BACK-TWEET DRIVER WAS A MAL-CONTENT
Ex-PM’s staff tell of friction over Turnbull Jr’s policy input
NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR MALCOLM Turnbull’s son was given crucial input into Coalition energy policy while his father was prime minister, it was claimed yesterday.
Alex Turnbull, a prolific tweeter, was invited to join an online strategy group in an attempt to curb his public criticism of policy.
But his subsequent influence in shaping energy policy – and his unelected voice – caused tension among staff in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The Sunday Mail can reveal the outspoken son of the former prime minister was invited to join a private WhatsApp text message group on energy policy shortly after the 2016 election.
From his home in Singapore, where he manages a hedge fund, the 36-year-old Harvard graduate took an active role in the group chatwhere senior advisers and department officials discussed energy policy.
There was no paternal edict that Alex must be obeyed – but Turnbull Jr showed no hesitation in expressing his many opinions.
“For (Alex), energy is obviously a personal interest, but we just thought, ‘ great, now we have to deal with Alex too’,” one former staffer told The Sunday Mail.
“Where does the ripple of opinion stop? Surely there are enough experts, department advisers, political advisers and ministers involved.”
As PM, Mr Turnbull often relied on his close-knit family. Staff said wife Lucy, sonin-law James Brown, daughter Daisy, and even father-in-law Tom Hughes – a former attorney-general – were influential in his decision making.
But staff claim Alex, who followed his father into banking, pushed his way into the inner circle.
Last year Mr Turnbull was under pressure from the Right faction of his party to change the Coalition’s energy policy. He buckled, dumping the Clean Energy Target and adopting the National Energy Guarantee.
The reform was meant to appease the party’s climate change sceptics by guaranteeing dispatchable power while ensuring retailers met emissions reduction requirements.
Staff who worked for both Mr Turnbull and then-energy minister Josh Frydenberg said Alex’s involvement “ramped up” when the policy was being prepared. “We didn’t feel we needed p political advice from A Alex, knowing that it w would also weigh on Malcolm’s decision making,” another WhatsApp group member said.
Much of Alex’s i input centred on the need to increase investment in renewab bles. He also warned of the party’s ignorance on climate change. Few question h his intelligence and knowledge of the energy sector. Indeed, this has become his speciality in his banking career. During a stint at Goldman Sachs, Alex was responsible for buying and selling the debt and assets of energy companies affected by carbon pricing.
The Singapore fund he established in 2015, Keshik Capital, also invests in Australian-listed renewables company Infigen Energy.
Government sources said Alex was invited to join the group shortly after an online gaffe left his father red-faced.
In late 2016 a Facebook post criticising Singapore’s handling of smoke haze surfaced while the city-state’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, visited Australia.
Mr Turnbull was said to be “furious” about the post. Many of his former staff believe the PM invited Alex to join the private energy discussions to keep such criticisms out of the public eye.
Within days of Mr Turnbull’s exit from Canberra in August, Alex declared he would be speaking his mind after years of constraint.
The father-of-two has spent the past 15 weeks defending his father’s legacy and venting about Liberal MPs and climate change.
He even endorsed Labor’s candidate in Wentworth, labelled Tony Abbott “a singularly destructive human being”, and suggested the Liberal Party had been taken over by “extremists”. Labor sources claim he also spoke to officials from that party during the by-election.
But last week he came under fire for a tweet about the sex life of journalist Janet Albrechtsen after she described him as a “sore loser”.
He eventually offered a backhanded apology and deleted the tweet.
ENERGY ‘ADVISER’: Alex Turnbull; and (inset) his Twitter exchange with Janet Albrechtsen.