Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Donald Trump of fuelling current US race riots and seeking “to exploit divisions for political gain”.
Turnbull, in a live interview on Monday for Crikey and The Mandarin subscribers with editor-in-chief Peter Fray, described the current nationwide riots, sparked by the death of African-American man George Floyd, at the hands of police as “terrifying”.
He said Trump had made the United States weaker during the course of his presidency. “The US is less influential under Trump, because it seeks to be less influential,” Turnbull said. “This is what happens when you withdraw from global organisations like the World Health Organization.”
But Turnbull, who is promoting his memoir A Bigger Picture, stopped well short of a ringing endorsement for Trump’s presumptive opponent Joe Biden, questioning whether he would be a “sufficiently inspiring” candidate.
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“Biden is a product of the Washington system, in some ways he personifies everything that Trump campaigned against,” he said. “People may say, ‘he’s not the most inspiring guy — he’s not JFK, he’s not Obama, but he is a safe pair of hands’.”
Elsewhere, he conceded he regretted giving Peter Dutton the gargantuan Home Affairs portfolio, having concluded before the 2018 coup that Dutton “wasn’t quite up to it”.
Turnbull took predictable aim at the hard-right crescent of the party he used to lead — backed by elements of the media — that would rather see the Liberal party lose office that see it run by Turnbull.
“The right of the party does not accept the premise of a political party any longer,” he said. “A political party is where you kick around ideas and follow the majority view. The hard right is prepared to blow the joint up if it doesn’t get its way. And over time this leads the ‘sensible centrists’ to leave.”
He pointed to the three “small-l liberal women” holding Warringah, Mayo and Indi — seats that had previously been safely Liberal — as evidence of the constituency that finds the “Sky after dark, right-wing Liberal party point of view very unattractive”.
The Murdoch media’s corrosive effect on Australian democracy — that unity complaint between him and Kevin Rudd — was of course brought up, as well as the personal animus — “the sheer insane hatred of some of these characters” — aimed at him personally:
“Murdoch acknowledged to me that [former Australian editor and current Sky News CEO] Paul Whittaker was part of the group that wanted to bring my government down or cause us to lose the election, so that Tony Abbott could come back and could lead us back to glorious victory in 2022.”
Earlier, he’d said: “The Murdoch media is now a political organisation that employs journalists.”
Perhaps it was a hangover of his time in office, but in suggesting solutions to what he identified as Australia’s biggest issues, Turnbull frequently minimised the role politicians could play.
He attributed the end of Alan Jones’ career — a man he described as “vicious, misogynistic and generally disconnected from facts” — to the grassroots work of Mad Fucking Witches and Sleeping Giants.
Asked about the toxic environment women face in Australian politics, he said, “it’s far too blokey”, but didn’t support quotas.
On the apparent hypocrisy of complaining about the influence of fossil fuel companies while his own party took money from the likes of Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer, he avoided a direct answer.
“I have long-argued that political donation should be limited to people who are on the electoral roll, as opposed to corporations or unions and have an annual cap,” he said, arguing it was difficult to enact laws to that effect.
He couldn’t stop himself from adding, “We may not have won the 2016 election if I hadn’t kicked in nearly $2 million”.