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August 2018

Fin Review column - Turnbull "greatest Australian since WW2"

If you know Turnbull, you could be excused for thinking he wrote this AFR piece himself.

And you'd be close to the truth.

One small detail the AFR might have included at the top of the story (rather than hidden away in the heart of the AFR's website) is the fact that their contributing editor Christopher Joye worked at Goldman Sachs where Turnbull was Chairman.

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Now with that in mind, prepare to read such things as will amaze you!

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Elected chair of the iconoclastic Australian Republican Movement in 1993, Turnbull  led a controversial referendum on the subject six years later. In 1994 he backed one of the first internet service providers, Ozemail, which was parlayed into a $40 million payday before the dot-com bubble burst.

In the same year Turnbull debuted on the BRW Rich 200 List with a $65 million fortune, which would be subsequently revised upwards to $200 million care of a spate of successful trades, including the sale of Webcentral to Melbourne IT in 2006 and enterprise search provider ISYS to Lexmark in 2012.


Allegedly Turnbull's biggest earner was, however, more conventional when in 1997 Goldman Sachs's 2IC John Thornton selected him to run the Australian office. (The late Sam  Chisholm boasted to this columnist that he was actually responsible for alerting Thornton to the future prime minister's potential.) Securing a coveted partnership shortly thereafter, Turnbull was speculated to have banked equity worth as much as $70 million when Goldman Sachs listed itself on the New York Stock Exchange. 

While the young man in a hurry generated hundreds of millions of dollars during the 1990s, he selflessly traded away his immense income-earning capacity for a career in politics in 2004 at the age of 50. Knowing what we do today, who would dare follow in his crazy-brave footsteps? There is no question that the 14 years since thwarted any chance of Turnbull joining the exclusive ranks of Australia's 40 or so billionaires.

Winner in the real contest

Sworn in as prime minister in September 2015, Turnbull's most important political asset was precisely his essential point of difference vis-à-vis his colleagues: that he had never been a professional politician lacking, as most of the class does, any real world experience. Turnbull was the anti-politician who had proven over and over again that he was a winner in the contest that matters most – life.

And yet this was also Turnbull's greatest liability: if he traded away his authenticity, ideas and commercial judgement and conformed to the internal political consensus, he would become yet another irrelevant commodity – a "hollow man" incapable of action because of the eviscerating, mean-reverting influence of the need to satisfy the lowest common denominator.

Australia would have been much better off had we experimented with allowing Turnbull to run the government as a CEO would a large corporation for a single, three-year term. Rising above the politicking that seemingly suffocates all leaders these days, Turnbull could have put in place the most far-reaching and important reforms since federation.

There is certainly a credible case that Turnbull would have been a more effective prime minister as leader of Labor, pulling it to the right, rather than trying to shunt the calcified and increasingly irrational, anarchist conservatives to the left. And Labor would have been arguably much more comfortable with Turnbull's progressive reform agenda.

His son, Alex, put it best with the pithy summary: "My father fought stupid, and stupid won." That logic is hard to fault.

Far-reaching achievements

Out going Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with granddaughter Alice and grandson Jack after speaking to the media after a ...
Out going Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with granddaughter Alice and grandson Jack after speaking to the media after a leadership spill at Parliament House in Canberra. Dominic Lorrimer

While a handicapped Turnbull as prime minister never remotely realised his potential – and was in the end assassinated by the far-right's suicide bombers who blew themselves, and the party's immediate political prospects, up in the process – he did stealthily achieve a great deal.

Some signal successes include:

  • Undermining the conservative's xenophobic redoubt by actively promoting Australia's position as "the most successful multicultural society in the world" (no OECD country has more residents born overseas), underlined by a strong immigration intake;
  • Combating Labor's class warfare and misleading inequality propaganda with a constructive, albeit less tractable, narrative on aspirational entrepreneurship that celebrates, rather than immolates, tall poppies;
  • Shepherding the biggest cumulative budget deficits since the middle of the last century towards surplus while slashing taxes through record jobs growth and above-trend real GDP growth;
  • Developing a desperately-needed $75 billion infrastructure program to support Australia's world-beating population increases, including a second Sydney Airport, the Melbourne-to-Brisbane inland rail system and the landmark renewables investment in Snowy Hydro 2.0;
  • Restoring defence spending to credible levels after Labor crushed it to the lowest share of GDP since the second world war (though I question the decision to buy French subs!); and
  • Legalising same-sex marriage to the horror of his conservative comrades.  

Since Turnbull is only 63, he has much more to contribute in life after politics. He will presumably once again burnish his entrepreneurial abilities while eventually re-emerging as a critical voice mediating the great debates of the day.

Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott battled for the Liberal leadership more than once.
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott battled for the Liberal leadership more than once.

Hope for successors

And while the insurgents left his party in tatters, there is hope that Turnbull's successors, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, will cauterise the wounds. To the scorn of pundits, I previously argued Morrison was prime ministerial material, although the speed of his ascendancy surprised all. The good news is that the 47-year-old Frydenberg is a freakish talent and possibly the single best person in the party to run the treasury portfolio.

If Morrison can delay the election until May next year, he should be able to contest it with the budget in surplus on a rolling 12-month basis. In a world in which Australians are more indebted than they have ever been before, and deeply sceptical of Canberra's jejune antics, backing rhetoric with actions via a surplus could be a surprisingly powerful tailwind. This is borne out in polling showing voters would prefer their government pays back public debt rather than cut taxes and waste the windfall.

And if Morrison pulls off a miracle and wins the next election, his deputy, Frydenberg, has a shot of becoming our most successful treasurer since the inimitable Peter Costello via the delivery of a string of strong surpluses.


The author is a portfolio manager with Coolabah Capital Investments, which invests in fixed-income securities including those discussed by this column.


AFR Contributor

Turnbull was the anti-politician who had proven he was a winner in the contest that matters most – life.Turnbull was the anti-politician who had proven he was a winner in the contest that matters most – life.In 1983 Turnbull was appointed general counsel to the richest man in the land, Kerry Packer, at the tender age of 29. By 32 he had become the country's most prominent barrister, successfully defending whistle-blower and former MI5 officer Peter Wright from prosecution by the British government in the sensational Spycatcher case.

GetUp co-chair Carla McGrath "removed" from Press Council after refusal to resign

Just like a stain.  Removed.  

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The Australian Press Council has removed Carla McGrath as a public member because her position as Deputy Chair of GetUp! is incompatible with her continued role as a public member of the Council.
At its meeting in May, the Australian Press Council resolved that Ms McGrath’s position at GetUp! created an ongoing and irreconcilable conflict of interest with her role on the Press Council. As Ms McGrath chose not to resign either from the Press Council or as an officer of GetUp!, the Council further resolved to take steps in accordance with its Constitution to remove her as a public member.
This action was concluded today at a General Meeting of the Press Council.
“I believe this is the best outcome in a very difficult situation,” said Chair Neville Stevens. “Carla McGrath, as a respected member of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, would have brought an important perspective to the work of the Council. While the Council is committed to increasing diversity among its members, there is an overriding need for it to be independent and to be seen to be independent.”
Under the Press Council’s Constitution, any resolution to remove a public member before the expiration of their term must be passed by at least 75 per cent of members present at such a meeting. Details of the actual vote numbers, or how individual members voted, are never made public.
For more information, contact Michael Rose, the Press Council's Director of Research and Communications, on 0451 978 276 or by email: [email protected].

Today's announcement is largely due to News Corp's principled stance on the issue.

Here's The Australian's editor in chief Paul Whittaker.

The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Paul Whittaker welcomed the Press Council’s “belated decision’’ to remove Ms McGrath but said it was “beyond belief’’ that she had been appointed in the first place.

“The chairman and the Council have taken the only sensible course of action they could have to restore the Council’s credibility as it is ridiculous that the deputy chair of GetUp was ever appointed in the first place,’’ Whittaker said.

“How anyone, including current members of the Council, could have thought that appointing a leader of a strident left-wing political activist organisation to an independent press watchdog would be acceptable is beyond belief.’’

Her removal, which is believed to have immediate effect, puts an end to more than a year of turmoil that began on May 25 last year when a majority of Press Council members endorsed her nomination by former chairman David Weisbrot as a “public” member.

The backlash, which began soon after her appointment became public, led to a boycott by The Australian of Press Council investigations and adjudications involving Ms McGrath. Newspapers in every state later joined the boycott.

This led to the early resignation of Professor Weisbrot who was succeeded last year by Neville Stevens, a former senior public servant.

In his letter of resignation, Professor Weisbrot said his reason for leaving was “persistent personal attacks” and a campaign of “misinformation” over Ms McGrath’s appointment.

Earlier this year, Whittaker expressed disappointment at Ms McGrath’s appointment.

At the time Whittaker had said: “GetUp is effectively another wing of the Labor Party and the Greens.

“GetUp’s deputy chair Ms McGrath will be sitting in judgment at the Press Council on complaints over contentious newspaper stories about important matters in the public interest such as mining, climate change, immigration and asylum-seekers — all issues of which the organisation she represents has aggressively campaigned on from a Green-left position.

“The Australian will not accept any adjudication finding that the GetUp deputy chair has participated in, as we have a reasonable apprehension of bias given the organisation’s strident political activism, including its campaigns against News Corp publications.”

Kids meet an Opera Singer - and open a very, very big window!

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A little bit of loveliness for your Friday.


It's a magnificent gift to introduce children to our Western cultural heritage.

(The Islamic State showed us what life's like without it - no museums, no statues, execution for possessing a musical instrument and a life of drudgery set against a dull black backdrop.  Mohammed understood the ethereal uplifting power of music and decided that Allah couldn't compete.)

Australia produced one of the operatic world's greatest superstars, La Stupenda.

On 9 November 2010 Australia's prime minister strode onto the Sydney Opera House stage at the State Memorial Service for the late Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE.

It was the first time the 49 year old had visited the Opera House.

Ms Gillard gave one of those rare speeches in which the self-important disclose so much about themselves and nothing about their subject: 

She* absorbed the sound of her mother’s beautiful voice as easily as she breathed the air itself, giving her a sense of effortless achievement that later helped transform potential into legend.

La Stupenda's excellence was the result of years and years and years of education, training, discipline and practice, practice, practice. Try telling Angel and the kids that you can be an Opera singer "as easily as breathing the air" with a career of "effortless achievement"!  That only happens in politics.

The operatic oeuvre is replete with women of real grace, depth and power.

I'll leave you with Wagner's Valkyrie, the powerful dames of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

These women fly down from their overwatch positions to the scene of a recent battle - to chose which warriors of honour should ascend to Valhalla and which to the fires of the underworld.

No misogyny there!

* Sorry about the verbatim quote which refers to "She".  My grandmother always said "She's the cat's mother".

Senator (sic) Kimberley Kitching ......"it's not what you know but who you know"

My God this is rich.

She must feel it herself given all the stumbles and eyes darting left and right.

Kimberley Kitching, the ultimate beneficiary of the "not what you know but who you know" (or what you know about who you know) mantra lecturing Peter Dutton.

GILLARD's gong for "outstanding education reforms". Result of her reform? "Schools in absolute decline"

Julia Gillard has deepest-thanked Curtin University for "the privilege" of receiving "my very great honour".

Curtin must be an easy touch - they gonged Gillard for her "outstanding contribution" to education.

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Ms Gillard, who is also Patron of the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in recognition of her outstanding contribution to education and social inclusion as well as her distinguished career in political leadership, spanning almost two decades.

“Julia Gillard’s influence on public life has been exceptional through her distinguished career in law and politics, but it is her role in education reform that has arguably been her greatest contribution to Australian society,” Professor Terry said.

“Over the course of her political career, Ms Gillard linked education reform with her vision of an economically prudent, prosperous and fair Australia that faced the global financial crisis and guided Australia through its longest resources boom during her time of leadership.

“Ms Gillard introduced a number of education policies and programs that have helped create access to education for all Australians, and this award is a fitting acknowledgement of her outstanding ongoing contribution and service to the community.”


Really.  They are in fantasy land.

Here's the OECD data on our performance in education after Gillard's outstanding reforms.

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Judge strikes out Mark Latham's defence to Osman Faruqi's defamation suit

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IFederal Court Judge Wigney's Judgement on Mark Latham's defence after Osman Faruqi sued for defamation is devastating.  I've published in full below.

Latham says he'll appeal - I've no idea what he means by that.  Does he want the defence to stand as it is?  The Judge has given him until 28 September to file a new defence to the allegation made by Faruqi - if I was Latham I'd be taking the Judge up on his offer.


Judgement on Mark Latham's defence after Osman Faruqi sued him for defamation by Michael Smith on Scribd

I've no experience of being sued for defamation but by looking at the court file on Faruqi's claim it's a painful and torturous process.

Faruqi lodged his claim on 17 October last year.  Latham's defence was finally lodged about a month later.  It's taken the Judge until now to deliver his judgement.

Latham is up against Faruqi backed by his Greens/ABC/Lefty Media mates and the Labor law firm Maurice Blackburn.  Labor figures will be taking great delight in Latham's discomfort.

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