Within the Labor Party they have been expecting the coming of Malcolm Turnbull for several months now. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd realised that Brendan Nelson would be replaced when the government’s electoral honeymoon continued beyond the six month mark. The verdict from the pollsters was just too damning for the Liberals to keep the good doctor in the top job. That coming up to the end of its first year in office, Labor should be in front by a substantial margin more than on the day it won the election was, for Rudd, almost too good to be true. Shadow Treasurer Turnbull was clearly just waiting for the right opportunity to take over.

Perhaps the only doubt in Labor Party about who their opponent would be in 2010 was the possibility that Peter Costello would throw off his reservations about competing for the leadership. That prospect, which would have pleased team Rudd because they believed that Costello would prove no more appealing to Australians than Dr Nelson, finally disappeared last week as the book launching got under way. Attacking John Howard was clearly not something that would be done by a man who ever wanted to lead the Liberal Party.

So this morning Labor got the Liberal Party leadership it expected. Malcolm Turnbull’s elevation will be met with quite a degree of nervousness for the government. Prime Minister Rudd knows that he will now have an opponent of substance with considerable skill as a debater in the Parliament and as a performer on television. The parliamentary experience might not be considerable but the rough and tumble of the republican debate makes up for much of that. Engaging with the likes of Kevin Rudd holds no fears for a man who proved he was more than capable of holding his own when talking about Presidents or Queens with John Howard.

The new Liberal Leader will be largely unknown to perhaps a majority of Australians. We pundits based in Canberra tend to forget how few people actually take much notice of politicians talking on the television. There is probably no firm impression of what kind of man Malcolm Turnbull is apart from a general view that he seems pretty smart and is quite good looking. It is only now with the concentrated attention that is paid to a leader of the Opposition that he will cut through in a way that determines his fate as a vote winner.

Labor should be concerned that Turnbull will prove far more successful that the man he replaces at showing himself as a self made man from humble origins. Just as part of the Kevin Rudd’s attraction comes from the story of the boy brought up by a widowed mum expelled from the family farm, the story of young Malcolm being raised in a humble flat by a single dad will play well in the suburbs. I notice that this was one of the major themes of this morning’s press appearance. I can’t wait for the New Idea and Woman’s Day versions. It will surely blunt any attempt by Labor to portray Turnbull as some kind of rich patrician from Sydney’s posh Eastern Suburbs. Australians, as Rudd well knows, quite like the story of lads rising from humble origins.

Peter Fray

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