After losing the prime ministership, Malcolm Turnbull has said farewell to public life this afternoon with only passing criticism of his far-right enemies and an optimistic appraisal both of his achievements as prime minister and the nation’s future.
Addressing the media, staff and colleagues including Simon Birmingham, Marise Payne, Trent Zimmerman and Paul Fletcher in the Prime Minister’s Courtyard, Turnbull declared that he’d achieved far more than he expected as prime minister but had been unable to stop an insurgency both inside Parliament and in the media determined to destroy his leadership. Notably, Turnbull selected his questions at the end of his address and chose Fairfax, ABC and Guardian journalists and only Sky’s Kieran Gilbert from the News Corp stable.
However, Turnbull did not mention Tony Abbott by name and indicated he would be leaving parliament “not before too long”, suggesting Scott Morrison will soon be facing a byelection test in Turnbull’s Sydney seat of Wentworth. Turnbull also rejected the suggestion he had caved in to the right too often as leader, saying his primary goal had always been to keep his party together after learning that lesson in his first stint as leader. However, he said, carbon emissions and energy had the same intensely divisive status within his party as same sex marriage.
He also declined to identify any regrets about his time as PM. One of them must surely be what in hindsight was a disastrous decision to call on a surprise leadership spill on Tuesday morning, which revealed his lack of strong partyroom support and prompted a shark-like frenzy from his internal enemies and Dutton supporters. That culminated in today’s narrow defeat at the hands of his colleagues after 72 hours of the most extraordinary political chaos of recent decades. If just three more colleagues had declined to back a leadership spill, he would still be PM.
For Turnbull, who left his final media conference with his wife Lucy, his daughter Daisy and his two decidedly lively grandchildren, it may or may not be a cause for regret as he leaves the circus of Canberra behind for a new life.