As the electors of Wentworth consider their options to replace Malcolm Turnbull as their MP, we might take a moment to note his legacy as PM. At first glance it barely rates with his predecessors in the passing parade since Kevin Rudd’s departure in 2010.
Rudd at least has the apology to the Stolen Generations; Julia Gillard will be credited with the NDIS and the Royal Commission into child abuse; and who could forget Tony Abbott’s knighthood to the Duke of Edinburgh. But Malcolm? Well, the Banking Royal Commission got started on his watch but that was in spite of his determined efforts and those of his successor, the Muppets fan, Scott Morrison.
However, behind the scenes Turnbull had been engaged in a project that had the capacity to remake a vital element of Australia’s defence and security; and if only he’d been given a few more days in The Lodge he would have sealed the deal.
From the time he took office, Turnbull turned his attention to the tightrope that Australia walks between our principal trading partner in China and our major defence ally in the United States. He was happily free of the kind of racial prejudice that has bedevilled our relations with Asia; and as a partner in Goldman Sachs he well knew the enormous global power and influence of the American imperium.
While the US remained unchallenged at the top of the tree, Australia could dance along the tightrope enjoying the best of both worlds. But once China came roaring back into the economic arena after a couple of centuries on the sidelines, the winds of change began buffeting the little Aussie funambulist. And when the Americans had a mad conniption and elected Donald J. Trump to the White House, it was suddenly blowing a gale up there.
Turnbull realised that we needed a net. It was not a new thought. A former Prime Minister, Paul Keating had come to the same conclusion decades before when he said that Australia should find its security ‘in Asia and not from Asia’. Keating secretly negotiated a security agreement with Indonesia’s President Suharto then announced it to a bemused nation. Neither Indonesia nor Australia were ready for it and Suharto’s corrupt regime fell apart anyway.
However, by 2016 President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo was running a good democratic government overseeing a massive economic growth spurt that provided an excellent antidote to the Islamic extremists. And Jokowi was equally concerned to avoid any intrusiveness from a China who Xi Jinping himself boasted was the ‘big guy’ in the neighbourhood. Turnbull set out to charm Jokowi, calling him to his face, ‘one of the most important leaders [and] role models in the world.’ The Indonesian responded in kind.
By August this year, it was all coming together – the broad outlines of a new relationship had been negotiated and individual agreements, staggered and timed for the greatest impact, would follow in its train. The stage was set for Turnbull’s trip to Jakarta on August 31.
But there were rats in the ranks at home and there was no way he could leave the country without putting them in their place. So on August 21 Turnbull called a spill to confirm his leadership…and the rest, as they say, is history. However, before he called the final meeting that saw him replaced, he secured Morrison’s agreement that he would make the Jakarta visit. Which he did.
But oh dear, what a let down it was. The Muppet fan looked about as comfortable in Jakarta as Miss Piggy in a tutu. And it’s no job for a new Foreign Minister like Marise Payne. And with those intemperate tweets from New York went any chance that Malcolm himself could save it.
Seems a shame, doesn’t it.
Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. His Dark Paradise swept aside the curtain of euphemism to expose the horror of colonial sadism on the penal colony of Norfolk Island. His monumental history of Australia’s Special Forces – Warrior Elite – is required reading in the fields of Military Security and Intelligence. His best-selling biography, SAS Sniper revealed as never before the battles against Islamist fanatics. And these are just a few of the highlights among his 28 respected and popular works of fiction and non-fiction.He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton. His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.