Last week the miserable ghost of Malcolm Turnbull put in an apparition at the Friends of Wolper Jewish Hospital. Presumably suffering from an attack of relevance deprivation syndrome, Turnbull offered Prime Minister Scott Morrison some advice about ‘patronising insensitivity’, a subject on which he is unquestionably an expert.
Half a century earlier, Turnbull’s headmaster foresaw that his star pupil would have problems in life because he ‘makes it clear that he thinks people are perfect fools and haven’t got a brain in their head.’ True to form, Turnbull said he thought it was ‘really dumb’ to flag moving Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv, to the capital, Jerusalem, particularly since ‘the timing was just calculated to win support’, not something Turnbull has done a lot of lately.
Turnbull’s view that raising the issue of moving the Australian embassy in Israel during the Wentworth by-election showed ‘patronising insensitivity to the Jewish community’ was not shared by Liberal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, a member of said community, or by the community’s peak bodies such as the Zionist Federation of Australia, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Committee and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Turnbull also claimed that the government hadn’t changed its position on Jerusalem.
In fact, as Mark Leibler, AIJAC’s national chair put it, Australia ‘finally ended the anomaly whereby Israel is the only country in the world which does not have the right to choose its own capital on its own sovereign territory.’
Turnbull also used his platform to say that the right-wing of the Liberal party ‘essentially operate as terrorists’; language that some might say is a tad insensitive given his audience. ‘I’m not suggesting that they kill,’ he hastened to add, ‘but I’m being deadly serious here,’ he continued, no pun seemingly intended. ‘What that group has done in the Liberal party – and it’s one of the fundamental problems the Liberal party has – is over quite a long period of time, they have regularly threatened to, and in fact, have been prepared to blow the government up,’ Turnbull solemnly declared, seemingly blind to the irony that it was he who had been prepared to blow up his own government when his fellow MPs tried to get rid of him and had to be reminded by Trade minister Simon Birmingham that, ‘you can’t call an election against your own side.’
Turnbull’s timing was exquisite. You might even say calculated to lose support. This week, the Bradfield branch of the Liberal party was slated to debate whether to give Turnbull life membership. The motion, it seems, was lost so resoundingly on the floor, that there was no need to go to a count. The Ku-ring-gai Young Liberals who diplomatically wanted both Turnbull and former prime minister Tony Abbott to be given life memberships were told the honours were in such short supply that neither could be granted.
While Turnbull’s views on the Australian embassy in Israel were out of step with the Coalition government, they were aligned with the Labor party. It’s hardly surprising when you consider that half a dozen Labor luminaries including former prime minister Bob Hawke and former senator Graham Richardson say that Turnbull discussed joining the Labor party in 1999 because he was ‘p-ssed off’ with then Liberal Prime Minister John Howard who had a ‘very different social agenda.’ Turnbull apparently also discussed the matter with former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, since both are republicans, although the latter says, ‘if you needed to know what Malcolm Turnbull truly believes in, what he would die in a ditch over, you would need a microscope to help you find it.’ As it turns out, when push came to shove, Turnbull wanted the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General, to pick and choose prime ministers like an 18th century monarch, or at least to reject his challenger, Mr Dutton.
When he was 21, Turnbull told future author and journalist David Dale that he wanted to be prime minister by the time he was 40. ‘For which party?’ Dale asked. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ Turnbull responded. It did to his wife Lucy however who describes herself as a ‘small-l liberal,’ and was ‘disturbed’ when he joined the Liberal party.
But despite joining the Liberal party, Turnbull ‘flirted’ with joining the ALP, according to senior ALP staffer David Britton, who founded Labor lobbying firm Hawker Britton. Opposition leader Kim Beazley says Turnbull proposed that he become Beazley’s finance spokesman but given that by then Turnbull was already well over 40, one suspects he would have wasted no time knifing Beazley in the back to take over his job.
Rebuffed, Turnbull was forced to stand for Liberal preselection for the seat of Wentworth, and wasted no time knifing the sitting member, Peter King, the leader of the opposition, Brendan Nelson and Prime Minister Tony Abbott before finally achieving his goal of becoming prime minister 21 years behind schedule.
Turnbull sees it differently. He claims he was ‘courted’ by Labor which, he modestly observed, was ‘hardly surprising.’ As he famously said, ‘humility is for saints,’ and he saw himself higher up the heavenly hierarchy. His mother apparently said, ironically, that she called him ‘the Messiah.’ He nicknamed himself Satan. With Turnbull, the disaster when it came was always going to be of ‘biblical proportions.’ Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling — what used to be called Old Testament wrath of God stuff in the 1980s comedy Ghostbusters and is now called an Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change.
But having done his best, or worst, unsuccessfully, to wreak vengeance on the government, Turnbull now has no card left to play and finds himself, even more than those he disparaged in his rage as the miserable ghosts of prime ministers past — Rudd and Abbott — to be doomed, like the spectre of Hamlet’s father, to suffer in sulph’rous and tormenting flames until the foul crimes done in his days of nature are burnt and purged away.
In the meantime, Turnbull tried to explain to the Friends of Wolper Jewish Hospital the difference between what he did to former prime minister Tony Abbott and his own removal as prime minister. ‘It’s one thing to see the blood on the walls,’ he said exegetically, ‘it’s another thing when it’s your own blood’. The great Jewish sage Hillel once explained the entire Torah — the Old Testament — by saying ‘that which is hateful to you, do not do to another.’ One suspects it’s a philosophy that’s a little too Talmudic for Turnbull to absorb.