Cabinet leaks are serious business. Governments have an expectation that public policy is considered in the strictest confidence. For such leaks, the Australian Federal Police are always brought in and tasked to identify the source.
But somehow you suspect John Howard has not called Mick Keelty to commence an investigation into how Malcolm Turnbull’s proposal to ratify Kyoto found its way into the Financial Review. And not just because no one has the slightest confidence anymore in the judgement or competence of Keelty.
Turnbull rejected claims he was the leaker, but along with everyone else failed to deny the leak itself. Undoubtedly Turnbull personally didn’t say anything to anyone. Equally undoubtedly, despite Glenn Milne’s tortuous reasoning today, he is the only beneficiary of the leak.
The Australian, where the idea of balanced political coverage consists of having supporters of both John Howard and Peter Costello on staff, has savaged him, calling him “clumsy”, “inexperienced”, “impotent” and, nastiest of all, “a political neophyte.” That won’t worry Turnbull too much. One doubts the Government Gazette has much sway in his electorate.
And Turnbull’s colleagues are appalled. Mark Vaile, doing well to utter three polysyllabic words in a row, called for “absolute Cabinet solidarity”. Rich coming from a bloke who can’t control his own backbench, and something to bear in mind next time the National Party leaks something it opposes.
Another Minister was moved to complain that Turnbull was “not a team player”. This declaration truly merits the overworked phrase “no sh-t, Sherlock”. Malcolm Turnbull is far smarter, far wealthier, and far more ambitious than anyone else in the Liberal party room. The Prime Ministership has always been his goal, and he doesn’t much care whom he has to defeat to get it – certainly not the indolent heir apparent, Peter Costello.
So it must mortify Turnbull that, having rapidly obtained a high-profile ministry in his first term and consolidated his position among the second-tier leadership aspirants behind Costello, he could lose it all to the relatively small anti-Government swing required to tip him out of Wentworth. If nothing else, Turnbull has spent a lot of good money getting that seat. Every other Government member in danger of defeat is doing all the distancing, airbrushing and revising they can to save themselves. Why shouldn’t Turnbull?
There’s a bigger picture beyond the election, too. At a time when both major parties, led by Labor, are increasingly the preserve of mediocre hacks, it is critical that we actually have talent of some kind among our elected representatives.
Turnbull, for all his ego, interesting business history and links to sinister influences like Opus Dei and the Packers, is an outstanding political talent. It would be unfortunate to lose him. If some judicious Cabinet leaks will save his bacon, then turn on the tap.