Malcolm in the middle

WHEN discussing federal politics and the upcoming election almost everybody asks the same question first up – why isn’t Malcolm Turnbull the Opposition leader?

“Get rid of Tony Abbott and bring back Malcolm Turnbull and the Libs would win easily,” the chorus roars.

“I’d definitely vote for the Libs if Malcolm Turnbull was running the show; he’s so popular."

“Turnbull seems like a real leader and genuine statesman and that’s just what this country needs after the Rudd/Gillard leadership chaos of the past three years.”

Some of the ladies even go as far as describing Mr Turnbull as something of an alluring silver fox and feel obliged to add glowing commentary about his charming smile and good looks (for his age), charismatic style, Bill Gates-like entrepreneurial intellect and handsome private fortune.

People also say there’s no way they’d vote for Kevin Rudd and Labor if Mr Turnbull was fronting the Coalition’s election campaign and he’d make a great Prime Minister of Australia.

Those views are also strongly reflected in opinion polls showing Mr Turnbull holding a significant lead on Mr Abbott, as preferred party leader.

People also ask other relevant questions like; who’s going to win the election; has Kevin Rudd made any difference to Labor’s chances of winning; and surely Labor can’t win after what we’ve seen of their dysfunctional chaos and bitter in-fighting in this term of government?

My first response is generally: never underestimate the intelligence of the Australian voting public.

I also understand the Opposition is still in front in individual polls in electorates where it counts in Western Sydney.

But Labor could still win the election because Kevin Rudd’s made an immediate difference and that early sentiment could stretch out to the September 7 polling day.

However, Australian voters shouldn’t forget how hard this man worked to undermine his own people and exact revenge on Julia Gillard and her supporters, after being deposed as Labor leader in 2010.

Back to Mr Turnbull, one can only imagine how he’d be faring against Kevin Rudd right now and how he’d have gone fighting against Julia Gillard over the past three years or more.

And the simple truth of that statement is the key to understanding why he shouldn’t replace Mr Abbott at the final hurdle.

We only have our imaginations to guide us about the possible quality and effectiveness of his performance running flat out under the intense glare of this hung parliament.

In reality, Tony Abbott has an actual record that contains clear evidence of his leadership performance and durability, in holding this Labor government to account.

Consider the overwhelming veracity of Canberra’s political sphere during this term of government and the fact Mr Abbott has led an effective team – holding them together during times of extreme challenge – to hold the Gillard government to account, exposing a plethora of leadership woes and other internal failings.

The longer this term has gone on the more the Coalition leader has blossomed and put runs on the board - and for clear evidence you only need to look at his budget reply speech to see he’s now ready to step up and become Prime Minister.

If the grass still seems greener on the other side, consider the truth about Mr Turnbull from inside Canberra circles.

That inside view indicates a few issues with the quality of the soils used to produce that supposedly greener grass.

The view is generally that Mr Turnbull is seen as a true Liberal and may possibly also be a great Liberal leader but he’s proven incapable of managing the Coalition effectively.

Most people are only seeing or judging his leadership credentials through the rose coloured lens of a Liberal party world-view and don’t consider him in the greater context of being Coalition leader.

Being the federal Liberal party leader also requires being the Coalition leader, which is something Mr Turnbull has failed at previously, ultimately leading to him being voted out and replaced by Mr Abbott in 2009.

He lost the confidence of the Nationals - but in contrast Mr Abbott has forged a close working relationship and trust with the party’s leader Warren Truss.

Some close party sources also say Mr Turnbull would have been incapable of driving the Coalition to where the party is now on the verge of a likely election win.

They see Mr Turnbull as being someone who’s obviously a successful business leader who understands how economic decisions are made – but struggles with political leadership where the bottom line of most decisions isn’t necessarily about financial profits.

His leadership style was also viewed as being too untrustworthy of others and, like Mr Rudd, had grave difficulty delegating responsibility down the line, which proved frustrating for those around him, looking to get on with their individual jobs and portfolios.

In defence of Mr Abbott, the view is also that being an opposition leader isn’t an easy task and confronting the government doesn’t necessarily spark unyielding popularity with the Australian public.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Holy moly me o my
8/08/2013 6:42:24 AM

Good one Colin,now tell us something we have not already known for the past 3 years.
John E
8/08/2013 6:55:49 AM

Col, maaaate, an interesting headline but I was underwhelmed by your evidence and argument against Mal and for Tone... He lost by 1? vote? Before you raise our expectations of a hard hitting article, get a bit more meat.
8/08/2013 12:22:05 PM

Col, am i right in thinking you would rather lose with Abbott than win with Turnbull? Can you point to success for Abbott outside parliament - when compared with Turnbull?
8/08/2013 1:23:50 PM

Turnbull is far too left for me. I have voted conservative all my life and if Turnbull was leader I would vote informal. How shallow are these people who say these things like "an alluring silver fox"? That puts him on a par with Rudd as a master silver tongue. Give me Tony Abbott anyday, a genuine bloke, good leader, honest, intelligent, man of the prople, not a slick tongued show pony.
Sam the man
8/08/2013 1:52:00 PM

Just how uninformed and forgetful do you think people are - when Turnbull was the leader he ran the Liberal poll support south - Like all shallow people they opt for the shallow answer - Turnbull - and Rudd - we don't need ex merchant bank millionaires with no backbone we need people with character. People who haven't had much to do with Rudd and then do, like him less - the more people have to do with Abbott the more they like him
8/08/2013 3:20:46 PM

I too note the APPARENT great popularity of Turnbull over Abbott in Polls. It is not so apparent when you look at only the Coalition voters. It is mostly even or else Abbott slightly up. So that tells me that it is really the lefties who favor Turnbull over Abbott but not necessarily over KRUDD or Labor. Remember also Turnbull's record V Krudd when he was Opposition Leader and Krudd was PM. Krudd out polled him enormously. So as you say Colin, Turnbull's APPARENT popularity is all imagination. It may also reflect the Canberra Lefty attempt to destabilize the Coalition to improve Krudds chance
8/08/2013 4:06:38 PM

Your kidding of course Malcolm Turnbull couldn't run a chook raffle, and worse still couldn't find anyone to back him up, lets run with Abbott for the time being, remembering he is only a front man for others who run the game. We need a change of goverment, if Abott is in the front man, good, but we all know he is not driving the bus.
9/08/2013 1:29:57 PM

At least Turnbull can add up.
10/08/2013 5:14:03 AM

antipodes, can you add up? If so look at today's Neilson Poll showing that Abbott is now leading Krudd 47% V 40% as preferred PM. Way better than Turnbull ever did when he was opposition leader against Krudd PM. Can you add that up?
12/08/2013 10:01:18 PM

I would be happy to vote for the drover's dog if he/she stood against Abbott
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Canberra CommentFairfax Agricultural Media Canberra correspondent Colin Bettles tackles the big national rural and agricultural issues which will impact regional and rural Australians.


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