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The 'bright fool': Turnbull stuffing up again

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Malcolm Talkalot bingo (Image via TripleJHack / ‏@triplejHack)

Malcolm Turnbull lacks that last five per cent of practical intelligence that signifies commonsense, writes Bob Ellis, who says it may be his undoing. 

TURNBULL in his first week picked up a lot of Greens and women’s preferences, but he is losing them now. 

Violence on Christmas Island, murderers free on Manus and child rapists on Nauru he has neither addressed nor reproved. Tax in millions or tens of millions he dodged in the Caymans he called evidence that he was "lucky". A fifty per cent rise in the GST he claims will be compensated for. His amused insouciance is beginning to dismay some voters. And his policy – do nothing, talk about everything – has lost him his majority already.

Is he, in his current incarnation, a "smooth-talking wuss" and little more?

I’ve known him since he was 19 and he was – then as now – ambitious, unfocussed, amused, uncaring. He slept with older women, some of whom we shared. He had no siblings and, effectively, no mother and brandished the kind of selfishness, spiced with insecurity, that characterises that semi-orphan condition and his attitude today. He was not a bad young fellow, but he seemed to me to lack that last five per cent of practical intelligence that signifies commonsense.

A Gore Vidal phrase, ‘that bright fool’, sadly, suits him.

He should have done in his first days more than he did. He might have brought on a conscience vote on gay marriage and have been, by now, attending gay weddings, and being toasted by by his witty Woollahra constituents. He might have upped to 31 or 32 per cent our emissions target. He might have delayed or cancelled Transfield’s permission to persecute innocents on Nauru.

And now he has a full-fledged rebellion on his plate. Will there will be deaths as his Commonwealth Police invade and subdue Christmas Island? Will the Senate will find Dutton gulty of crimes against humanity?

Will Abyan will give birth here and beg to stay? What will he do then?

Sixteen years ago he gave us a preview of his present bumptuous lack of commonsense. He proposed a Clayton’s Republic, in which the Governor-General is renamed "President" and appointed by Parliament, not elected. Other alternatives — direct election, five candidates proposed by Parliament who ran then for election — he pooh-poohed aggressively. He was violent in his arguments with his collaborators Keneally, Vizard, Stott-Despoja, O’Donoghue, Rann and Gallop. He got his way but, because his model was so insubstantial – so meaningless – lost narrowly and in tears that night complained that John Howard had "broken the nation’s heart".

What moved him to this petulant plaint is that it was his model – his well beloved teddy-bear – which the wizened wizard of Wollstonecraft had torn from his arms. He hung on to his Precious too long and so lost the encounter. And then, as he does, he had a tantrum.

Has he never grown up? There’s evidence, I think, that he froze, a rabbit in the headlights, when his mother abandoned her marriage, and left him behind when he was eight, and his father packed him off to a boarding school not far from his home, and he was bullied there and miserable, small and fat. That eight-year-old is with us still, in denial, frightened and blustering.

What will he do with Christmas Island? Pretend it isn’t happening, I’d guess, his usual default position and speak amusedly of other things. He will smirk and wisecrack, and hope it goes away.

But it will not. And he is hoist on it. And it may – just may – destroy him.

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