Exit evil tyrant. Enter loquaciously elegant pragmatist

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Front cover of the Daily Telegraph

As the ebullient junkyard dog of three word utterances leaves, the silver fox of smooth talk makes an entrance. Yet aside from softer elaborated delivery, what has now changed? Lyn Bender finds herself wondering. Does this change anything?

THERE IS no doubt that Malcolm Turnbull is a much nicer man than Tony Abbott.

His tone is less shrill and he speaks in many words, when a few might suffice.

He hasn't yet said “death cult” and his hands don't slice the air before him, as he makes pronouncements.

Tony’s demeanour was stony-faced weightiness, occasionally punctuated with a corpse-like grin.

Malcolm prosecutes his case with barrister-like gravitas; but may smile as is deemed appropriate to the occasion.

Or as some have said:

Tony Abbott was an unending embarrassment and throwback to the 1950s and a self described junkyard dog.

Malcolm Turnbull comes across as feasibly prime ministerial and a renaissance man.

The Malcolm Turnbull story so far:

  1. He declared that he knows that climate change is real and that it needs real action.
  2. He lost leadership in 2009 due to his support of the Rudd Government emissions trading scheme.
  3. He has been honoured by being proclaimed as a “warmist” by climate change denier Andrew Bolt.
  4. He has declared the coalition’s policy on climate change to be bullshit and Direct Action to be a “a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale”.
  5. He has said: Direct Action policy is “an environmental fig leaf to cover a determination to do nothing”.
  6. He has a history of concern with water conservation.
  7. He has declared that Australia’s policies towards refugees are cruel but  …
  8. He has been a staunch Republic of Australia, advocate.
  9. He is an advocate for civil liberties and the rule of law.
  10. He is a Rhodes scholar who has been photographed in speedos.

Commentators are taking a wait, watch and see view of the newly-anointed PM.

But, so far …

The spill:

In his announcement of why he was challenging Abbott, Turnbull’s speech placed the economy, style and explanation of policy, front and centre of a new government.

There was no mention of justice, climate change or the poor.

Day one:

In question time in Parliament Turnbull fully endorses the Abbott Government Climate Policy.

Does a deal with Barnaby Joyce to secure the support of the National Party to move water management planning from the environment portfolio and Murray Darling Basin Authority, to the agriculture portfolio.

Affirms that a plebiscite Abbott’s stalling tactic on same sex marriage will be held after the next next election.

Praises Abbott’s border protection outcomes as allowing the current generosity to Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile Australia has dropped its first bombs on Syria.

Watch the new PM give an uncannily similar defence of his government's "fig leaf" Direct Action Plan to the former PM Abbott.

So is Malcolm Turnbull a complex man of contradictions? Should environmental and refugee and social justice advocates hold out hope for his emergence as a saviour of the environment and as a man of compassionate action?

As a psychologist, you might think that it is my job to encourage hope at even the darkest moments. In the case of Malcolm Turnbull emerging as a rescuer from the Abbott era, I would discourage hope. He is merely the messenger that the Liberal Party hope the populace will not shoot. His statements are veiled and contradictory. Like a true barrister he can argue the case as needed. Refugee policies are cruel but…. Climate Change is real but…He is the perfect balance of a “yes, but” man.

We are tired of the ignorant, dogmatic, three word insistent Abbott pronouncements: but is Malcolm a way out of the morass of Abbottsville?

Attorney General George Brandis has declared on ABC Radio that:

“Malcolm Turnbull is far and away the best mind in this Parliament…a superb persuader…  able to explain the economic narrative and bring the country with him”

So are persuasiveness and a capacity to explain policies the highest qualities a Prime Minister can possess? Brandis contends that no policies need to change and it’s all about leadership “style”.

Brandis voted for Turnbull in the spill and says that he hopes to keep his portfolio.

Green groups are also hopefully urging Malcolm to climate action in an attempt to resurrect the old market carbon-pricing environmentalist. They are likely to be very disappointed.

As we wait to see what kind of a Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will become, I hope ten months will be long enough.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung identified the persona as the roles we play, and the image we present in the world. It is in some ways the more shallow identity we exhibit.  It may deny the deeper personality in confusing ways.


Malcolm Turnbull projects himself as urbane, cultured, intellectual, intelligent and a devoted family man who can play the prime minister role. He has also paraded values of respecting science, man of the future and a concerned citizen. He may live at Point Piper but he is a good and decent man. Despite being filthy rich, he is here to serve. These are face-book snapshots that we are invited to like.

But as for depth of conviction? This will only be revealed by actions matching rhetoric. But which rhetoric? The old or the new?

Turnbull is an orator, but will he stick his neck out to save our planet, to help the poor or to release the refugees?

So far nothing I have seen gives me hope of this. On a day when a refugee from West Australian Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre lies critically injured with burns to 90 per cent of his body from self-immolation, I have my doubts.

The Turnbull hopeful stance that George Brandis has praised seems to ignore the real challenges that we face. In neo conservative mode, Turnbull speaks of economic challenges and market opportunities. Blinded and dazzled by his own success, he has at last achieved his stated ambition of becoming Prime Minister.

Does he spare a thought for the Islanders in the Pacific with the water lapping at their doors? Turnbull of course would not laugh at the tasteless jokes of soon to be ex Minister Dutton.

However, will the new PM do something constructive to combat or assist adaptation to climate change? Or for the millions who are homeless or displaced, as he decides between residing at his $50 million Point Piper estate or Kirribilli house? 

I for one am not holding my breath for Malcolm’s transformation. 

Lyn Bender is a trained, professional, practicing psychologist. You can follow Lyn on Twitter @lynestel.

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