(Image via abc.net.au)

Are we to feel sorry for Malcolm Turnbull – a man with a net worth of $200 million who went to Sydney Grammar – or recognise the political desperation? Either way, he's not PM material, writes David Tyler.

SIGNS of desperation are appearing as the Coalition passes the halfway mark in its double or nothing two month campaign gamble, which so far is failing to pay off.

Labor is level-pegging in the polls while Shorten is ever more popular, however much they rubbish him. And no one is buying its great big national economic plan of tax cuts that will fix everything.

Saddled with a superannuation policy it can't explain and an unfunded $50 billion business handout it can’t sell, an economic plan which simply will not work, its popularity tumbling, the Coalition is resorting to cheap tricks and stunts.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has trumped his recent falling into his own black hole trick with an even more embarrassing performance exposing “Shorten’s war on business” and his use of “tax as bullets” — a puerile pantomime replete with daft charts, on a day reserved for the repatriation of remains of soldiers who had died in Vietnam.

Not to be outdone, Nationals Deputy Leader Fiona Nash, whose last campaign was photographed with “Ditch the Witch” anti-Gillard posters, has attacked a “prehistoric” Bill Shorten for claiming that women do most of the work when it comes to organising childcare. 

Yet all this appears reasonable compared to the PM’s crying poor. Millionaire Malcolm Turnbull, whose father was a hotel broker, the boy who was a scholarship student at elite Sydney Grammar, is now posing as a battler from a broken home — a pitch the mainstream media suggest is a bid for the women’s vote, although they may be confusing his emotive plea with his recent claim to be a feminist.

Or are we being asked to accept that his wretched childhood will cause women to rush to mother him? Never mind that he’s a weak and indecisive political Walter Mitty. whose pipe dreams of innovation and agility are no substitute for policy or leadership, we must all take pity on poor little Malco for his dreadful suffering. Whatever the aim, it’s emotional baloney.

Turnbull’s a mug if he thinks we are that gullible. He may well have been unhappy when his mother left and who knows the suffering he went through? The feelings of abandonment. The rejection. No-one would dispute his real loss. Or the pain that may well continue to this day, to say nothing of the damage caused to his self-esteem and his sense of well-being. But just how does wearing his hurt on his sleeve make him any more electable?

In ways he may not understand or welcome, Turnbull is doing voters a favour by tearing up on camera and posting videos of his days with Bruce, his father and his best mate. His behaviour is far more eloquent, more revealing than four weeks of tedious campaign rhetoric of jobs, growth and innovation. His pleading sounds the alarm in even the most sympathetic voter. This is no way to get elected prime minister.

What are we to make of a man prepared to trade his unhappy childhood in a last-ditch plea for sympathy or anything that might bring him victory? The manipulative distortion of the facts is hardly endearing. The poor little Malco story is the latest offering from a very rich, powerful and ruthless man who needs always to get his own way. He will do anything to get it.

Turnbull’s manipulative man-child persona featured in his last leader’s debate, when he posed as a political cleanskin — a tycoon who turned fifty before his idealism, honed by years of deal making, job creating and growing, which led him, reluctantly, to public life.

"I did not come into this role as a political activist. I did not come in here as a political staffer. I came into this role as an adult, at 50, after a lifetime of working, building businesses in many, many areas, creating jobs."

All of which is a plausible lie — unless you live in our media bubble of the eternal present where all claims are true, devoid of any means of disproof. Turnbull has, in fact, been in politics all his life.

From Sydney University’s Liberal Club, to his bid for Liberal preselection in 1981, he’s been a ruthless political animal.

In a preselection battle for Wentworth in 2004, for example, he told sitting member Peter King to

“Fuck off and get out of my way.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures, perhaps. Although bookies still favour the Coalition to win, Turnbull is fading badly at the half-way mark. Recent Reachtel polling shows that, even in Wentworth, there is a 10 per cent swing against him. Half of his electorate say they fancy him less now than when he toppled Abbott.

Even worse, he now has the IPA offside. His own party’s policy engine-room, the IPA, has taken issue with his Government’s tinkering with superannuation law. Framed as “transitioning to retirement", in reality these Costello-era rules help rich people avoid tax.

Despite commandeering Liberal policy under both Abbott and Turnbull and having members actually in the senate and in the house of reps, the hugely powerful IPA is clearly prepared to do everything it can to ensure its backers are getting value for money.

The IPA is the Liberal Party of Australia’s major policy architect, a conduit from corporate will to political decision. Helping investors take the risk out of democracy, the IPA is coy about its backers such as Gina Rinehart, or big businesses such as Exxon, Shell, Caltex and BHP Billiton.

The IPA’s contribution to Liberal Party policy is massive, all pervasive and unprecedented. A powerhouse of neoliberal ideology and mythology, it helps Liberal governments to privatise and deregulate. It urges war on unions and NGOs. The science of the environment and climate change is to be debunked and defunded. It advocates cutting business tax and much more, but it is clearly not satisfied with Turnbull.

Determined to squeeze the Liberal lemon until its pips squeak, IPA director and former Howard Government staffer John Roskam tells ABC radio, LNP super changes are clearly retrospective.

People write him emails in which they are:

“... disappointed, devastated, white hot with anger. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have had their plans thrown into turmoil.”

Windy back-benchers quickly pitch in but amidst all the hysteria, PM “May-I-just-say” Turnbull, makes it "perfectly clear” that the policy stays — at least until the Coalition have won the election. Will the IPA get its way? If you listen to Party amnesiac Arthur Sinodinos, or inspect Julie Bishop’s language of “unintended consequences”, the backflip is already booked in. 

Turnbull’s modest superannuation reform was about all he had got going for him in the way of real policy. Now that has been kicked away from under him he must fall back on his personal following, the central plank of the Liberals’ 2016 campaign strategy.

As he desperately, forlornly tries to reinvent himself in his own image, his popularity in free fall and with a hostile IPA gunning him down, the shadow of the man he deposed, Tony Abbott, the IPA’s favourite son must fall darkly upon his dreams of ever being elected PM.

You can follow David Tyler on Twitter @urbanwronski.


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