Malcolm the miracle worker
Malcolm the miracle worker

Jesus of Nazareth turned water into wine at the marriage at Cana. The Bible says it was his first miracle. Malcolm of Point Piper tried to better that in 2007 by making water out of thin air. Science says it was a crock.

The rainmaker scandal is probably the best remembered controversy of Malcolm Turnbull’s first foray into the political big league. In his last days as environment minister in the Howard government, he approved a $10 million research grant to a company called the Australian Rain Corporation.

The company – which had less credibility in the scientific community than the tin-foil hat brigade – was headed by Turnbull’s millionaire mate, major campaign donor and Murdoch family member Matt Handbury. He claimed to be able to create rain clouds from clear blue skies through a process involving the “electrification of the ionosphere”.

It was a lot of bunkum. But Rain Man Handbury made off with the best part of $5 million in public money before the incoming Labor government cancelled the grant. Not one to be chastened, Turnbull has consistently labelled accusations of impropriety as “outrageous”.

This is a man whose moral code begins with dollars and ends with cents. From lawyer, to banker, to venture capitalist, to prime minister, Turnbull has been what a Sydney Morning Herald journalist described as a “commando” for the ruling class. His connections run deep. He married well and networked even better.

As a lawyer, he made his name defending Australia’s then richest man, Kerry Packer, from allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and tax evasion, which uncomfortably surfaced during the 1980 Costigan royal commission into the painters and dockers’ union. He got the slug off, which surely counts as a miracle.

As a capitalist, he got in on a favoured get-rich-quick scheme for Australia’s rich: pillaging the Pacific. In the early ’90s, he chaired a company, Axiom Holdings, that was responsible for ravaging the Solomon Islands’ natural environment. An Australian government report detailing the destruction wrought by Axiom’s logging operations said: “The degree of canopy removal and soil disturbance was the most extensive seen by the authors in any logging operation in tropical rainforest in any country”. It is nothing short of miraculous that he has buried this history well enough to tout, quite successfully, his environmental credentials.   

As a politician, Turnbull is all about “freedom”. He likes “free enterprise” and “individual initiative”.  He lamented the Liberal Party’s inability to carry through John Howard’s vision for a fully “free” and “flexible” industrial relations system in which unions are marginalised, if present at all.

He spent much of his time as opposition leader playing the pious disciple of John Howard, waxing lyrical about his predecessor’s public sector cuts, union bashing and corporate welfare initiatives.

Turnbull’s commitment to shredding workers’ rights was on display during his years in opposition and as communications minister. It will be a feature of his prime ministership.

After the disaster of Abbott, the bosses are desperate for a miracle worker to strike the next major blow against the working class. In Malcolm Turnbull, they think they might have found one.

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