeavor. (Except sport, perhaps. But even then Tiger Woods has come crashing down.)

    “No more heroes anymore.

    The Stanglers.

  17. April 9th, 2010 at 10:35 | #17

    Jack Strocchi@#15 misstated:

    But the L/NP will still lose the next election due to vast impersonal psephologic forces.
    This cannot be said for the Right-REPs in the US, which is suffering from a bottom-up collapse in its voting base. Caused by a fall-off in religious denomination amongst whites and a reduction in white racial identification throughout the whole electorate.

    Correction, strike out “cannot” and replace with “can” in the second par. Both the REPs and the L/NP are suffering from a bottom-up diminution of their demographic base.

    But the REPs are taking it rather badly, going by their political implosion cf David Frum’s chequered career. The L/NP seems to be going out with a whimper, rather than a bang.

    The REPs are losing their Christian religious denomination and the US is slowly losing its Caucasian racial identification. The Tea-Party goers are the political death rattle of the historic American nation.

    The L/NP has not gone quite that far down that track, but it is heading there. Mostly because demographic change has been slower in this country, due to a more controlled immigration policy and the dogged resistance of private religious schools.

    Still, the L/NP can no longer rely on its traditional ESB voting base: quarter-acre block “forgotten people”, Womens Weekly-reading married Moms, RSL monarchist geezers, scone-baking CWA, the Established Churchs. All the people who were initially targeted by Humphries with Dame Edna. Of course Humphries re-calibrated his satirical sights when the New Class took over the reigns.

    Its worthwhile quoting Menzies on the original “white-picket fence” basis of the L/NP, which is now looking more and more like a faded sepia picture in the national photo album:

    I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race.

    The material home represents the concrete expression of the habits of frugality and saving “for a home of our own.” Your advanced socialist may rave against private property even while he acquires it; but one of the best instincts in us is that which induces us to have one little piece of earth with a house and a garden which is ours; to which we can withdraw, in which we can be among our friends, into which no stranger may come against our will.

    It seems as if our future (not mine, thank God) is now going to be one of mega-city rabbit hutch style accommodation. With the “forgotten people” exiled to the McMansioned ex-urbs.

    Possible candidates for replacing the L/NP voting base are mostly Today-Tonight watching suburban bogans, get-rich-quick inner-city coupe types or another outburst of rural-regional populism. Not exactly the stuff of ideological mythology.

  18. O6
    April 9th, 2010 at 11:31 | #18

    Jack Strocchi @11 got it almost right about the minimal change republic; the point was to get rid of the monarchy. How Australians can want a foreigner to be head of state is beyond me, especially from a country that demands one get a visa for anything more than a fleeting tourist visit. How we can want an hereditary head of state is also not easy to understand.
    If people had understood that we would indeed keep the still functional Westminster/responsible government system but get rid of the foreign monarch and the hereditary principle, and that this was only a first step, they might have voted differently. Probably not; Jack’s other points about referenda in general (especially the need for bipartisan support) and Australian unthinking conservatism are correct.
    During the convention and the republic campaign one constantly heard that we wanted a directly elected president, just like the USA. In fact, the USA doesn’t have a directly elected president, as Bush’s defeat of Gore showed, but never mind the facts…
    So I think PrQ’s statement “For the average person (including me) the idea that we would throw the Queen over for a President, but then have the President chosen for us by a politician, is just silly.” is just silly. It ignores the point of the whole convention and referendum.

  19. April 9th, 2010 at 12:02 | #19

    Pr Q said:

    it looks as if the Australian political process is doing a good job of putting the most able people into the top job.

    True enough. After all the Queen, probably the most able of the lot, remains the Head of State.

    More generally our conservative polity has turned out to be the biggest blessing in disguise. Most of the new fangled governance ideas thrown up from the mid-century onwards did not turn out to be such a good idea after all. Christopher Hitchens, the Boston Consulting Group and Harvard Business School notwithstanding.

    So the combination of antiquated constitution, two-party duopoly and tall-poppy lopping voting population has served us well.

    Thats why I am apprehensive about the slow-motion car-wreck that is the current L/NP. I dont like to think that the fate of the country rests in the hands of ALP factional heavyweights and bag-men of the Richo-Burke-Conroy-Arbib type.

  20. PeterS
    April 9th, 2010 at 12:16 | #20

    I really don’t like the idea of an elected president. That would give all the emotional (patriotic) focus and the primary political power to one person – that doesn’t work in the USA. For one thing it impedes rational assessment of the President’s performance.

    Perhaps the Australian of the Year should be appointed to be the Presidential Figurehead?

  21. O6
    April 9th, 2010 at 12:42 | #21

    Nice idea. The list is here
    http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/recipients/?action=list&type=2&cat=0
    .
    1967, 1991 and 2002 particularly.

  22. James Farrell
    April 9th, 2010 at 13:05 | #22

    ‘Tactically, however, Turnbull was out of luck.’

    If Turnbull had a deficiency that kept him out of John’s top stratum of leaders, and it wasn’t a failure of analysis or courage, wasn’t it his inability to keep potentail allies on side? The leadership ballot in November was a very, very close thing, and it seems clear that if only he had been just a bit less arrogant in his personal approach to a few wavering Liberal colleagues — the ones who cared more about party unit than climate change — at least a couple of votes would have gone the other way. When the crunch came, Turnbull made his own bad luck. His lack of senssitivity undid what would otherwise have been a great achievement in dragging his party out of its reactionary malaise.

  23. Alex
    April 9th, 2010 at 13:54 | #23

    O6 :Nice idea. The list is herehttp://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/recipients/?action=list&type=2&cat=0.1967, 1991 and 2002 particularly.

    I actually wet myself.

  24. Katz
    April 9th, 2010 at 15:03 | #24

    Grech killed Turnbull.

    Turnbull propelled himself headlong into a carer-ending fiasco.

    A pretender to national leadership must avoid pitfalls like that if he is to have any credibility as an effective leader. Turnbull flunked.

    Decency and enlightened views are nice accessories in a leader. Cunning is an essential.

  25. April 9th, 2010 at 15:43 | #25

    For the average person (including me) the idea that we would throw the Queen over for a President, but then have the President chosen for us by a politician, is just silly.

    And frankly, speaking as a leftist, I couldn’t even see the marginal utility to working people that Australia calling itself a republic instead of a Commonwealth would yield. Isn’t the US both? Why do I care what nationality the figurehead of state is? Appeals to the Privy Council stopped in 1975, so there’s no longer even the notional possibility of some Australian legal question being determined in the UK –not that that would bother me all that much anyway. There were and remain far more important things.

    I don’t even see why a head of state is necessary at all. Why can’t we just say that the PM exercises all of the HOS functions? Apart from the farce of November 1975, which partly reflected this relic of 1901, this is how it works in practice.

    As to Turnbull himself, he only looks bright because his peers were so dim. I don’t see his departure as a loss to public policy.

  26. April 9th, 2010 at 16:28 | #26

    Fran Barlow :

    And frankly, speaking as a leftist, I couldn’t even see the marginal utility to working people that Australia calling itself a republic instead of a Commonwealth would yield.

    What about the sense of self worth and identity that comes from being in control of your own affairs, symbolically and actually?

  27. April 9th, 2010 at 16:29 | #27

    Still can’t figure out simple coding – Apologies.

  28. April 9th, 2010 at 16:58 | #28

    @Foib

    What about the sense of self worth and identity that comes from being in control of your own affairs, symbolically and actually?

    I already have as much of that as is consistent with being a middle class person living in a capitalist society. I can’t imagine workingclass people will get any more of it if the ruling class starts referring to its state as republican.

    Symbolism is not nothing, but even when it is something, it needs to be a worthwhile something. I’d sooner be part of a socialist federation in which HOS functions might be execised by anyone within the federation than part of a capitalist society in which the HOS could produce local papers proving citizenship.

    And nationalism is at best bunkum anyway.

    One person’s uplifting symbol is another’s sad joke it seems.

  29. rog
    April 9th, 2010 at 17:13 | #29

    Thats a fair assessment JQ – Turnbull’s resignation was a big loss to Australian politics and the conservative collective IQ went down by at least 50%.

    A small point, you have two x “finally”

    Fixed this now, thanks

  30. Stephen L
    April 9th, 2010 at 17:20 | #30

    Given how much luck there is in the timing of becoming leader I’m surprised at the assessment that every PM has been better than every alternative. (Certainly this is not the case in terms of ethics, or benefit to the nation but I realise you’re talking about ability).

    I suspect that the act of winning makes many people look better in hindsight than being in opposition. Before he became PM Howard didn’t come across as particularly able – his career to that point had been less than stellar. Likewise, had Rudd become leader in 2003 he might well have lost the 2004 election (although by less than Latham) and might now be a footnote in history judged not to have been particularly politically adept. Perhaps some who lost would look much better if the timing had favoured them – Turnbull probably more than most.

  31. jquiggin
    April 9th, 2010 at 17:26 | #31

    @Stephen L
    I always rated Howard as highly able, from the 80s onwards. He lasted long enough for his luck to change from unreasonably bad (eg Joh for PM) to unreasonably good (Tampa + S11)

  32. Peter Evans
    April 9th, 2010 at 23:09 | #32

    @Fran Barlow
    Nice summary Fran. I think exactly the same thing. I can’t, deep down, even stomach the idea of the nation state. It’s just a bloody accident, and I feel profoundly sorry for all the people that get worked up over the idea of “our” country and “their” country (the world over).

  33. BilB
    April 10th, 2010 at 11:18 | #33

    I have many issues with calling Whitlam a great leader. He was no doubt a great orator, but a great thinker..uh, great strategist…uhh, great deliverer…nuhhh.

    An example (one of many). My sister was a signals officer at an Australian Army listening station in Singapore during the Vietnam war. Gough Whitlam felt a need to talk about this base publicly. Everybody knew that the base was there, especially the Singaporeans. But as long as nobody talked about it as though it was there it could be denied. But when Australia’s Prime Minister publicly aknowledged the presence of such a base it could no longer be denied. 2 weeks later the base was gone. Is this the doings of a great thinker, a great strategist? Nuhh. Did he last the distance? Nope. Great? Only in some peoples minds.

  34. April 10th, 2010 at 13:45 | #34

    Ken Lovell :
    I anticipate Turnbull following the Hewson path and writing scathing op-eds in the Fin in a few years time, tearing strips off the Liberal leader du jour.
    I don’t agree that Howard was significantly superior to Peacock in anything bar sheer dogged persistence. IMHO Peacock would have made an infinitely better PM.

    Though not quite down the same road as say, Latham ;)

  35. April 10th, 2010 at 13:50 | #35

    The Liberal party in Australia and other conservative parties such as the Republicans have effectively sealed their own demise, viz your comment John:

    “…Finally, there was the ETS. Turnbull’s decision to cut a deal with the government was strategically correct. Strategically, Abbott’s embrace of climate delusionism is a disaster that will haunt the Liberals for decades, if, indeed, they survive it. No matter how many talking points can be brought up, the fact of climate change will force itself on the attention of even the most wishful thinkers, and those who have denied and delayed will pay a high price. Tactically, however, Turnbull was out of luck. Oppositions are naturally predisposed to oppose, and the failure of the Copenhagen talks to come up with a binding agreement made this look like a winning strategy…”

    Having gained a the support of a small, but vocal segment of the electorate (climate sceptics/agnostics/deniers), they’ve committed themselves to a position in opposition to the science and growing body of evidence that climate change is taking place. What the conservatives will look like in 10 years is any one’s guess.

    The politics of climate change are going to radically transform political parties over the coming decades as we move from mitigation to adaption strategies.

  36. Chris Warren
    April 10th, 2010 at 16:42 | #36

    @BilB

    By any chance did you notice that Whitlam’s policy was to withdraw from Vietnam.

    Why wouldn’t the closure of an Australian foreign military installation associated with Vietnam be consistent with this and therefore perfectly normal.

    If everybody knew the base was there what is the point of denial?

    Maybe denial is the problem?

  37. BilB
    April 10th, 2010 at 17:10 | #37

    Chris, the base was keeping people alive by learning in advance where risks were being established. Its simple logic, you don’t eliminate your support structures until you don’t need them any more. I wonder how many extra Aussies died because that intelligence source was dismantled prematurely.

    I’ve got lots of issues with Whitlam, as I’m sure do others. Remember that Balibo thing, and the big hush up. Another great Whitlam strategy.

  38. Donald Oats
    April 10th, 2010 at 17:19 | #38

    Turnbull’s effort was streets ahead of Lord Downer’s time as opposition leader…that was cringe-worthy, but bloody funny watching certain Liberal journalists running around in circles trying to put a good look on it before hatchetting Downer. At least Downer got being a possible prime minister out of his system early on, I guess.

  39. Chris Warren
    April 10th, 2010 at 17:38 | #39

    @BilB
    Yes

    There are far more concerns over E Timor. And all the files have not been released.

    However any alternative to Whitlam would have been worse.

    Whitlam’s 73-75 goverment was far more inspiring and achieved more than Rudd could ever dream of.

    I suspect no Australians died as a result of closing the Singapore station, as all deaths have been recorded and, if so, this issue would be in the literature.

    But all this depends on the date of decommissioning – plus whatever other arrangements were put in place for the residual function (whatever that was).

    So lets blame Whitlam for what he should be blamed for.

  40. BilB
    April 11th, 2010 at 00:43 | #40

    Quite so, Chris.

  41. Tapen Sinha
    April 11th, 2010 at 07:03 | #41

    I remember meeting him once in 1990
    when he was a partner of Whitlam Turnbull.

    He said the most useful thing he learned
    in his life was not Sydney or Oxford. The
    most useful skill for him was how to touch
    type.

    Tapen

  42. ewe2
    April 13th, 2010 at 16:56 | #42

    I think the voters of Wentworth are owed a better explanation than they got. As someone who spent 20 years and more money than most of us will ever see to get into a club whose rules he didn’t bother to learn and then quit the moment Turnbull PM became a distant reality, Malcolm justly failed as a politician and the only question we should ask is why he wasted everyone’s time. Nice bloke, shame about the lack of application. No doubt he has a genuine desire to serve the community when his interests match but he failed to do what even numbnuts like Wilson Tuckey can manage when it didn’t, and that just comes with the territory, no politician gets a say in which issues they deal with.

    Is he yet a loss? Well yes, in a public relations way for the Coalition, but in getting anything done, it’s clear he was a disaster, so in the long run, no. And he wouldn’t have lasted a second in Caucus had he joined the ALP. Perhaps he’ll be of more value to the commentariat!

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