Another poll indicating Malcolm Turnbull is the preferred Opposition Leader, another round of excited Facebook statuses from friends on the left salivating at the prospect of him becoming Liberal leader again and potentially the Prime Minister. For the most part, I understand the fascination and respect for Turnbull: he is undoubtedly intelligent, he is self-made and he is incredibly eloquent. There is also no doubt that he would also make a much a better Opposition Leader than Tony Abbott. But that doesn’t change the political positions that he has and held in the past, positions that are diametrically opposed to those on the left who seem to support him. So to my friends on the left, before you begin telling me about how much you love him or how he would make a better PM than Julia Gillard, I think you should consider some of the myths that might make him attractive to you.
‘Turnbull is a real liberal’ (and that’s a good thing)
It is correct to say that Malcolm Turnbull is a true economic liberal. Indeed, within a party who have recently treaded a dangerous line on foreign investment and long since abandoned a market based solution for climate change, this is becoming increasingly rare. But was does being a ‘real liberal’ mean? It meant supporting Work Choices; it meant supporting reducing the rate of tax for our top income earners; it means not supporting the construction of a National Broadband Network; and it meant not supporting some of the stimulus packages at the height of the Global Financial Crisis. These are of course, just a few notable examples of what being a ‘real liberal’ means. Naturally, some people will always support smaller government and less tax, and Turnbull at least conforms to this ideology. However, I’d argue that for most on the left, this isn’t their idea of how a government should be run.
‘Turnbull supports a price on carbon’
This isn’t entirely correct. Turnbull of course, attempted to find a compromise with the Labor party on enacting a carbon price in late 2009 (before losing the ballot to continue leading his party) when community support remained strong for such a price. But this doesn’t change the fact that he led an Opposition that twice voted against a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (which included a price on carbon) earlier in 2009. Nor does it change the fact that he voted against a carbon price package negotiated between the Labor party and the Greens just last year. And it also doesn’t change the fact that he has failed to adequately speak up on the issue over the past two years in the midst of one of the most ferocious attacks on the science of the issue and the necessity to price carbon emissions. So does he support climate change action when it’s politically convenient? Maybe. Does he support it when he actually needs to? No.
‘Turnbull would be more humane to asylum seekers than Gillard’
This is definitely not correct. Turnbull as Opposition Leader routinely criticised the Labor party for going soft on asylum seekers. Indeed, he voiced a similar [though eloquently made] view when he spoke on the issue earlier this year. Turnbull as Opposition Leader peddled much of the same rhetoric as Tony Abbott, calling asylum seekers ‘illegal arrivals’, wanting to ‘stop the boats’, and tacitly supporting previous Coalition policies like the Pacific Solution and temporary protection visas (inhumane policies that even Gillard and the Labor party have steadfastly refused to enact). Again, whilst Turnbull’s rhetoric on asylum seekers has at times been remarkably sympathetic (only when it has been convenient, see a pattern emerging?), when push comes to shove he has supported policies that are anything but.
‘Turnbull supports marriage equality’
Maybe this is true. Sometimes. But just this week in parliament Turnbull voted clearly and unequivocally against marriage equality. Whilst Turnbull has been on the record saying that he supports marriage equality in principle, the simple truth remains that if he cared about the issue enough he would’ve crossed the floor and supported actual legislation. As it is, he didn’t. What makes his vote even more disappointing is that within the Liberal party, crossing the floor isn’t without precedent on other issues, and not even without precedent on this issue. Perhaps it is true that crossing the floor would mean Turnbull would’ve lost his position in the shadow Cabinet, but for a man who so many people say is so principled, surely this would’ve been the price he would be happy to pay for standing up? Apparently not.
‘Turnbull is principled’
A cursory reflection of Turnbull’s political positions and some of the myths that have been established in the wake of his loss to Tony Abbott reveals him to be a deeply ambitious individual who is willing to compromise his values and policy positions when it is convenient for him to do so. In short: Turnbull is just like any other politician, mostly unprincipled. Will Turnbull ever become leader of the Liberal party again? Unlikely. And perhaps this is the greatest myth of all. Like their conservative brothers and sisters in the US – the Republicans – the Liberal party continues to lurch further to the right. Turnbull, despite being happy to espouse remarkably right wing opinions when he has needed to (Mitt Romney anyone?), remains on the outer in this climate. Is Turnbull a better alternative to Abbott? Unsurprisingly, yes. Is he the saviour of the left? No.