Richard Fer­gu­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

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