Don’t do it, Malcolm. Step away from the microphone.
These are the words of caution and concern that should be flooding the WhatsApp inbox of Malcolm Turnbull right now. That’s unless Mr Turnbull’s friends and family want to see him trash what’s left of the goodwill that Australian voters still hold for the former prime minister.
Just 10 weeks ago, Mr Turnbull was torn down by arch conservative forces within the Coalition government. His demise was not entirely the fault of the plotters, given Mr Turnbull had proven to be a considerable disappointment to his progressive supporters and, at many times, had cruelled his own chances with poor political decisions.
Despite this, the former PM was held in high regard, and it was widely expected that he’d be a man of his word when he left Parliament House for the last time that day in August.
It seemed petty to begrudge his swift resignation from Parliament, potentially throwing the colleagues he left behind into minority government, because he’d made it clear he would do so if defeated.
According to Mr Turnbull, former PMs were “best out of Parliament, not in it”.
And who could blame him jetting off to New York City to avoid the aftermath? He was a private citizen after all.
Mr Turnbull explained it best when he told an audience after arriving in NYC that “when you stop being prime minister, that’s it”, and that he didn’t want to be “hanging around like Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott” whom he described as “miserable ghosts” who should just “move on”.
But it soon became clear that MrTurnbull would not go as quietly as he claimed.
First there were the leaks, such as the $7.6 billion infrastructure package secretly approved in the May budget for announcement during the upcoming election. And the revelation that Scott Morrison had an expletive-laden phone call with Tasmania’s treasurer over the GST carve-up. We can’t prove either came from Mr Turnbull, but he’s one of the very few people to possess the information.
Then there was the former member for Wentworth’s reluctance to publicly throw his support behind Liberal candidate Dave Sharma to replace him as the local member.
Other than a congratulatory tweet on the day of Mr Sharma’s preselection, Mr Turnbull reportedly declined numerous pleas – even from the candidate – to persuade voters angry about his poor treatment to still vote Liberal.
At the time, it seemed reasonable that Mr Turnbull was concerned his intervention would simply inflame that voter anger. But in light of his more recent behaviour, it appears even more likely that the former PM’s refusal to assist was less well intentioned.
A former PM determined to avoid being bitter and destructive would not accidentally ‘like’ two social media posts that would immediately be noticed and interpreted by journalists as him being deliberately mischievous.
spicy – Malcolm Turnbull has liked a tweet pushing for a Kerryn Phelps win in Wentworth.
Accidentally? Intentionally? Who knows! pic.twitter.com/09J11DiYjh
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) October 18, 2018
He wouldn’t make it known to the media that he was visiting his son in Singapore on the weekend of the by-election poll, when that same son had spent the whole campaign criticising the Coalition’s climate policies and urging a protest vote.
A former PM who had ‘moved on’ wouldn’t publicly insert himself into a diplomatic and trade imbroglio between Australia and Indonesia, even if he was explicitly commissioned by the new PM to do so behind the scenes.
A few facts. @ScottMorrisonMP asked me to discuss trade and the embassy issue in Bali and we had a call before I left to confirm his messages which I duly relayed to @jokowi There was a detailed paper on the issue in my official brief as well.
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) November 1, 2018
Nor would he agree to a tell-all television interview, which is clearly what Mr Turnbull’s appearance on a special edition of Q&A next week will be.
The event is being promoted as an opportunity for the former PM “to answer questions from the people of Australia”. Given the first question is likely to be “Why aren’t you still the Prime Minister?”, the live broadcast will provide the vanquished leader with the perfect platform to wreak vengeance on the Abbott-Dutton camp that tore him down.
There will be voters, perhaps many, who will empathise with this behaviour, even though it’s reminiscent of those miserable ghosts that Malcolm Turnbull spoke so dismissively of less than three months ago.
The risk, however, is that Mr Turnbull may also use the Q&A session to apply the blowtorch to the Morrison camp that exploited his downfall. Having already sniped and undermined the ‘new’ government, Mr Turnbull must resist the urge to completely wreck it.
If he doesn’t step away from the microphone, and instead insists on retribution, voters will relegate Mr Turnbull to the wrecker’s bin along with Mr Abbott and Mr Rudd.