Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On the QT: I'm only a poor ex-Merchant Banker

Malcolm Turnbull has the image of being a rich, toff millionaire merchant banker from Sydney's eastern suburbs. And it's one that will be hard to shake (mainly because he is a rich, toff, millionaire merchant banker from eastern Sydney).

Now I know Kevin Rudd is just as rich (due to his wife's business), but politics is perception and Rudd does not come across as the type of person who hangs out at art galleries and dines at Aria and Testuya's. Turnbull not only comes across like he does, he comes across as someone who buys paintings from art galleries, and has a personal table at Aria and Tetsuya's.

And if you think Turnbull doesn't think it's a problem, check out his opening words at his first press conference as leader of the Liberal Party:

"I do not come to the position of the leader of the Liberal Party from a lifetime of privilege. I know what it's like to be very short of money, I know what it's like to live in rented flats, I know what it is like to be raised by a single parent."

Geez, where's a violin when you need it?

He also knows what it's like to be considered part of Sydney's A-list
Now because of the leadership vote in the morning, Question Time was a rather dull affair; obviously the Liberal tactics' committee had other things on their mind; but even given that, Turnbull's opening effort was an odd attack. He asked Rudd what concrete action the PM was now taking to strengthen the Australian economy due to the global financial crisis, in particular the failure of the Lehman Brothers Bank.

So to counter the image that he is an ex-banker, he opens with a question about an investment bank.

He did the same with his second question, seeming to ponder the exposure of various levels of government to Lehman Brothers, and wondering what Rudd was going to do about it.

It was somewhat odd - especially as not half an hour earlier at the National Press Club, Peter Costello in the course of delivering his own eulogy, remarked on the strength of the Australian financial market compared to the US.

According to Samantha Maiden of The Australian it was Turnbull "attacking the Rudd Government on economic management". Which suggests that the bar of what constitutes an "attack" has been set pretty damn low.

The rest of QT was made up of questions from back benchers. Obviously as Turnbull has yet to pick his front bench, there wasn't much point in letting any of those sitting up the front ask questions on areas they may no longer have any responsibility of in two days time.

It probably wasn't helped by the stream from the parliament house website being rather scratchy, but for mine it was all pretty boring. The real QT won't begin again until the Libs have a new front bench.

Wayne Swan had the line of the day, suggesting that to Turnbull alcopops is the sound made when he opens a bottle of Moet. It was a nice class-war line, but I'm not sure how many legs the "rich Turnbull attacks" have. I think his ego and arrogance are more of a put off to voters than his wealth.
So what impact will Turnbull have on the polls? Well obviously there will have to be some improvement - it's hardly possible for him to make them worse!

But one of the things Turnbull and the Liberal Party will now realise is that 2010 is a long way away. The early strategy seemed to be to let Nelson take the first 12 months and then run for the line 18 months to 2 years out with a new leader. Now the run for the line is over 2 years long. And Turnbull will have to produce significantly better polling or the sharks will start to circle again. He also needs to unite a very conservative block of MPs behind his rather more moderate views (let alone work with the National Party...).
There is a corridor in Old Parliament House which has the photos of every opposition leader who never became PM. Brendan Nelson will now take his place after that of Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, Simon Crean, and Alexander Downer. Where does he rank among those? Obviously better than Downer; but certainly not as good as Beazley (who ran in 2 elections, and also got the ALP back into a winning position). I guess he was better than Latham, but only in retrospect - Latham did OK as a leader, his legacy was only trashed once he lost the leadership and published his diaries, and also Latham led the ALP to an election, something Nelson didn't get close to doing, so perhaps he's ranked behind Latham.

I think Nelson is about equal with Simon Crean; both were failures, but both did good things for their party - Crean ensured the ALP voted against going to war in Iraq, and Nelson made the sorry to the stolen generations a bi-partisan apology.

In a nice bit of means nothing symmetry Nelson has been replaced by Turnbull who is the member for Wentworth. Nelson also becomes the second "Dr" to fail as leader the Liberal Party; the first was of course Dr Hewson, who was the member for Wentworth.

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