Malcolm Turnbull, like prime ministers before him, could have chosen a different path. The magnetic pull of public service, as opposed to public life, and his ambitions for Australia beyond what can be achieved in other sectors, propelled Turnbull to politics. The challenge for all leaders being to bring the party and the people with you.
Malcolm Turnbull excelled academically during his youth, and before embarking upon his political career, he was a Rhodes Scholar, journalist, high-profile lawyer, and businessman. In 1993, Prime Minister Paul Keating appointed him as the Chairman of the Republican Advisory Committee, putting him at the forefront of a large political movement of the day. His business history, most notably as the chairman of OzEmail, allowed him to become one of Australia’s richest parliamentarians. Turnbull was elected to the House of Representatives in the seat of Wentworth in 2004. Turnbull quickly rose through the ranks of the Liberal Party, as a minister in the final term of the Howard Government, and later as the federal opposition leader. He lost the Liberal leadership to challenger Tony Abbott in December 2009, but remained a prominent figure on the Liberal Party frontbench as Minister for Communications. In 2015, he successfully challenged Tony Abbott for the leadership and became prime minister. Turnbull called an election for 2 July 2016, which he narrowly won after a marathon eight-week campaign.
Women's Safety Package
The Women’s Safety Package, announced on 24 September 2015, provides $100 million for services to prevent and mitigate violence against women. This is in response to influential public campaigns that exposed the worrying levels of violence against women in Australia.
A plan to spend $1.1 billion over four years to increase ties between the research sector and business, and increase education funding in science and technology at schools and universities is announced on 7 December 2015. The intention of the package is to create an ‘ideas boom’ in Australia.
Australian of the Year Awards
David Morrison, the Chair of Diversity Council Australia, is announced on 26 January 2016 as the Australian of the Year.
Port Arthur Commemoration Service
Malcolm Turnbull gave an address in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur shootings on 28 April 2016.
Federal Ministry sworn in
The new ministry was sworn in on 19 July 2016 by the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove. The Cabinet increased in size from 22 to 23 ministers, the largest since the 1970s.
Same-sex marriage legal
Same-sex marriage became officially legal in Australia after Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove gave assent to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill on 8 December 2017. This was after the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey results showed that 61.6% of respondents supported changing the law.
On 8 March 2018, Australia and 11 other countries signed the free trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) to deliver increased opportunities for Australian investors and exporters engaged in international business.
In his first press conference after becoming prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull announced that his would be an optimistic 21st century government, and that there had never been a more exciting time to be Australian. In line with this, an innovation program was later announced to boost CSIRO and collaborative research, and to make it easier for overseas entrepreneurs to obtain visas to come to Australia. Responding to growing community concern, Turnbull also highlighted addressing domestic violence as a national priority and offered new funding for this in a Women’s Safety Package initiative. The government began to examine ways to prevent multi-national tax avoidance in order to ensure that companies which made a profit in Australia paid tax here. Turnbull also softened the tone of the debate on national security, indicating that counter-terrorism measures needed to be right, not just tough. Turnbull won the 2016 election, but the government’s significant majority was reduced to a single seat in the House of Representatives. In addition to this, the Senate electoral reforms on preference numbering, combined with a double dissolution, did not bring about the desired Coalition majority in the upper house. Instead, the Turnbull Government needed to work with an expanded crossbench consisting of Greens, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, the Centre Alliance Party and a number of independents.
Turnbull was not always embraced by all of his Liberal Party colleagues, particularly in regard to his views on issues such as same-sex marriage and climate change. As opposition leader, his support for initiatives to combat climate change had split the party and cost him the leadership. As low opinion poll figures continued for Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Turnbull’s popularity increased and he successfully challenged Abbott for the party leadership in 2015. Turnbull came to the prime ministership with much public expectation and goodwill and he was keen to show that he had learnt from his previous period as leader. After the poor 2016 election result, Turnbull’s polling results were repeatedly in the negative. He found it increasingly difficult to provide the exciting and optimistic 21st century government he promised on becoming prime minister. A number of prominent conservative Liberals expressed concerns over the government’s direction and cited the poor Longman by-election result as an indication that Turnbull had lost the party’s core constituency. This led to a leadership challenge, with Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison standing for party leader, which resulted in Scott Morrison becoming prime minister on 24 August 2018.
In an interview on the ABCs 7.30 Report, in his first week as prime minister Turnbull indicated his strong support for philanthropy and that Kirribilli House in Sydney was ‘a great location to use for charities and opportunities to support good causes.’ His view was, ‘… if you do well, you’ve got to give something back. That’s why I encourage people to be generous. That’s why I encourage and practice philanthropy.’ In June 2014, Turnbull launched the ‘One Million Donors Program’ which aimed to see one million Australians giving to charities through their individual workplaces by 2020. In his launch speech Turnbull outlined in some detail his personal philosophy on giving: ‘But the whole point of philanthropy is that it is not reciprocal. It is the voluntary surrender of something that is yours, purely for the benefit of others. And it is a critically important part of our social integrity, of our social cohesion.’ Turnbull, with his wife Lucy, established the Turnbull Foundation in 2001 to support grass-roots charities. Their first donation of $93,000 was to the Redfern Foundation for the purchase of two vans to be used by Aboriginal families. Turnbull ended his ‘One Million Donors’ address by saying, ‘what you’re really doing, is giving love practical form. And that is so important.’
In April 2013, Turnbull was invited to participate in Kitchen Cabinet, a show created by political commentator Annabel Crabb, in which she visited the homes of politicians to talk with them and cook together. During the program, Turnbull demonstrated how to remove pomegranate seeds without getting juice on his clothes. Just after he became prime minister, Crabb invited Turnbull to participate in her new television series ‘Canberra Al Desko’, in which politicians read their favourite letters from constituents. Turnbull read a letter from one of his constituents in Wentworth, a chef named Jevon. Jevon informed Turnbull that “I might have to swing my vote now that I’ve learnt how to get the seeds out of pomegranates using water. Thanks for that, made my day easier”. A chuffed Turnbull remarked that “sometimes in politics, you wonder whether you’re being useful … that was certainly useful”.
Annabel Crabb, Constituent Letter: Malcolm Turnbull, Canberra Al Desko, Series 1, Episode 3, 2015
Annabel Crabb, Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull, Black Inc. Books, Melbourne, 2016
Paddy Manning, Born to rule: The unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2015
David Mark, High profile Republican establishes charity foundation, The World Today, 14 March, 2001
Leigh Sales, PM and Government can provide leadership and confidence suggests Malcolm Turnbull, 7.30 Report, 21 September, 2015
Malcolm Turnbull, Every Dollar Given to Charity is A Dollar Wrapped In Love: Launch the One Million Donors Program, 6 June, 2014
Don Watson, Will the Real Malcolm Turnbull Please Stand Up, The Monthly, March, 2016