About the only significant revelation from the Four Corners Turnbull profile was what a luxuriant mop of hair he had back in the 1980s. Otherwise, it was rather on the thin side.
And I still can’t believe I heard “now is the winter in Malcolm’s tent” at the start. That was almost as alarming as Peter van Onselen’s mullet.
The profile confirmed that Turnbull is smart, rich and ambitious, to considerable degrees in all cases. I think we all knew that. The story about him breathlessly protecting Australian democracy by shopping Kerry Packer’s plans for Fairfax sounds good and won’t hurt Turnbull, but I think we knew he was a ruthless business operator as well.
Nor was it a surprise to see Tony Abbott in the piece. Abbott is now the Mr Rent-a-quote of Australian politics, who as one of his senior colleagues put it to Crikey, is suffering terrible limelight deprivation syndrome. It was more surprising that Julie Bishop contributed so heavily, given Turnbull himself had pulled out, concerned that the piece was just perpetuating the focus on the Opposition’s internal difficulties rather than the Government.
There was the peculiarity, too, of discussing John Howard’s backing for Turnbull in Wentworth without mentioning Howard’s obvious motivation of complicating Peter Costello’s ambitions. The likes of Dennis Shanahan say Costello is now watching Nelson’s back to thwart any move by Turnbull. One suspects Costello’s antipathy toward Turnbull is at least partly due to the alacrity with which Turnbull set about making a name for himself after he arrived in 2004 — and that he chose to do it by exposing Costello’s laziness on tax reform.
There remains an interesting profile to be done on Turnbull — one that might address issues like his eclectic choice of careers suggestive of a man easily bored, an ambition that not merely drives him to be Prime Minister but to marry into the Sydney Establishment and integrate seamlessly into its business elite, his religious faith and his links with Opus Dei — although that was a fine yarmulke he sported at one point last night — and his involvement in the logging company Axiom Forest Resources and any tax implications of its Hong Kong listing.
It might also cover the fact that several senior Liberal sources say that ever since Dr Nelson’s election to the leadership, Turnbull has repeatedly made clear he thinks he should be leader. He may well be right, but it’s hardly conducive to internal party discipline.
And there’s an intriguing contrast to be explored with the Prime Minister, another highly intelligent, ambitious man from modest circumstances — rather more modest circumstances than Turnbull’s — who chose public service as his path to the top, rather than law and business. But both are in their parties but not of them, and primarily see their parties as vehicles for their ambition. The clash between them might be very personal indeed. Rudd effortlessly has Nelson’s measure, and knows he has plenty of ammunition to fire at Costello, but in Turnbull he’ll see an opponent a lot like himself and with every bit as much hunger for power.