Australia is eagerly anticipating what Malcolm Turnbull has to say. Picture: Danny Aarons/AAP
Australia is eagerly anticipating what Malcolm Turnbull has to say. Picture: Danny Aarons/AAP

Only Turnbull question we want answered

MALCOLM Turnbull has been provoked into public comment and is entitled to defend his legacy as prime minister.

Which means the angry self-absorption which has blighted the Liberals for three years appears set to be stuck around right up to the general election early next year.

And it underlines that peculiarly Australian dilemma of the past decade: What to do with the traffic jam of former prime ministers?

The Turnbull experience indicated there will be no further attempts to recruit them as official Australian representatives on specific tasks.

Malcolm Turnbull has made clear he will give his version of his history as prime minister and his former colleagues in Parliament can do nothing to stop him.

They would prefer he do it in a book which might take a few years to publish.

He instead is harnessing social media and the ABC.

There is keen, almost feverish anticipation within political circles of Malcolm Turnbull's TV appearance on Monday night with two driving questions.

Will the former prime minister defy fashion and the weather by reviving his Q&A leather jacket?

 

Will leather-clad Malcolm make a reappearance? Picture: ABC’s Q&A
Will leather-clad Malcolm make a reappearance? Picture: ABC’s Q&A

 

More important, will he bag his successor Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party generally?

He would be entitled to be critical for at least three reasons:

One is that he is a private citizen, and Citizen Turnbull has as much right to express his views as 25 million other Australians.

The Tony Abbott precedent allows Liberals to be critical on selected media of the current prime minister, and Mr Turnbull has fewer restrictions than backbencher Abbott who presumably should have had a loyalty to the government of which he was a member.

Second, it's not as if the Morrison government is going swimmingly and a former prime minister has unique insights into running problems.

But third, and the clincher, is the matter of provocation. And that includes false accusations.

Prime Minister Morrison this week accused Mr Turnbull of exceeding his brief during his mission as government representative at a conference in Bali.

 

2GB’s Alan Jones easily goaded PM Scott Morrison into dissing his predecessor. Pictures: Chris Pavlich and David Swift
2GB’s Alan Jones easily goaded PM Scott Morrison into dissing his predecessor. Pictures: Chris Pavlich and David Swift

 

Actually, Mr Morrison allowed himself to be hectored into the criticism by 2GB's Alan Jones, who doesn't interview people so much as issue the instructions.

After significant prompting, the Prime Minister said Mr Turnbull had - without authority - dealt with the possibility of Australia moving our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem affecting trade relations with Indonesia.

"Will there be more missions for this man to be able to go to and sprout his own discredited views?" asked Jones.

What secrets will he reveal? And will he wear THIS shirt? Picture: Firdia Lisnawati/AP
What secrets will he reveal? And will he wear THIS shirt? Picture: Firdia Lisnawati/AP

"No," replied Mr Morrison obediently and ingloriously.

His humiliation didn't end there as Mr Turnbull used Twitter to confirm he had been asked to discuss trade and the embassy issue while in Bali, and he had that order in writing.

Which Scott Morrison confirmed later in the day.

For further provocation we need only return to the Abbott precedent.

Mr Turnbull will be more measured in his comments because any desire for revenge he might have is not amplified by a campaign for a better job in government. He is unlikely to be troubled by the possibility there will be no more requests for him to go on government missions.

But if Tony Abbott and his crew maintain their anti-Turnbull antics, he will respond.