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The New Man in the Top Job
30 / 11 / 2015
By Kerry-Anne Walsh
Malcolm Turnbull bounded into the job of Prime Minister with the enthusiasm of someone who’d been waiting a very long time for it.
Which, sildenafil of course, try he had.
After he lost the Opposition leader’s job to Tony Abbott in December 2009, remedy Turnbull recognised he had a number of skills to acquire if he was ever going to make it back to the Liberal leadership, let alone the Lodge.
He had to learn a few tricks: how not to be headstrong; how to remain committed to his beliefs and develop a centrist policy vision for Australia, without alienating the extremists in his party; and how to breathe deeply and cultivate the excruciating art of patience.
The first two skills were essential for Turnbull to craft himself as a modern liberal leader, acceptable to the disparate churches within his own Party and to the broad sweep of voting Australia.
Learning patience was just as important. Within most leadership aspirants, no matter how noble their aspirations, lurks an overblown ego busting to get out.
And impatience – to become Prime Minister, to stamp his own mark on the country’s future, to be seen as the superior intellect in parliament – had been one of Turnbull’s near-fatal political flaws.
But when you want something desperately enough, you do what it takes.
Turnbull ticked off everything on his must-do list, reclaimed the Liberal leadership and grabbed Parliament House’s premier suite, all in one swift and emphatic move.
His goal to turn an inward-looking Australia into an outward, savvy nation has – so far – struck a chord with the public.
Image: Sydney Morning Herald (Photographer Rob Homer)
Two months on from his ascension to the top job, the fickle barometers of public sentiment, the published opinion polls, continue to improve for the new PM, leaving Opposition Leader Bill Shorten coughing in the dust of Turnbull’s tracks.
The PM’s joy is matched in equal measure by Shorten’s pain.
The Opposition Leader – caustically referred to privately by some Laborites as Short ‘n Thick – was never preferred by voters; Abbott just made him look good. Voters hated him less than they hated Abbott, which is never a reliable platform for winning office.
With Turnbull in the chair, Shorten’s descent into the popularity doldrums – like watching a paper plane on an agonisingly slow downward wind gust – has been depressing viewing for Labor MPs hoping against rational hope that Abbott would remain as PM.
So the question that’s the hot dinner conversation topic is: what to do with Bill?
Thanks to Emperor Rudd, it’s tough to barrel a Labor leader in a parliamentary term.
When he was hoping to rule for evermore, or at least until the rest of the world realised a dictatorship had taken root in Australia, Rudd convinced Cabinet to change the rules to ensure a Labor PM or Opposition Leader couldn’t easily be overthrown, competence or madness be damned.
The Rudd rule decrees that a Labor Prime Minister can only be removed if 75 per cent of caucus members agree to force a ballot; 60 per cent, for an Opposition Leader.
The rule was announced on July 8 2013, eleven days after Rudd and his buddies had returned him to the prime ministerial chair after three toxic years destroying Julia Gillard and her government.
So until the election’s over, Shorten will remain at the helm. Even if there was appetite to change the rules and switch now, the general wisdom is there’s no point burning any more young leaders.
For barring insanity, corruption findings or any other malady that can afflict politicians striking down Turnbull, the result after next year’s election will be a coalition Government.
And it will be the man, not love for the coalition he leads, that will clinch the victory.
Labor would be unwise if it ignored the evidence that it isn’t only conservatives who have fallen for the new bloke.
I’d love a dollar for every time someone has told me recently they know a rusted-on ALP voter who, ‘for the first time ever’, will vote for the Coalition ‘because of Malcolm’.
There is, after all, a reddish heart beating in that blue blood body. Despite feeble denials from both sides, old-timers whisper how he tried to become a Labor player back in the day but factional hacks rebuffed him.
These days, though he’s careful how he goes about revealing the more progressive bits of his policy agenda, he’s gradually dragging the Liberal Party back to the centre.
Sometimes, though less now than in his pre-PM days, he sounds quite the pinko next to the crusty old Labor warriors who eschew same sex marriage and other libertarian ideas.
And his small ‘l’ liberal pitch that he offers respite from Abbott can’t-do politics and Rudd thought-bubble policy-making has been received by voters of all hues as hungrily as rain on a drought-affected paddock.
So where’s Wally – sorry, Billy, as a wave of affection carries the new PM into the election year?
Like shouting into a strong headwind, Shorten struggles to be heard. Labor, collectively, is struggling to be heard; voters appear tuned to another channel.
The portents for Shorten’s longevity in the job, therefore, are not good.
Cue again to that dinner chit-chat: post-election, who’ll step up, be pushed, or dragooned by their faction to stand for the Opposition Leader’s job?
While there’s barely a bloke on Labor’s frontbench that wouldn’t modestly point to themselves as the next best thing, there’s usually just one word uttered out in the real world.
Would she dare? And would Labor step up and unite behind another woman, after many of them helped maul Julia into an early political death?
Many of us hope so: she has an accurate moral compass, intellectual and policy savvy, magnificent people values and skills. Australia should be so lucky to have such an Opposition Leader.
Or Prime Minister, one day.
Kerry-Anne Walsh worked in the federal parliamentary press gallery for 25 years, up until 2009. She wrote the best-selling The Stalking of Julia Gillard, and runs her own Canberra-based media consultancy, KA Communications.