When the days grow cold and we grow old, who will lay flowers on the political grave of Malcolm Turnbull?
We have had a slew of successive prime ministers in recent years. Yet even those who were there for only a short time will be able to count, for generations to come, on at least one large group of Australians to remember them fondly, to say, on the anniversary of their political deaths, “We loved you well, we miss you deeply, we honour you for your singular achievement in ... ”
Even John Howard’s most bitter political enemies acknowledge that he was superb on gun control, and he will long be remembered and thanked by successive generations of Australians for his efforts in that field.
Kevin Rudd at least tried to get movement to combat climate change and his “Sorry” speech to the Stolen Generations was a masterpiece that went some way to help the nation heal.
Julia Gillard, among many achievements, saw legislation passed which will forever improve the lives of those with disabilities and of course launched the royal commission into institutional child abuse.
Tony Abbott did indeed stop the boats, however brutal his methodology.
But Malcolm Turnbull?
In years to come, when the ravens fly, the storm clouds gather and the flashes of lightning show the way to the political tomb up on yonder Red Hill, who will, with heads bowed and hats removed, trudge to Malcolm’s marble mausoleum and say, “Thank you, you really made a difference”?
Can we agree that it won’t be gay Australians and their supporters?
The signature legislation of Turnbull’s time was same-sex marriage but there is not a skerrick of evidence that he was either the architect or prime mover of it. In the face of strong public demand, pushed by the tides of history, he did, true, wander almost by mistake into a way to get it done. But that’s it. His name is not on the bottom right-hand corner of that achievement.
It certainly won’t be republicans. I know from personal experience just how deep his passion for a republic runs and disclose that I write this as incumbent chairman of the Australian Republican Movement. As prime minister Turnbull did indeed attend our 25th anniversary dinner a couple of years ago. In his time in office that is the sum total of his contribution to the republican cause. This, from a man who famously accused one of his predecessors, Howard, of “breaking this nation’s heart” with his own efforts to thwart the republic.
The multicultural community? No. It has stunned many Australians how, during Turnbull’s time, the race card was played ever more frequently in national politics, including – appallingly – by Turnbull himself.
Environmentalists? Not a chance. We all looked to Turnbull to get moving on action to combat climate change and, as witness the events of recent days, it has been a debacle. On his watch, despite the reef demonstrably dying, we went backwards on legislative solutions.
Deeply conservative Australia, then? Obviously not. His prime ministership seemed to have been devoted to appeasing those at that end of the political spectrum and far from thanking him, they despised him for it.
Progressive Australia, generally? No. He came in as a hero for being the one to end the prime ministership of Tony Abbott. Our expectations that he would actually change things were overwhelming.
The abiding sentiment when it comes to his time as prime minister is simply deep disappointment at his endless pandering to the aforementioned hard-core conservatives of his party without ever putting his weight behind moving forward on those things that so many Australians hold dear.
None of this is to say that Turnbull’s time as prime minister did not have good parts – he can surely take some credit for a generally strong economy. But economists, stockbrokers, Big Banks and Big Coal, as a breed, don’t lay flowers.
All up, I submit, that the one thing Malcolm Turnbull will be remembered for is that he promised so much, and delivered so little. The nation has been hungry for a leader to stand for something, to have high principles and follow their convictions but Turnbull seemed to be mostly devoted to simply extending his prime ministership, without actually doing anything with it. He is the little engine who looked like he could, but didn't.
Here lies Malcolm Turnbull.
He conked out.