Whatever happened to Malcolm Turnbull? It’s more than a year since the Prime Minister took office in the most dramatic fashion, but the days of a 68 per cent approval rating are far behind him. Tony Abbott is restless on the backbench, the latte sippers think Turnbull broke their hearts, the Senate is a zoo and the so-called delcon hard conservatives despise him. It makes you wonder if the coup in September last year was for anyone. Well, Peter van Onselen, a contributing editor to this newspaper, and his regular collaborator Wayne Errington are wondering the same thing. The academic duo has worked together on several book-length quickies about our recent political history. The Turnbull Gamble follows Turnbull from the day he dethroned Abbott to the Pyrrhic victory of election night this year. A lot of it may seem like old news but this book provides a handy guide to the past 14 months in federal politics.
At the heart of The Turnbull Gamble is the question of the Liberal Party and the nature of Australian conservatism. Most people would probably divide the nation’s ruling party into a moderate faction led by Turnbull and a conservative one led by Abbott. Van Onselen and Errington show it’s not quite that simple.
Turnbull’s leadership push succeeded because it was led by members of the Liberal Right such as John Howard’s former chief of staff Arthur Sinodinos and Victorian right-winger Mitch Fifield (who had helped tumble Turnbull as opposition leader over his support of Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme). The authors think it’s Turnbull’s friends more than his enemies who are pushing him to the right.
Yes, Turnbull supports gay marriage and believes in climate change. But it was his opposition to Rudd’s refugee policies that would evolve into Abbott’s “stop the boats” mantra and his opposition to the second stimulus package that would form the basis of the Coalition’s “debt and deficit disaster” chant. Van Onselen and Errington provide a convincing portrait of a somewhat traditional Liberal leader, one that may surprise both the lefties still pining for the Mal who used to wear leather jackets on the ABC’s Q&A and the Abbott supporters who think he’s a Trotskyite.
Van Onselen and Errington provide a few flashbacks to Turnbull’s time as opposition leader from 2008 to 2009 where he was The Turnbull Gamble By Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington MUP, 200pp, $29.99