Alex Turn­bull was well on his way to the in­ner cir­cle when his fa­ther was knifed as Prime Min­is­ter. He’s not let­ting his grip on in­flu­ence go eas­ily, writes An­nika Smethurst

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FEDERAL POLITICS -

PRO­LIFIC tweeter Alex Turn­bull has made it clear he thinks the coal min­ing in­dus­try ex­erts too much in­flu­ence over the Lib­eral Party. But it was an­other form of in­flu­ence — his own un­elected voice — that had gov­ern­ment staff and se­nior bu­reau­crats feel­ing the pres­sure in the fi­nal months of the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment.

The Sun­day Tele­graph can re­veal the out­spo­ken son of Mal­colm Turn­bull was in­vited to join a pri­vate What­sApp group on en­ergy pol­icy shortly af­ter the 2016 elec­tion.

From his home in Sin­ga­pore, where he man­ages a hedge fund, Alex took an ac­tive role in the group chat where 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 him (Alex), en­ergy is ob­vi­ously a per­sonal in­ter­est. But we just thought, great, now we have to deal with Alex too,” one for­mer staffer said. “Where does the rip­ple of opin­ion stop? Surely there is enough ex­perts, depart­ment ad­vis­ers, po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers and min­is­ters in­volved.”

In the 15 weeks since Mal­colm Turn­bull was dumped from of­fice, the fa­mously tem­pes­tu­ous ex-PM has done his fair share of snip­ing. But it is the fury of the wronged son that has re­ally fu­elled the gov­ern­ment’s on­go­ing pain.

Within days of the Au­gust coup, Alex de­clared he would be speak­ing his mind af­ter years of con­straint. The Har­vard grad­u­ate and fa­therof-two has been true to his word, bom­bard­ing a rav­en­ous po­lit­i­cal pub­lic with tweets and in­ter­views in which he de­fends his fa­ther’s legacy, vents about Lib­eral MPs and cli­mate pol­icy, at­tacks com­men­ta­tors he be­lieves pre­cip­i­tated the lead­er­ship spill, and even en­dors­ing La­bor’s can­di­date in the crit­i­cal Went­worth by­elec­tion. Se­nior La­bor sources claim Alex has gone so far as to deal di­rectly with La­bor of­fi­cials dur­ing that cam­paign and in the weeks since.

Last week, the 36-year-old came un­der fire for a vile tweet about the sex life of com­men­ta­tor Janet Al­brecht­sen, a con­ser­va­tive, af­ter she de­scribed him as a “sore loser”. Even­tu­ally he of­fered a back­handed apol­ogy which fur­ther in­sulted Al­brecht­sen, delet­ing the tweet.

Mal­colm Turn­bull made no se­cret dur­ing his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer that he re­lied on the ad­vice and wis­dom of his close-knit fam­ily. Staff said his wife Lucy, son-in-law James Brown, daugh­ter Daisy and even his fa­ther-in-law Tom Hughes — a for­mer at­tor­neygen­eral — were in­flu­en­tial.

But only Alex re­ally pushed into the in­ner cir­cle.

“Mal­colm re­lied on his fam­ily but in the Gon­ski (What­sApp) group we didn’t have Daisy in­volved,” one for­mer staffer said, re­fer­ring to the fact Mr Turn­bull’s daugh­ter Daisy, a teacher, wasn’t con­sulted on ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy.

“It’s one thing to float the bal­loon at a fam­ily BBQ, it’s an­other to have them di­rectly in­volved with the dis­cus­sion.”

In 2017, Mal­colm Turn­bull buck­led to pres­sure to dump the Clean En­ergy Tar­get pro­posed by Chief Sci­en­tist Alan Finkel, and adopt­ing a new en­ergy pol­icy called the Na- tional En­ergy Guar­an­tee (NEG). The re­form was meant to ap­pease cli­mate scep­tics by guar­an­tee­ing dis­patch­able power while cut­ting emis­sions. Staff who worked for both the PM and then-en­ergy min­is­ter Josh Fry­den­berg said Alex’s in­volve­ment “ramped up” when the pol­icy was be­ing pre­pared.

“We didn’t feel we needed po­lit­i­cal ad­vice from Alex, know­ing that it would also weigh on Mal­colm’s de­ci­sion­mak­ing,” an­other What­sApp group mem­ber said.

Much of Alex’s in­put, like

We didn’t feel we needed

pol­icy ad­vice from Alex, know­ing it would also weigh on Mal­colm GOV­ERN­MENT


his re­cent tweets, cen­tred around the need to ramp up in­vest­ment in re­new­able en­ergy. He also warned of the Lib­eral Party’s ig­no­rance on cli­mate change.

Few ques­tion Alex’s in­tel­li­gence and knowl­edge of the en­ergy sec­tor. In­deed, this has be­come his spe­cial­ity in his bank­ing ca­reer.

Dur­ing a stint at global bank Gold­man Sachs the young Turn­bull was re­spon­si­ble for buy­ing and selling the debt and as­sets of en­ergy com­pa­nies af­fected by pric­ing car­bon. The Sin­ga­pore fund he es­tab­lished in 2015, Keshik Cap­i­tal, is also an in­vestor in Aus­tralian-listed re­new­ables com­pany In­fi­gen En­ergy.

One for­mer staffer de­fended Alex’s “strong opin­ions” but said he didn’t in­flu­ence pol­icy. “He ex­pressed his views but I wouldn’t say it was over the top.”

Gov­ern­ment sources said Alex was in­vited to join shortly af­ter an gaffe which em­bar­rassed his dad. In 2016, a Face­book post crit­i­cis­ing Sin­ga­pore pol­lu­tion sur­faced while Sin­ga­pore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong vis­ited Aus­tralia. Alex, lex, us­ing a pseu­do­nym, said aid the Lee gov­ern­ment’s rn­ment’s pol­icy was as “reck­lessly en­dan­ger­ing the health of chil­dren.”

Mal­colm Turn­bull was said to be “fu­ri­ous” about the post, given it caused em­bar­rass­ment dur­ing the visit. Many of Turn­bull’s for­mer staff be­lieve the PM in­vited Alex to join the pri­vate en­ergy dis­cus­sions as a way of try­ing to keep such crit­i­cisms out of the pub­lic eye. But it wasn’t the last.

In March, Turn­bull Jr was drawn into an in­ter­na­tional scan­dal, claim­ing he was side­lined from Gold­man Sachs af­ter he raised con­cerns about the bank’s deal­ing with Malaysian fund One Malaysia Devel­op­ment Ber­had (1MDB). His com­ments came just as PM Turn­bull was pre­par­ing to wel­come Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak to a spe­cial ASEAN sum­mit in Syd­ney. It was an­other tri­umph of tim­ing.

Janet Al­brecht­sen and Lib­eral power­bro­ker Michael Kroger.

Alex Turn­bull, who was get­tingever-closer to power when hisfa­ther was dumped. Pic­ture:Hol­lie Adams

Mal­colm Turn­bull and wife Lucy with daugh­ter Daisy ( left) and grand­chil­dren Aliceand Jack.

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