Malcolm Turnbull may present as the “progressive” face of the Liberal Party, but, just as much as Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, his agenda is one of screwing the working class and rewarding the party’s big business backers. The basis of his support in the Liberal Party is that he will be able to do this more effectively than Abbott and Hockey, thereby saving the political careers of his caucus colleagues.
Turnbull at least makes no bones about this. When asked by shock jock Alan Jones last June whether he supported Hockey’s budget, he said: “I support unreservedly and wholeheartedly every element in the Budget, every single one.”
You would expect nothing less from parliament’s wealthiest individual. With a fortune just shy of $200 million, Turnbull will never need to rely on the services that the Liberals are so keen to destroy.
Turnbull made his money as a prize fighter for the super-rich before he joined their ranks. In 1980, shortly after marrying Lucy Hughes, daughter of former Liberal attorney general Tom Hughes, Turnbull returned to Australia after a stint as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and started work as a barrister in Sydney. With his Liberal Party connections, Turnbull quickly picked up lucrative briefs.
In 1983, he started working as general counsel for Australia’s richest man, Kerry Packer, who was facing allegations of corruption at the NSW Costigan Commission. Turnbull’s skills ensured that Packer never faced any charges. As a gesture of gratitude, Packer pitched $25 million into a new investment bank set up in 1987 by Turnbull in association with Neville Wran and Nick Whitlam.
Investment banking provided Turnbull with fantastic riches, as did his role as chairman in what was then Australia’s biggest internet service provider, OzEmail. His original $1 million stake was worth $60 million when he quit in 1999. In the early 1990s, Turnbull also served as chairman of Axiom Forest Resources, which clear-felled forests in the Solomon Islands, turning a profit of $25 million in less than two years from environmental devastation.
In 1997, Turnbull was appointed managing director and shortly afterwards, partner, of the Australian division of investment bank Goldman Sachs, where he was able to capitalise on the extensive privatisation programs then being carried out by of state and federal Liberal governments.
By now Turnbull had become seriously rich and, with extensive political and business connections, was well positioned to become chief fundraiser for the Liberal Party in 2002. Two years later, he won preselection for Wentworth, buying the safe Sydney eastern suburbs seat with $600,000 of his own money. Turnbull’s bid was backed by a Who’s Who of Sydney money, including Macquarie Bank boss Alan Moss, Aussie Home Loans chief John Symond, Phil Green, chief of investment bank Babcock and Brown, Harry Triguboff of Meriton Property and Kerry Packer’s wife, Ros.
Appointed minister of the environment in John Howard’s last term in government, this so-called moderate approved the application by Gunns Limited to build a $1.7 billion pulp mill in Tasmania.
As communications minister in the Abbott government, Turnbull has displayed his fervent support for measures to further enrich big business. In March last year, he commissioned the Boston Consulting Group to report on the future of Australia Post with a view to selling off the profitable parcels business. Public broadcasting also is a target. In November, Turnbull announced cuts of more than $300 million to the ABC and SBS, likely to cost 600 jobs over the next five years, reducing the threat posed by the two corporations to the profits of the commercial operators.
Far from being a small-l liberal, Turnbull has supported all of the government’s repressive and authoritarian “security” laws, including its data retention bill. And Turnbull is as gung-ho as Abbott in his support for US imperialist meddling in the Middle East and Central Asia. He describes the US as “a vitally important stabilising, reassuring factor in the peaceful development of our region”.
Turnbull may have a softer and more sophisticated style than Abbott, but, when it comes down to it, he is actually more ideologically right wing on economic policy. As the Financial Review commented on 7 February, Turnbull would be “the most business-wired Liberal Party Leader in history”.
On 31 January Turnbull told a high-powered audience in San Francisco that, in relation to social welfare, “Many of the policies and premises of the past are already unsustainable” and “unpopular decisions” would be needed in the face of “unrealistically high expectations among voters and politicians alike as to the sustainability of the status quo”.
When Turnbull told his audience in California that leaders must “unravel complex issues in clear language that explains why things have to change”, his aim was to win support for the type of budget measures that Abbott has been unable to sell.
Turnbull’s liberalism on questions like equal marriage rights, abortion and stem cell research should not fool us into thinking that he is anything other than an enemy of the working class and students. His former business and legal colleagues may have their own reasons for disliking him, which are not shared by socialists. But we would not disagree with Nicholas Whitlam’s description of him as “a prick”, or former Labor Senator Jim McClelland’s comment that Turnbull is “a turd, easy to loathe and a shit”.