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Malcolm Turnbull's done the PM thing, so what now?

Submitted by Rick Eyre on May 28, 2016 - 11:13am

How to be wrong twice in the same sentence? I managed that achievement with the following line on September 20 2008:

"While I am sceptical that Turnbull will ever become Prime Minister, his elevation to leader of the Liberal Party is good for politics."

Malcolm Turnbull campaigning in 2007

Malcolm Turnbull's first stint as Leader of the Liberal Party. all fourteen and a half months of it, is memorable for me for just two things: letting the lack of attention to detail get in the way of political ambition (Utegate), and failure to keep the right-wing of the party and its Big Mining overlords in check (his ousting over support for an ETS).

After almost six years of centrist/progressive/small-l-liberal posturing, Turnbull returned to the party leadership, this time including the Prime Ministership, after finally capturing enough numbers to roll the Abbott. He promised a different style of leadership, and it wasn't too difficult to deliver on that. But having achieved the honour of becoming Australia's 29th Prime Minister, does he have the ambition to keep going?

We're now at the end of week three of the eight-week federal election campaign, and all the body language I see from Turnbull is the same as he has displayed for the last few months beforehand: He looks bored with the Prime Ministership. That "ok I've done this Prime Minister thing, what's next?" languidness.

Maybe it's the frustration that, yet again, he hasn't been able to keep the ideologues of the right-wing of the Liberal Party under control.

And while the IPA ticks off its checklist one by one and stacks the parliamentary benches with its alumni (casual vacancy Senator James Paterson, candidate for Goldstein Tim Wilson), let me just mention climate change. Without question the biggest moral challenge of our time. The failure of COP 15 at Copenhagen broke Kevin Rudd's soul in 2010. Failure to sell a perfectly sensible carbon reduction package broke Julia Gillard's Prime Ministership.

Turnbull v2.0 has chosen to deal with the issue of climate change by pretending it's not there. Not in the federal budget, not in election pledges, not anywhere.

Whether his heart is in it or not, Malcolm Turnbull is still at this point the favourite to lead government at the opening of the 45th Parliament. However, he may well need the assistance of Nick Xenophon operatives and Bob Katter to get over the line. But will he still be PM for the next election, due in 2019?

Imagine another Liberal Party spill in a year or so's time. The Canberra press gallery thrives on spills. Social media loves the #spill... the moment #itson is almost an occasion of national orgasm for Australian political twitterati. Imagine a bored, frustrated Malcolm Turnbull pining for the fjords of merchant banking once again.

Imagine a comeback by Tony Abbott... well, maybe that's an imagining too far. Imagine Scott Morrison deciding it's time to make his move.

Imagine this partnership: Scott Morrison Prime Minister, George Brandis Attorney-General.

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