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Malcolm Turnbull's confidence trick

  • 25 November 2015

The vitriol with which much of the liberal mainstream media responded to Tony Abbott's Margaret Thatcher memorial speech last month confirmed what many rightwingers have been claiming: that the scorn towards the former PM was a result of his conservative social values and that the problem was not his policies, but rather, his inability to sell them.

After all, as Abbott was lecturing European Tories on the virtues of his 'turn back the boats' policy, current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — the man currently implementing that very policy — was enjoying unrivalled popularity.

Their competing fortunes and popularity couldn't be more divergent, yet they both agree that the leadership switch hasn't ushered in any significant policy changes.

Fresh from his first round of international summits as prime minister, the polls suggest Turnbull is (for the moment, at least) untouchable. 

Labor's efforts to paint him as 'out of touch' didn't get much traction, but they'll likely try again before the next election.

Significantly, the reaction to Senator Sam Dastyari's decision to use parliamentary privilege to query Turnbull's investments in that infamous tax haven, the Cayman Islands, says much about Australia's political discourse. Fairfax slammed the move, calling it 'lame' and claiming Labor has flicked the switch on 'class warfare.' The media class almost universally agreed the 'tactic' had failed. But by whose measure? Well, their own, of course.

All the 'system is broken' punditry that had become an obsession for the mainstream media in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Abbott days is apparently obsolete now that Australia has a prime minister who talks and dreams big. (Remember when Tom Elliott declared that 'democracy isn't working right now. It's time we temporarily suspended the democratic process and installed a benign dictatorship to make tough but necessary decisions'? Ah, good times.)

As communicators, Turnbull and Abbott are poles apart. His refusal to start 'spinning your way into somebody you are not' is refreshing because there's a growing frustration with the current crop of wooden politicians who are so scared of saying something stupid that they say nothing at all.

But for Turnbull to decry the professional wordsmiths and manipulators is somewhat ironic. After all, he should be their poster boy. Having done nothing other than change the messaging, he's turned the Coalition's fortunes around.

It's not that I want to underplay the significance of the leadership change. Indeed, Turnbull looked instantly comfortable among the world's leaders last week, in stark contrast to Abbott, whose cringe-worthy performance at the