Is Turnbull really done with politics?

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Malcolm relentlessly defended his legacy on QandA (Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr).

Malcolm Turnbull appeared on a special edition of the ABC’s Q&A last Thursday.

Charming, at times evasive and polite as ever, we didn’t learn much.

But is this the end of his political career as he claims. Or is it the beginning of a new chapter?

I came to work for OzEmail the day Malcolm Turnbull, Sean Howard and Trevor Kennedy went from being well-off to seriously rich. It was the day the deal with WorldCom was agreed.

It was the end of 1999 and not long before the beginning of the end of the "dot-com bubble" — their timing was perfect. Sean Howard then disappeared from public view, Trevor Kennedy, likewise, after being caught up in the Offset Alpine Printing Company affair.

Malcolm the merchant banker became Malcolm the politician.

Fast forward fifteen years to Tony Abbott's dysfunctional Government. In late 2014, I emailed Turnbull on a whim, suggesting he needed to challenge for the leadership. I added that if he did, I would become an Australian citizen.

He replied telling me 'that will never happen' but that I still should become a citizen and vote Liberal. When he later "changed his mind" I was true to my word and became a citizen.

I have never voted Liberal, though, as Turnbull disappointed many who believed in his leadership abilities.

The rest is history, Turnbull is now "retired" after being removed by the Liberal Party and then causing taxpayers the unnecessary expense of a by-election and his former Party the ignominy of losing a safe seat.

Retired or not, Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent him to Indonesia to patch things up with President Joko Widodo after the Israel embassy policy bungle, a decision which raised quite a few eyebrows. The truth is that Widodo specifically requested Turnbull to attend, his Government was livid about even the suggestion of an embassy relocation.

Indonesia is, after all, a predominantly Muslim country, with strong support for the Palestinian cause. To add insult to injury, a Palestinian delegation led by their Foreign Minister was visiting Jakarta for talks around the time Morrison made an inexplicable faux pas.

Equally curious was the ABC's Q&A inviting Turnbull to a special edition of the program last Thursday.

That the ABC wanted to talk to Turnbull is no surprise, but why couldn't it be in one of the scheduled current affairs programs?

Maybe ABC producers and program host Tony Jones thought that questions from the floor would be more incisive than, say, Laura Tingle or Barrie Cassidy? Either way, many of the questions from the floor were straight to the point, but Tony Jones' were disappointingly meek in following up Turnbull's answers. He allowed Turnbull to respond in political platitudes, avoiding and deflecting questions he didn't want to dwell on.

He wanted to talk about and name the people who betrayed him and did so, with a thinly disguised venom just on the right side of acceptability on national TV. Privately, he has been rather less polite, it has been suggested by people who have met with him recently.

Apparently, the National Broadband Network (NBN) was "off the table" for reasons unknown. But he would've, no doubt, been able to deflect his responsibility for that debacle, too.

My opinion, on that note, is it was the first deal "he did with the devil" when becoming Communications Minister under PM Tony Abbott in 2013. Abbott was determined to wreck the NBN. Turnbull must have known the changes he demanded were flawed, but to admit it now is to admit to a weakness he can't, or won't, own up to.

The lack of self-insight was maybe the most startling during an hour's worth of a relaxed and happy looking Turnbull highlighting what he sees as his many achievements as Prime Minister.

The most galling of those claims, for many, would be him taking credit for the same-sex marriage legislation — a process unnecessarily convoluted, ridiculously expensive and hurtful for those who had waited for it for far too long.

He also seems oblivious to any comparison between his ouster and his own coup to replace Tony Abbott in 2015. At best, it's a display of Turnbull's political naivety; at worst, it's disingenuous.

I'd suggest a bit of both.

His claim to no longer being a threat to Scott Morrison is debatable. His performance was not one of someone who is no longer a "player". It was all about his legacy, but also a portrait of a man whose burning ambition still smoulders.

This is in the context of the Liberal Party's current dysfunction. The Prime Minister is "getting on with things" on a bus he doesn't ride on, wearing ill-fitting headwear while munching pies and skulling beers. There's little substance on offer. The hard Right of the Party is as vocal as ever and the so-called "small l" liberals in the Party feel increasingly alienated.

Turnbull may be retired, but just as he told me what 'would never happen' four years ago, I am not convinced he isn't plotting a return — perhaps in a Liberal Party split?

Kim Wingerei is a former businessman turned writer and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @kwingerei.

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