The Turnbull Gamble by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen

The Turnbull Gamble by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen

‘The Turnbull gamble had one requirement for success—winning the 2016 election.’

On 15 September 2015 Malcolm Turnbull became the 29th Prime Minister of Australia.  He beat Tony Abbott in a leadership ballot by 54 votes to 44.  It was the first time that the Liberal Party had changed leaders during the first term of government, and was a consequence of a collapse in support for the government during Tony Abbott’s prime ministership.

Twelve months later, an election has been held, and Malcolm Turnbull leads a government with a very slender majority (76 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives, 30 seats in the 76-member Senate).

Has the Turnbull gamble paid off?  Yes, if the only requirement for success was winning the 2016 election.  While some of the more conservative elements on the coalition side disagree, it seems highly likely that if Tony Abbott had still been leading the coalition government at the time of the election, we’d now have a Labor government.

But things have not gone well for Malcolm Turnbull.  While some of that seems a consequence of the damage being done by the aptly named ‘delcons’ (delusional conservatives – a label coined by Miranda Devine), Malcolm Turnbull himself has been disappointing.  Calling a double-dissolution election after a long mid-winter campaign was always going to be a gamble.   While the government hoped that a double-dissolution election would result in a smaller cross-bench in the Senate, the smaller quota required to be elected in such an election always made this strategy unlikely to succeed.  Forget the arithmetic of quotas, any amount of polling seemed to indicate that voters were dissatisfied with both Labor and the coalition.

In this book, Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen analyse Malcolm Turnbull’s past, achievements, and leadership style.  They also identify some of the barriers (some personal, some institutional) to his becoming a successful prime minister.  Leadership qualities are important, and leading a government is not the same as leading a business.  Can Malcolm Turnbull successfully lead the various factions which are part of the coalition into an effective government?  The country is desperate for effective leadership, and time is passing.

While I found this book interesting, I am discouraged and disappointed by the Turnbull experiment so far.  I expected so much more.  What does Malcolm Turnbull really stand for?

Wayne Errington is Associate Professor in Politics and Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) in the Faculty of Arts at Adelaide University.  Peter van Onselen is Contributing Editor at The Australian and a presenter at Sky News. He is a professor in politics at the University of Western Australia.

Together they have written ‘John Winston Howard: The Definitive Biography’ and ‘Battleground: Why the Liberal Party Shirtfronted Tony Abbott’.

Note: My thanks to Melbourne University Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


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