By now we should be into the second day of a concerted, measured and damaging attack from the Federal Opposition on the integrity of Treasurer Wayne Swan. Chances are it would have been an attack that drew blood.

That for the Opposition is the great tragedy in the way in which Malcolm Turnbull has handled the prosecution of the John Grant/Utegate affair. There was a case to be made against the Treasurer but, seduced by the prospect of a clean sweep, Malcolm Turnbull attempted to turn, all guns blazing from the hip, against the Prime Minister as well. That was — as is abundantly clear now — utter folly and a vast misjudgement.

Turnbull’s actions will also confirm the deep misgivings a lot of people have had over his character. Turnbull is a man with a long-established reputation for impulsive hot headedness, a man viewed by many in his own party as something of a risky, volatile experiment … headstrong, impulsive, heedless of advice, possessed of dangerously unfettered self-belief.

Why Turnbull’s behaviour in these last few days matters is because he is more than merely leader of the Opposition. Turnbull presents himself to the Australian public as their alternative prime minister, the man we would trust to act in moments of stress and tension in a measured way that represents and furthers the national interest. There were always questions marks over Turnbull’s capacity to restrain the aspects of his character that fit uneasily into the Prime Ministerial mode. This week they have been given full and destructive rein. Kevin Rudd on the other hand has exuded the sort of strength and confidence that can only come from having nothing to hide. He has looked the goods. Malcolm Turnbull has looked soiled.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey