Last night’s speech by Malcolm Turnbull warning that the threat of Islamic State should not be overhyped is a statement of the obvious that, in the context of the Abbott government’s relentless exploitation of terrorism for partisan gain, stands out as bold differentiation.

But although Turnbull might like to portray himself as different, more moderate, less hysterical than the man actually running the country, his actions contradict his words.

It was Turnbull who established Australia’s first mass surveillance scheme, despite criticising data retention while in opposition. It was Turnbull who sent a “reviewer” into the ABC to provide the pretext for budget cuts the government said it would never inflict. It was Turnbull who sent bureaucrats in to investigate the ABC over Q&A. And it was Turnbull — that dogged critic of Stephen Conroy’s proposed internet filter — who introduced not one but two internet filtering schemes in government.

Turnbull is by far the government’s, and Parliament’s, most effective communicator, and yet he rarely communicates his party’s key messages. Instead, we get a skewed, more self-serving version.

Given his wealth, drive, intellect and global connections, Turnbull could undoubtedly accomplish much good in the world in his own right, certainly far more than he ever would as Tony Abbott’s disgruntled Minister for Communications. So why does he bother to stay in politics? It can only be because he believes he has a chance at the top job. In which case, Turnbull should stop subtly undermining Abbott with his relentless product differentiation, and openly take him on.

The choices are clear for Turnbull: shut up and be a team player; get out of politics; or take on Abbott. This current “look at me, I’m so much more reasonable than my boss” gig is getting old fast.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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