Malcolm Bligh Turnbull (born 24 October 1954) is the 29th and current Prime Minister of Australia and the Leader of the Liberal Party. He assumed both offices after defeating Tony Abbott in a leadership spill on 14 September 2015. The incumbent Turnbull Government was re-elected but was reduced to a one-seat majority at the 2016 federal election.
Turnbull attended Sydney Grammar School before going to the University of Sydney, where he attained a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws. Turnbull then attended Brasenose College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, where he attained a Bachelor of Civil Law. For over two decades prior to entering politics, Turnbull worked in both personal and managerial positions as a journalist, a lawyer, a merchant banker, a venture capitalist, and Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement. A self-made multi-millionaire, Turnbull purchased a stake of internet service provider Ozemail in 1994 for $500,000 and sold his stake just months before the dot com bubble burst in 1999 for $57 million, paving the way to his current estimated net worth of above $200 million with entries in the BRW Rich 200 list.
Though Turnbull had attempted Liberal preselection at a 1981 by-election and later at the 2001 federal election, he was first elected to the House of Representatives for the seat of Wentworth in New South Wales at the 2004 federal election. Elevated to the Howard Cabinet in January 2007, he briefly served as Minister for the Environment and Water. Following the defeat of the Liberal Government at the 2007 federal election, Turnbull declared himself a candidate in the subsequent leadership election, but lost to Brendan Nelson by three votes. Following a period of poor opinion polling, Turnbull challenged and defeated Nelson by four votes and became Leader of the Opposition.
Turnbull was widely considered part of the progressive minority in the Liberal Party, with his views on issues such as climate change, republicanism and marriage equality differing from the conservative majority. This led to persistent tensions within the Liberal Party, with Turnbull's support for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme proposed by the Rudd Government in late 2009 eventually causing a split. Tony Abbott, who was opposed to the Scheme, subsequently challenged Turnbull and defeated him for the leadership by a single vote. Initially intending to leave politics, Turnbull remained in Parliament and eventually became Minister for Communications in the Abbott Government following the defeat of the Labor Government at the 2013 federal election.
On 14 September 2015, citing consistently poor opinion polling for the Government, Turnbull resigned as Minister for Communications and challenged Abbott in a leadership ballot that he won by ten votes. Turnbull was subsequently sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia the following day and formed the Turnbull Government. Opinion polling prior to the 2016 federal election indicated a honeymoon period which lasted for several months until the beginning of April, when Turnbull entered net negative satisfaction rating territory and the Coalition's two-party polling lead had evaporated, right through to the knife-edge 2016 election. In the following days of uncertainty, Turnbull negotiated with the crossbench and secured confidence and supply support from Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan in the event of a hung parliament and resulting minority government. However, at the closest federal majority result since the 1961 election, the Liberal/National Coalition retained majority government by a single seat.
Early life and education
Malcolm Turnbull was born in Sydney on 24 October 1954 to Bruce Bligh Turnbull and Coral Magnolia Lansbury. Turnbull's maternal grandmother, May Lansbury (née Morle), was born in England. Turnbull's father was a hotel broker. Turnbull's mother was a radio actor, a writer, an academic, and a second cousin of the British film and television actress, Angela Lansbury. Turnbull suffered asthma as a young child. Turnbull's parents separated when he was nine, with Turnbull's mother leaving first for New Zealand, and then the United States. Turnbull was then raised by his father.
Turnbull spent his first three years of school at Vaucluse Public School. He then attended the St Ives preparatory school at Sydney Grammar School as a boarder. In senior school he was a boarder at the former Randwick campus of the school while attending classes at the main College Street campus on a partial scholarship. He was senior school co-captain in 1972, as well as winning the Lawrence Campbell Oratory Competition, excelling particularly in the literary subjects such as English and history. However, contrary to certain sources, Turnbull was not the dux of his graduating year at Sydney Grammar. In 1987, in memory of his late father, he set up the Bruce Turnbull means-tested scholarship at Sydney Grammar, which offers full remission of fees to a student unable to afford them.
In 1973 Turnbull attended the University of Sydney and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree (majoring in political science) in 1977 and a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1978. During his studies, he was active in student politics, serving as board director of the University of Sydney Union. He also worked as a political journalist for Nation Review, Radio 2SM and Channel 9 covering state politics.
In 1978, Turnbull won a Rhodes Scholarship and attended Brasenose College, Oxford, where he studied for a Bachelor of Civil Law degree from 1978 to 1980, graduating with honours. While at Oxford, he worked for The Sunday Times and contributed to newspapers and magazines in the United States and Australia. While at Oxford, a university don wrote of Turnbull that he was "always going to enter life's rooms without knocking".
After graduating with honours from Oxford, Turnbull returned to Australia and began working as a barrister. He left the bar in 1983 to become general counsel and secretary for Australian Consolidated Press Holdings Group, from 1983 to 1985. During this time he defended Kerry Packer against the "Goanna" allegations made by the Costigan Commission.
In partnership with Bruce McWilliam he established his own law firm, Turnbull McWilliam. During 1986 Turnbull defended Peter Wright, a former MI5 official who authored the book Spycatcher, and successfully stopped the British government's attempts to suppress the book's publication in Australia. Turnbull later wrote a book on the trial.
"The fact of the matter is that nothing is achieved in this world, particularly politically, other than with persistence, and persistence involves repetition and it involves argument and re-argument... The public interest in free speech is not just in truthful speech, in correct speech, in fair speech... The interest is in the debate. You see, every person who has ultimately changed the course of history has started off being unpopular." Turnbull's closing submissions, 18 December 1986
In 1987, he established an investment banking firm, Whitlam Turnbull & Co Ltd, in partnership with Neville Wran (a former Labor Premier of New South Wales) and the former State Bank of New South Wales chief executive, Nicholas Whitlam (son of Gough Whitlam, a former Labor prime minister). Whitlam parted company with the others in 1990 and the firm operated as Turnbull & Partners Ltd from then until 1997, when Turnbull moved to become a managing director and later a partner of Goldman Sachs.
Turnbull was a director of FTR Holdings Ltd (1995–2004), chair and managing director of Goldman Sachs Australia (1997–2001) and a partner with Goldman Sachs and Co (1998–2001).
Turnbull was a director of Star Technology Systems (1993–1995), which attempted, but failed, to mine gold at Sukhoi Log mine.
In the 1990s, Turnbull was chairman of Axiom Forest Resources, which conducted logging in the Solomon Islands under the trading name Silvania Forest Products. The latter's work was described by the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau as a "clear-felling operation", and the then Solomon Islands Prime Minister Solomon Mamaloni reportedly threatened to close it down for "constant breaches of logging practices", according to a critical article in the Solomon Times.
Turnbull purchased a stake of internet service provider Ozemail in 1994 for $500,000 and sold his stake just months before the dot com bubble burst in 1999 for $57 million to then-telecommunications giant MCI Worldcom. In the same year he used his software and investment company FTR Holdings Ltd to take positions in a number of Internet businesses including WebCentral and Chaos.com.
In May 2002, Turnbull appeared before the HIH Insurance royal commission and was questioned on Goldman Sachs's involvement in the possible privatisation of one of the acquisitions of the collapsed insurance company. The Royal Commissioner's report made no adverse findings against him or Goldman Sachs.
Early political involvement
Turnbull first showed interest in entering the Australian Parliament in 1981. He stood for Liberal Party preselection for the seat of Wentworth in the eastern suburbs of Sydney in the 1981 Wentworth by-election; however he was beaten by Peter Coleman. He let his membership of the Liberal Party lapse in the 1980s, and rejoined in late 2000. Turnbull was Federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party and a member of the party's federal and New South Wales executives from 2002 to 2003, and was also a director of the Menzies Research Centre, the Liberal Party's research centre.
In 1993 he was appointed by Paul Keating as Chairman of the Republic Advisory Committee, charged with exploring ways of moving Australia to an overtly republican form of government by removing the Queen from Australian government.
Australian Republican Movement
From 1993 to 2000, Turnbull was the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement. He was an elected delegate at the Australian Constitutional Convention 1998 in Canberra in February. At the Convention, Turnbull cautioned against mixing the roles of president and prime minister, advocating a parliamentary republic, and supported the bi-partisan appointment republican model adopted by the convention.
Turnbull was active in the unsuccessful 1999 referendum campaign to establish an Australian republic as chairman of the Yes Committee. He published a book on the campaign, called Fighting for the Republic. When the referendum failed, Turnbull accused incumbent Prime Minister and Monarchist John Howard of "breaking the nation's heart".
In 2000 Turnbull retired as chairman of the Australian Republican Movement. Turnbull left the board of Ausflag in 1994 after being asked for his resignation and in 2004 joined the Australian National Flag Association.
Selection of political party
Turnbull had a long affiliation with the Liberal Party of Australia throughout his career. During his time at the head of the Australian Republican Movement, he had considered running for a seat as a Labor candidate. In 2015, it was revealed that Turnbull had held talks with John Della Bosca during this time on a possible switch and that he had harboured aspirations in his youth to head the Australian Workers' Union, which has a strong connection with Labor. The actuation, made by former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr, has since been used by Labor leader Bill Shorten in relation to the Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption.
Election to Parliament
In 2000, Turnbull sought Liberal preselection for Wentworth but did not contest after being convinced that Liberal incumbent Peter King had the numbers in Wentworth's Liberal branches. In 2003, Turnbull announced that he was again seeking Liberal preselection in Wentworth, and in 2004 defeated King. Following his preselection loss, King stood for the seat at the 2004 election as an independent candidate. As a result, the traditionally Liberal electorate was turned into an electoral wildcard, with the contest for the seat becoming a three-person race between Turnbull, King and Labor candidate David Patch. During the campaign, Turnbull spent over A$600,000 on the campaign. While the Liberal primary vote fell 10.3 percent to 41.8 percent, King received 18 percent of the primary vote with a 57/43 Liberal/Labor preference split which brought Turnbull over the line, but on a reduced 55.5 percent two-party vote after a 2.4 percent swing it made Wentworth a marginal seat on paper for the first time since the 1993 election.
Announcing his cabinet reshuffle on 24 January 2006, the prime minister, John Howard, promoted Turnbull from the backbench to Parliamentary Secretary, with special responsibility for water, at the height of the 2000s Australian drought. In this new capacity he reported directly to the prime minister. On 26 September 2006, Howard announced the creation, within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, of the new "Office of Water Resources" to address the problem of drought in Australia. Turnbull was given charge of this office until he was elevated by Howard as Minister for the Environment and Water Resources in January 2007.
In his position as Environment Minister, Turnbull approved a proposed A$1.7 billion Bell Bay Pulp Mill in Tasmania's north, near Launceston. Turnbull's approval of the Bell Bay Pulp Mill project of Gunns Ltd came on 4 October 2007 and followed a report by the Government's chief scientist Jim Peacock on the project's potential environmental impact, which requires the project to meet 48 "strict environmental" conditions.
In February 2007, Turnbull was criticised for claiming a government allowance of A$175 a night and paying it to his wife as rent while living in a townhouse owned by her in Canberra.
During the 2007 election campaign, Turnbull announced that the then Government would contribute A$10 million to the investigation of an untried Russian technology that aims to trigger rainfall from the atmosphere, even when there are no clouds. The Australian Rain Corporation presented research documents written in Russian, explained by a Russian researcher who spoke to local experts in Russian. Although Turnbull claimed that Australian Rain Corporation was Australian-based, investigations revealed that it was 75 per cent Swiss-owned. It was also revealed that a prominent stakeholder in the Australian Rain Corporation, Matt Handbury, is a nephew of Rupert Murdoch. Turnbull has refused to answer questions regarding Handbury's contribution to the Wentworth Forum, the main fund-raising organisation for Turnbull's 2007 election campaign.
In 2007, Turnbull promised that his government, if elected, would grant same-sex couples death benefits in Commonwealth superannuation schemes, a promise similar to one made three years earlier, during the 2004 election campaign.
With no electoral competition from former incumbent MP Peter King, as there had been in 2004, Turnbull retained his seat at the 2007 election gaining a two-party vote 1.3 percent swing in Wentworth, despite a 5.6 percent swing away from the coalition in the state, and a 5.4 percent swing nationwide. Prime Minister Howard had lost his own seat of Bennelong, and on 25 November 2007, Liberal deputy leader Peter Costello announced he would not seek the party leadership. Turnbull declared his candidacy later the same day, and was considered a favourite by many. He narrowly lost to Brendan Nelson at the 2007 Liberal leadership ballot on 29 November by three votes. Nelson in turn appointed him Shadow Treasurer.
Shortly afterwards, fellow opposition front bencher Nick Minchin suggested that Turnbull's failure to consult with party colleagues before declaring his opinion to the media on such issues as an apology to the Stolen Generations cost him the leadership. This led to a disagreement between the two and culminated in Minchin privately telling Turnbull that he was "too f***ing sensitive." In May 2008, Turnbull attacked the 2008 Australian federal budget, concerned by increased taxes on luxury cars and certain alcoholic drinks, citing possible increased inflation.
Leader of the Opposition
Turnbull defeated Brendan Nelson at the 2008 Liberal leadership ballot on 16 September by four votes. The same month, he confessed that he had smoked marijuana in his younger days, becoming the first Liberal leader to make such an admission. He said he now thought it was a very bad idea because the drug could be damaging. In early 2009 Turnbull appointed Chris Kenny, a former Downer staffer and Advertiser journalist, as his chief of staff.
In May 2009, Turnbull attacked the 2009 Australian federal budget, in particular the means testing of the private health insurance rebate. The following month, Godwin Grech, a Treasury official, alleged that a car dealer with links to the Labor Party had received preferential treatment under the OzCar program, sparking the 'OzCar affair'. That day Turnbull stated that Prime Minister Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan had "used their offices and taxpayers' resources to seek advantage for one of their mates and then lied about it to the Parliament" and that they needed to explain their actions or resign. On 22 June the e-mail Grech had provided to the Liberal Party to support this allegation was found to have been faked by Grech; later admitted by Grech, and an Australian National Audit Office inquiry on 4 August cleared both Rudd and Swan of any wrongdoing. Turnbull's handling of the OzCar affair led to a large decline in his and the Liberal Party's approval ratings in opinion polls.
On 24 November 2009 a party room meeting was held to discuss the Rudd government's proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). Turnbull instructed the party to support CPRS despite significant disagreement among his colleagues. There was even a suggestion that some Liberal Senators should vote to "guillotine" debate and force an immediate Senate vote on the CPRS bill. (If the Senate rejected the bill, this would have given the government a double dissolution trigger.) In response the next day, MPs Wilson Tuckey and Dennis Jensen made a leadership "spill motion" which if successful Kevin Andrews would have stood to challenge Turnbull for the liberal party leadership. The rebellion continued, though – many front bench Liberals resigned from the shadow cabinet, including Tony Abbott.
Brendan Nelson holds the record for lowest Newspoll "Better Prime Minister" rating of 7 percent (29 February-2 March 2008). Three leaders including Turnbull hold the combined second-lowest rating of 14 percent – Simon Crean (28–30 November 2003), Turnbull (27–29 November 2009) and Bill Shorten (3–6 December 2015).
Turnbull's support for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme proposed by the Rudd Government split the Turnbull opposition, resulting in Tony Abbott defeating Turnbull at the 2009 Liberal leadership ballot on 1 December by a single vote.
After the leadership vote, Turnbull said he would serve out his full term as member for Wentworth. On 6 April 2010, he announced he would not seek re-election. However, on 1 May 2010 he reversed his decision, convinced by the former Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, to remain in parliament.
At the 2010 federal election, Turnbull was re-elected with an 11.01 percent two-party swing and was subsequently brought back to the front bench as shadow communications minister. At the 2012 Alfred Deakin Lecture on digital liberty he spoke out strongly against the Australian government's proposed two-year data retention law.
In July 2012, Turnbull was criticised for saying that civil unions should be accepted as a first step toward same-sex marriage in Australia. Turnbull supports same-sex marriage and a conscience vote for Coalition MPs on the issue. However, Tony Abbott did not allow a conscience vote on the issue. Turnbull said that countries that have allowed same-sex marriage, such as the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Canada and the United Kingdom first had civil unions.
On 9 April 2013, Turnbull and Tony Abbott announced their party's alternative National Broadband Network (NBN) plan. The new plan is a modified and scaled-down NBN with "fibre to the node" (FTTN) then last-mile by copper cable. The new policy developed by Turnbull contrasted with the previous Liberal Party position, which had called for the dismantling of the NBN should the Liberal Party win the 2013 federal election. As such, the policy allowed the NBN to continue irrespective of the result of the election, although it did so in a different form from what was previously being built. In 2014, Turnbull announced that the Vertigan Report, a cost-benefit analysis of providing fast broadband to regional and rural Australia through wireless and satellite services, revealed that it will cost nearly A$5 billion and was expected to produce only A$600 million in economic benefits – a return of just 10 per cent. In spite of the economic cost, Turnbull stated that subsidising broadband to regional areas is "fiendishly expensive" but said there was no other option.
Turnbull brokered a deal between the government, NBN Co and Telstra in December 2014 whereby NBN Co acquired Telstra's copper network and hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) which shall be used to deliver the NBN. Further, Telstra and NBN Co are to work together on the FTTN trial which involves 200,000 premises. In August 2015, Turnbull revealed that the overall end cost of the network build would likely expand up to an additional $15 billion, with NBN Co likely to take on the additional expenditure as debt. Though still cheaper than the original Labor Party NBN policy, which would have delivered faster connection speeds, the peak funding requirement under the current model is between $46 billion and $56 billion.
Prime Minister of Australia
Following persistent leadership tensions, the 2015 Liberal leadership spill motion on 9 February was moved against incumbent Tony Abbott. Although the spill motion was defeated 61 votes to 39, Turnbull had been thought to be considering a leadership run if the spill motion had succeeded, telling reporters before the vote that "if for whatever reason the leadership of a political party is vacant then anyone, any member of the party can stand, whether they be a minister or a backbencher, without any disloyalty to the person whose leadership has been declared vacant."
Despite the defeat of the spill motion, questions over Abbott's leadership continued, with the Government consistently performing poorly in opinion polls. On 14 September 2015, after 30 consecutive Newspolls had put the Liberals far behind Labor, Turnbull resigned from the Cabinet and announced he would challenge Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party. Turnbull stated that Abbott "was not capable of providing the economic leadership we need" and that the Liberal Party needs a "style of leadership that respects the people's intelligence." Turnbull defeated Abbott by 54 votes to 44 at the 2015 Liberal leadership ballot on 14 September. He was sworn in as the 29th Prime Minister of Australia the following day.
Turnbull announced an extensive reshuffle on 20 September 2015 to form the First Turnbull Ministry. Notably, he increased the number of female Cabinet Ministers from two to five and appointed Marise Payne as Australia's first female Minister for Defence. The number of Cabinet Ministers rose from 19 to 21. On Turnbull's key policy differences with Abbott, particularly climate change, republicanism and same-sex marriage, he stated that there would be no immediate change before any election. The Nationals successfully negotiated a total of $4 billion worth of deals from Turnbull, as well as control of the water portfolio, in exchange for a continued Coalition agreement. Turnbull has stated that he would not lead a government that did not take climate change seriously.
On 21 March 2016, Turnbull announced that Parliament would consider bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) for a third time. Turnbull said that if the Senate again rejected the bill, he would advise the Governor-General to call a double dissolution of Parliament and a federal election for 2 July. Turnbull also brought forward the delivery of the federal budget from 10 May to 3 May to facilitate this. On 18 April, the Senate once again rejected the bills to reinstate the ABCC. On 8 May, Turnbull visited Government House to advise the Governor-General to issue the writs for a double dissolution on 9 May; this confirmed the date of the election as 2 July 2016.
During the 2016 election campaign, a ReachTEL opinion poll of 626 Wentworth voters conducted on 31 May predicted a two-party swing against Turnbull for the first time since his election to Wentworth – revealing a reduced 58 percent two-party vote from a large 10.9 percent two-party swing.
In June 2016, the president of the Australian National Imams Council, Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman participated in an Iftar dinner at Kirribilli House. The Prime Minister said he would not have invited Alsuleiman if he had known of his position regarding homosexuals.
Turnbull repeatedly claimed prior to the election that a vote for a Labor, Green or Independent candidate was a vote for "the Labor/Green/Independent alliance", and also refused to countenance a hung parliament.
Opinion polling prior to the 2016 federal election indicated a honeymoon period which lasted for several months until the beginning of April, when Turnbull entered net negative satisfaction rating territory and the Coalition's two-party polling lead had evaporated, right through to the knife-edge 2016 election. In the following days of uncertainty, Turnbull negotiated with the crossbench and secured confidence and supply support from Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan in the event of a hung parliament and resulting minority government. During crossbench negotiations, Turnbull pledged additional staff and resources for crossbenchers, and stated "It is my commitment to work in every way possible to ensure that the crossbenchers have access to all of the information they need and all of the resources they need to be able to play the role they need in this parliament". However, at the closest federal majority result since the 1961 election, the Liberal/National Coalition retained majority government by a single seat.
At the first Newspoll following the election conducted 25–28 August 2016, Turnbull's net satisfaction rating hit a record low of –18 from a record low satisfaction rating of 34% and a record high dissatisfaction rating of 52%.
Turnbull is married to prominent businesswoman and 2003–04 Sydney Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull AO, née Hughes. They married on 22 March 1980 at Cumnor, Oxfordshire, near Oxford by a Church of England priest while Turnbull was attending the University of Oxford. They live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
Turnbull and Lucy have two adult children, Alex and Daisy, and as of July 2016, two grandchildren.
The use of Bligh as a male middle name is a tradition in the Turnbull family. It is also Turnbull's son's middle name. One of Turnbull's ancestors was colonist John Turnbull, who named his youngest son William Bligh Turnbull in honour of deposed Governor William Bligh at the time of the Rum Rebellion.
Raised Presbyterian, Turnbull converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002. However, he has found himself at odds with the church's teaching on abortion, stem cell research and same-sex marriage. Turnbull supported legislation relaxing restrictions on abortion pill RU486 and he also voted for the legalisation of somatic cell nuclear transfer. He did so despite the vocal public opposition to both proposals by Cardinal George Pell, the then-Archbishop of Sydney.
In 2005, the combined net worth of Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull was estimated at A$133 million, making him Australia's richest parliamentarian until the election of billionaire Clive Palmer in the 2013 election.
Turnbull made the BRW Rich 200 list for the second year running in 2010, and although he slipped from 182 to 197, his estimated net worth increased to A$186 million, and he continued to be the only sitting politician to make the list. Turnbull was not listed in the 2014 list of the BRW Rich 200. As of 2015, his estimated net worth is in excess of A$200 million.
- 1 January 2001 Centenary Medal, for services to the corporate sector.
Turnbull has written several books on the republican debate, as well as his experiences during the Spycatcher trial. Notable examples of his writings include:
- Turnbull, Malcolm (1988). The Spycatcher Trial. William Heinemann Australia. ISBN 978-0-85561-239-9.
- Turnbull, Malcolm (1993). The Reluctant Republic. William Heinemann Australia. ISBN 978-0-85561-372-3. - his wife's uncle; and
- Turnbull, Malcolm (1999). Fighting for the Republic: The Ultimate Insider's Account. Hardie Grant. ISBN 978-1-86498-107-0.
|Ancestors of Malcolm Turnbull|