In the infancy of his Liberal leadership career, Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by Tony Abbott, after which Abbott became prime minister. However, soon the Australian electorate — and his own party — turned on him. Now, Turnbull has made a glorious return and I, for one, can’t help but rub my hands in glee.
It’s not that Malcolm Turnbull is a brilliant leader who’s guaranteed to propel Australia into a secure and prosperous future; he may not even survive the next election. However, as far as the Liberal Party is concerned, he is sensible, relatively ideologically steadfast and far more moderate and in line with the Australian electorate than Abbott ever was.
As far as super-villains go, Abbott was brilliant — under his charge, the government demolished climate policy, slandered the renewable energy industry, attacked health, education, the disabled, the homeless and unemployed youth, violated human rights, blocked marriage equality and tried to silence the media. However, what Australia needs is not a villainous and arrogant ruler who sits on a throne and orders decapitations, but progressive and collaborative leadership.
Will Turnbull deliver?
It’s hard to say whether Turnbull is capable of righting the wrongs, ending the dissidence within his own party and moving forward with a clear and progressive vision. This is perhaps a touch unrealistic. However, from the past, we know that he has demonstrated himself to be among the most socially progressive ministers within the ranks of the conservative party and has supported climate policy and marriage equality — two divisive and important issues facing Australia.
What is clear is that, where Tony Abbott stubbornly ploughed through those who opposed his beliefs — with little regard for evidence, facts, economic viability or humanity — unaffected by persistently and catastrophically low polls, Turnbull at least offers a glimmer of hope. Even if he does not deliver new policy, he is also unlikely to do any more damage. Perhaps a touch cynical, but true nonetheless.
What to expect
The drama will surely continue. How Abbott will take his demise and what impact the reshuffling of the cabinet will have remains to be seen. The win was hardly a landslide (54 to 44 votes), which means that the party will remain divided and will have to be managed.
How Turnbull approaches policy will also be interesting. For now, he’s stated that he’ll toe the party line on climate policy; however, whether he said it in earnest or to secure the votes of more conservative-leaning members remains to be seen. He did promise to engage with experts and educate and inform the public when making policy decisions, which seems to at least hint at a desire to reengage with a more proactive stance on global warming.
One issue that is likely to see the light of day is that of marriage equality. According to opinion polls, the majority of the electorate is in support, and if Turnbull manages to pass a fairer policy that includes all Australians, then his leadership — no matter how short or turbulent — will have been a good thing for the country.
Turnbull is not without his challenges. Not only did he suffer from low opinion polls during his time as the leader of the opposition party, but he was ousted due, to a large degree, to his support of climate policy. During his time at the helm, he was also perceived as being arrogant and out of touch.
It will be interesting to see, then, whether his approach to leadership will have changed as a result of his past and whether he’ll tread more carefully. How he’ll manage and be affected by Abbott’s supporters and the more conservative members of his party is another question. Strong opposition and leaks from within the party could prove to be an obstacle too big to overcome and render Turnbull merely a new face on an old party.
Still, I can’t help but think that even the lack of action by Turnbull will be better than the latest scheme, policy or gaffe spouted by Abbott, and if Turnbull does live up to his promises, this dramatic story may yet see a happy ending.