There is surely only one federal
backbencher who could comfortably reach into his pocket and toss a lazy
$100,000 into the fund-raising tin to help out his local surf club:
Malcolm Turnbull. And today’s revelation in the Daily Telegraph (“Humble MP gives club $100,000“)
that the new member for Wentworth made the donation at the North Bondi
Surf Life Saving Club AGM last Sunday is further evidence of the
maturing of Malcolm.

The locals were chuffed, and the gift
achieved its political aim: “Without putting any pressure on Mr Carr,
we would love to see the colour of his money,” the club’s secretary
Michael Wright told the Tele as he thanked his “incredibly generous” Liberal benefactor.

How times change. During spring cleaning on the weekend, your correspondent chanced upon a 1991 edition of Good Weekend
featuring a menacing cover photo of a power-suited young merchant
banker on the make, glowering over a headline that read: “Malcolm
Turnbull:
‘Humility is for saints’.”

Inside, the tyro
Turnbull educated readers about his plans to conquer the world of
business, abandoning political ambitions: “I’m not sure that I’m really
suited to the democratic process,” he told interviewer John Lyons. A
typically brash line from an impatient man. Lyons reported that only 20
minutes after finishing the pleasant two hour interview, Turnbull was
on the phone to his Herald colleague Ian Verrender calling him a “f*ck face” – six times – for some perceived slur in that day’s paper.

This
is what estranged business partner Nick Whitlam had to say about him:
“With Malcolm, everything is a full-frontal, confrontational battle.
He’s a genuinely nasty person.” And former Labor Senator Diamond Jim
McClelland on Turnbull? “He’s a turd. He’s easy to loathe, he’s a sh*t.
He’d devour anyone for breakfast…”

Fast forward 14 years. Nine
months into his new job, everyone we’ve spoken to around Parliament is
saying what a pleasure Malcolm is to deal with as he comes to grips
with the pesky democratic process. How diligent, energetic, polite is
the new member for Wentworth. He’s also keen to get stuck into policy
debate (would-be treasurer Turnbull’s latest plan is to cut the 47% top marginal tax rate) while enduring the parish pump politics that political office demands.

According to SMH
pop culture hack David Dale, Turnbull once told him he wanted to be
prime minister by the time he was 40. “For which party?” asked Dale.
“It doesn’t matter,” responded Malcolm.

Now in his 50th year,
Turnbull is finding out it does matter. Has Malcolm changed for good?
Or is there a hint of the old rottweiler waiting to escape the leash?
How long will this ambitious man’s patience last on the backbench? And
who will be the first to be devoured for breakfast? The answer to those
questions is one thing Malcolm’s money can’t buy.

Peter Fray

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