BACK-TWEET DRIVER WAS A MAL-CON­TENT

Ex-PM’s staff tell of fric­tion over Turn­bull Jr’s pol­icy in­put

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS - ANNIKA SMETHURST

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.

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